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Introduction to Beowulf
Transcript of Introduction to Beowulf
Beowulf is to England what Homer's Illiad and Odyssey are to ancient Greece
It is short by Homer's standard: 15,000 lines
Beowulf is 3,182 lines
Epic poems feature an EPIC HERO EPIC HERO Definition: the central figure in a long narrative that reflects the values and heroic ideals of a particular society.
EPIC HERO CHARACTERISTICS The hero is introduced in the midst of turmoil at a point well into the story
The hero is not only a warrior and a leader, but also a polished speaker who can address councils of chieftains or elders with eloquence and confidence
The hero, often a demi-god, possesses distinctive weapons of great size and power, often heirlooms or presents from the gods.
The hero must undertake a long, perilous journey, often involving a decent into the Underworld, which tests his endurance, courage and cunning.
Although his fellows may be great warriors, he undertakes a task no one else dare attempt.
The two great epic adversaries, the hero and his antagonist, meet at the climax, which must be delayed as long as possible to sustain maximum interest.
The hero's adversary is often a "god-despiser," someone who has more respect for his own mental and physical abilities than for the power of the gods.
The hero may encounter a numinous phenomenon (a place or person having a divine or supernatural force) such as a haunting wood or enchanting sorceress that he must use strength, cunning and divine assistance to overcome. Whatever virtues his race most prizes, these the epic hero as a cultural exemplar possesses in abundance. His key quality is often emphasized in a stock epithet: e.g. "swift-footed Achilles"
The concept of arete (bringing virtue to perfection) is crucial to understanding the epic protagonist
The hero establishes his aristeria (nobility) through single combat in superari a superiore, honor coming from being vanquished by a superior foe. The author is unknown. The story was sung for centuries before someone wrote it down. Setting: 550-600 A.D.
Written down between 800-900 A.D.
Transcribed about 1000 A.D.
The characters are the Geats, Danes, and Swedes - the people who were living in Scandanavia between 500-600 A.D. It is important for us for 5 reasons:
1. It is the sole survivor of a great epic tradition
2. It is great poetry
3. It is an archaeological relic which is most interesting
4. As a linguistic document, it's full of revelations
5. It gives us information about Old English social life and politics 1. It tells of the traditions of the people Stern, barbarous life
Religious feeling, fatalism
Mixtures of savagery, sentiment and nobility
Love of nature and especially being influenced by the sea
Common sense, power of endurance, seriousness of thought
Emotional, imaginative, sensitive
Love of glory
Allegiance to lord or king
Reverence for women
Love of personal freedom
Open-handed hospitality to lord or thane
Repression of too much sentiment What five characteristics of the heroic epic
do we find in Beowulf? It is a long, dignified narrative poem 3,182 lines telling the story in a serious way of a hero and his great deeds trying to save people in great danger It tells of the actions of a hero - 4 episodes combined into one epic The purging of Herot, the Danish mead-hall of Hrothgar, the king, from Grendel, the giant.
The killing of Grendel's mother down in her watery lair.
The triumphant return of the hero to his homeland.
After fifty years of peace, the hero-king saves his own people by slaying the fire-drake, but he dies in this attempt. It has definite verse form Four stressed syllables with three syllables alliterated. / ' ( ' ) / '
Alliteration means repetition of the same letter sound, usually the first letter of the accented syllable. "Ship, its timbers icy, waiting" (three s's - one c)
The verse does not rhyme.
Lines have a pause in the middle, called a caesura, or are end-stopped (definite pause at the end of the line).
Rhythm is free.
Use of parallelism - ideas expressed in the same form or repeated for emphasis.
Use of kennings - two words separated by a hypehn as sea-horse, a ship; whale's-road, the sea; sky-candle, the sun.
Gnomic sentences - used for emphasis as "There was a king!"
Written to be accompanied by a harp with a person singing - meant to be heard, not read.
There are many noble characters Hrothgar: King of Denmark
Welthow: his Queen
Higlac: King of the Jutes or Geats, Beowulf's uncle