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Beowulf/Epic Poetry

Pre-Reading: Introduction to Beowulf, historical context, & epic poetry
by

April Marshall

on 7 February 2013

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Transcript of Beowulf/Epic Poetry

Beowulf Timeline
54BC – 420AD: Roman invasion and occupation of Britain (from the Britons and Gaels)
450AD: The Anglo-Saxon conquest
600AD: Churches and monasteries begin to spread Christianity to pagan Anglo-Saxons
600AD-800AD: Beowulf is originally composed by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet*
793-876AD: Norse and Danish invasions In the mid 5th Century the Anglo-Saxons begin taking over and there is a shift back to pagan religions

Around 600AD the pagan Anglo-Saxons begin being converted to Christianity

Beowulf is an old, pagan story, passed down orally until it was written down and recorded by a Christian poet in around 1000AD

There is an obvious effort to attribute Christian thoughts/motives (allusions) to characters who behave very “un-Christianly.” Anglo Saxons: A Warrior Culture Anglo-Saxons & the epic poem, Beowulf Timeline/Setting Beowulf originated when poems were passed down orally
Scops, captivated audiences with long, narrative poems Action in the poem takes place in Scandinavia--Southern Sweden and Denmark.
Elements of Celtic/Scandinavian folklore: monsters, dragons, brave warriors, heroic chief, and the descent into eerie nether regions Around 597 AD, the pagan Anglo-Saxons begin to be converted to Christianity (arrival of St. Augustine)
There are pagan, Anglo-Saxon social and cultural issues at play in the poem.
There are also Christian allusions (thoughts/motives) attributed to characters who behave very "un-Christianly". Anglo-Saxons:
A Warrior Culture The Comitatus Band of warriors (also called thanes) pledged to a lord
Relationship of companionship, and of mutual respect between lord and thanes
Thanes swore to defend their lord until death
If a lord was killed in battle, his life would be avenged by his thanes no matter the cost
The comitatus was a part of a code of honor that was important to the culture Warriors were known for their courage, bravery, recklessness and foremost for their loyalty
In return, the lord gave them protection and shared his wealth ("Ring-Giver")
Anglo-Saxons were a gift-giving culture (bound the lord-thane relationship together)
Comitatus created a circulation of wealth through allegiance. Wergild The value of a man's life, payable to his family by his murderer
Someone guilty of murder is not necessarily sentenced to death, if he can pay the "man price." The Boast Anglo-Saxons saw nothing wrong with letting the world know who they were, who their noble parents were, what great feats they accomplished (or planned to)
This "boasting" was perfectly polite, even expected
Example: "I've never known fear, as a youth I fought / In endless battles. I am old, now / But I will fight again, seek fame still" (l 624-626) Old English Poetry: The Heroic Epic Beowulf is the longest surviving poem in Old English and one of the earliest European epics written in the vernacular
Characters in the poem are Scandinavian, a very warrior-centered culture
The poem expresses the cultural values of the time period it was written in Defining the Epic A long narrative poem that recounts the adventures of a legendary hero in pursuit of a goal of national importance.
The hero's accomplishments reflect the values of his culture and usually figure prominently in the history or mythology of the people. Traits of an Epic 1. The Epic Hero
A larger-than-life figure
Typically of noble or semi-divine birth
Pits his courage, kill and virtue against opposing, often evil forces 2. The Quest
A long, dangerous journey or mission undertaken by the epic hero.
Serves as the hero's opportunity to prove his heroism and win honor and undying renown. 3. Deeds of Valour
Actions that demonstrate the hero's courage, strength, or virtue.
These deeds make up most of the action in the narrative. 4. Divine Intervention
This is the help the hero receives from a god or other supernatural force who takes an interest in his quest. Literary Devices in Beowulf Old English Poetry was composed for easy memorization and recitation using:
Linking ALLITERATION
Lines are divided into two half-lines and the alliteration occurs on the stressed syllables over each half-line
CAESURAS
Rhythmic breaks in the middle of lines (where the reciter could take a breath)
KENNINGS
A metaphorical phrase (usually two compound nouns joined together) used to rename people, places and things indirectly.
~~> Example: "Whale-road" instead of using "ocean" or "sea" The literary devices in Beowulf are markers of ORALITY. Before the poem was written, it was passed on orally for hundreds of years. Historical Events - 410AD : The Anglo-Saxon conquest of the British Isles
- 597AD : The arrival of Saint Augustine
- 750AD(ish) : Beowulf first composed (pagan scop)
- 1000AD(ish) : Beowulf first transcribed (Christian poet) 5. Great Events
Important events from
history or mythology
of a nation or culture
of people that provide
the backdrop for the epic narrative
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