What? What is it? Beowulf is an epic poem. An epic is “a long narrative poem that relates the great deeds of a larger-than- life hero who embodies the values of a particular society”. What is he? Beowulf is an epic hero It is poetic, creative, imaginative, and one of the earliest works of art in the English language (Old English) It is also important to remember that it is NOT a work written in Latin. It is written in the vernacular (OE) and about people who were England’s founders (or conquerors) in the middle of the first millennium.
By Whom? By whom was it composed? Most Anglo-Saxon poetry was oral at first, meaning it was transmitted or performed by a Bard (Scop)> anonymous. By whom was it written? Somewhere between the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., “The Beowulf-Poet” (his identity is unknown) wrote down the poem which for many years had been sung/spoken. The Beowulf-poet, scholars believe, was an English monk (and therefore, Christian) who probably lived in one of the Anglo-Saxon settlements in Western England (Mercia)
About Whom? Even though the poet himself was English and Christian, the poem is about neither Englishmen nor Christians It is the story of several Scandinavian peoples (tribes, really), mainly the Geats and the Danes, but also the Swedes. Beowulf is a Geat. He goes to the aid of the Danes, whose king is Hrothgar They live in...
Map of Baltic Region of Scandinavia and the Viking Invasions ( )
Who are the main characters? Beowulf (Geat) Hrothgar (Dane) Unferth (Dane) Wiglaf (Geat) Grendel Grendel’s mother The dragon
Main Characters 2 Many people divide the poem into thirds; it is about Beowulf’s three epic battles with evil creatures –Grendel –Grendel’s Mother –The Dragon However, as Heaney points out, it is also really about three tribes: –The Geats –The Danes –The Swedes
Why? Why do we read it? It’s a very creative, imaginative, poetic masterpiece. It gives us insight into the origins of the British people, the culture who, through seafaring conquest, founded the world we currently live in. It gives us insight into the origins of our language. It gives us insight into all people everywhere and throughout time (time, birth, death, fame/success/glory, honor, friendship, conflict, home, country, adventure, spirituality—all of these things transcend English literature and matter to all people). It’s a VERY important piece of literature historically (this is the “because we have to” reason!).
Important Themes in the Poem Life and Death Fame (often achieved through war) Good vs. Evil & Religion –Man vs. Man –Man vs. Beast –Good Christian Traits vs. Evil –Good Pagan (Anglo-Saxon traits) vs. Evil –Bad Pagan Traits –Christianity vs. Paganism (Paganism not evil) Anglo-Saxon Code –Friendship –Loyalty –Fame, Honor –Bravery –Generosity