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Beowulf

Circa 700-750 or
Circa 10th century

Beowulf
Anglo-Saxon language
Written in midlands of England today
Manuscript was partially burned in fire in
1731
Contains heroic lays of an early world a
pagan world of ancient Germanic oral poetry
Hupax legomena words recorded only once
in a language
Single, Christian poet
Manuscript Nowell Codex Currently in the
British Library in London

Beowulf
South Scandinavian tribes:
Danes and Geats from
Danish island of Zealand and
in Southern Sweden
Refers to a time centuries
before it was written after
the initial invasion of
England by Germanic tribes
in the middle of the 5th
century, but before the
Anglo-Saxon migration was
completed.

Beowulf & Christianity


Single poet, who was Christian
Poem reflects well-established Christian
tradition
Creation lines (87-98)
Grendel as a descendant of Cain
Allusions to Gods judgment and fate (wyrd)

Beowulf & Paganism


No allusion to pagan deities
Hrothgar & Beowulf often speak of their
god as monotheistic (not all pagan
religions were polytheistic)
Strong nature presence
Heroic warrior society

Wergild Man-Price
Each rank of society was evaluated at a
definite price
Price had to be paid to the dead mans kin
by the killer if he wished to avoid
vengeance even if it had been an
accident
Duty of the family to execute justice if
there was an absence of any law
enforcement
Less to do with money and more to do with
righting a wrong

Never-ending Blood
Feuds
Attempts to end feuds through marriage
Beowulf poet points at these ironically
Tragedy of these feuds, a staple subject of
Germanic epic and saga
Blood feuds hold a peripheral place in the
poem

What other historical feuds can you think


of?

Beowulfs Three Fights


Grendel
Save the Danes
Owes Hrothgar
Exact vengeance
To demonstrate strength and courage
Enhance his personal glory
Gifts become the material emblem of that
Glory

Grendels Mother
Same as above

Dragon
Save his own people

Beginning & End


Elegiac
Funeral laments for the dead
Ambitious and young warrior to old king

Praise or Lament
Poem as a praise of a heroic warrior
Poem as a lament for heroes who died
without the Christian faith

Old English Poetry


Synecdoche Part refers to the whole or
the whole refers to a part
My wheels for my car

Metonymy Not called by its own name


but by something associated
Suits for businessmen
Oval office for president and his team

Kenning two-word compound in place of


a more straight forward noun
Word-hoard
Corpse-maker

Other Literary Devices


& Traits
Foreshadowing
Metaphors and Similes
Symbolism mead-hall, golden torque
Alliteration
Digression proper and improper use of the
code
Oral Tradition

Other Literary Devices


& Traits
Caesura
Hwt! We gardena || in gear-dagum
So! The Spear Danes ||

in days gone by

What Makes a Hero?


Bravery
Courage
Giving
Kindness
Intelligence
Examples:
What is Beowulfs major flaw?

Main Characters &


Places
Danes
Hrothgar m. Wealhtheow
Unferth
Hereot

Geats
Hygelac
Beowulfs Mom (Hygelacs sister) m.
Ecgtheow
Beowulf

Central Themes
Loyalty Who is loyal? Who is not?
Reputation/Identity Individual and Ancestral
Generosity and Hospitality
Envy
Revenge
Good Warrior vs. Good King When does
Beowulf display these attributes or not?
Monsters/Others
Civility