Why Study Beowulf? 1. Beowulf is the oldest poem in the English language, so everything written since Beowulf stems from it in some way 2. The story of Beowulf encompasses common themes that we still see in English literature today 3. Beowulf is simply good writing
Why Study Beowulf? 4. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what you read, but how you read it, so…since Beowulf came first, you might as well start there. 5. Studying Old English improves your understanding of modern English 6. It’s a great story
Beowulf’s Provenance What we don’t know: who wrote it when exactly it was written how much, exactly, is based on historical truth
Beowulf’s Provenance What we do know: Beowulf is the oldest surviving English poem. It’s written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon), which is the basis for the language we speak today. Some of the characters in the poem actually existed. The only copy of the manuscript was written sometime around the 11 th century A.D. (1000’s), however…
The actual poem probably dates from the 8 th century (700’s) or so, and… The story may be set even earlier, around 500 A.D. There are a lot of Christian references in the poem, but the characters and setting are Pagan…this means a monk probably translated it.
Beowulf’s Provenance So why wasn’t it written down in the first place? This story was probably passed down orally for centuries before it was first written down. It wasn’t until after the Norman Invasion (1066) that writing stories down became common in this part of the world.
Beowulf’s Provenance So what’s happened to the manuscript since the 11 th century? Eventually, it ended up in the library of this guy. Robert Cotton ( )
Beowulf’s Provenance Unfortunately, Cotton’s library burned in Many manuscripts were entirely destroyed. Beowulf was partially damaged. The manuscript is now preserved and carefully cared for in the British Museum.
Setting: Beowulf’s time and place Although Beowulf was written in English, it is set in what is now Sweden, where a tribe called the Geats lived. The story may take place as early as 400 or 500 A.D.
Setting: Beowulf’s time and place Europe today Insert: Time of Beowulf
How we date Beowulf Some Important Dates: 521 A.D. – death of Hygelac, who is mentioned in the poem 680 A.D. – appearance of alliterative verse 835 A.D. – the Danish started raiding other areas; after this, few poets would consider them heroes SO: This version was likely composed between 680 and 835, though it may be set earlier
The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for 1. Alliterative verse a.Repetition of initial sounds of words (occurs in every line) b. Generally, four feet/beats per line c. A caesura, or pause, between beats two and four d. No rhyme
The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for Alliterative verse – an example from Beowulf: Oft Scyld Scefingsceapena praetum, Monegum maegpummeodo-setla ofteah; Egsode Eorle,syddan aerest weard.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. The terror of the hall-troops had come far. The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for
The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for 2. Kennings a. Compound metaphor (usually two words) b. Most were probably used over and over For instance: hronade literally means “whale- road,” but can be translated as “sea”
The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for Other kennings from Beowulf: banhus = “bone-house” = body goldwine gumena = “gold-friend of men” = generous prince beaga brytta = “ring-giver” = lord beadoleoma = “flashing light” = sword
The Poetry in Beowulf A few things to watch out for 3. Litotes A negative expression; usually an understatement Example: Hildeburh had no cause to praise the Jutes In this example, Hildeburh’s brother has just been killed by the Jutes. This is a poetic way of telling us she hated the Jutes absolutely.
Some terms you’ll want to know scop A bard or story-teller. The scop was responsible for praising deeds of past heroes, for recording history, and for providing entertainment
comitatus Literally, this means “escort” or “comrade” This term identifies the concept of warriors and lords mutually pledging their loyalty to one another Some terms you’ll want to know
thane A warrior mead-hall The large hall where the lord and his warriors slept, ate, held ceremonies, etc. Some terms you’ll want to know
wyrd Fate. This idea crops up a lot in the poem, while at the same time there are Christian references to God’s will. Some terms you’ll want to know
epic Beowulf is an epic poem. This means it has a larger- than life hero and the conflict is of universal importance. There’s a certain serious that accompanies most epics. Some terms you’ll want to know
elegy An elegy is a poem that is sad or mournful. The adjective is elegiac. homily A homily is a written sermon or section of the poem that gives direct advice. Some terms you’ll want to know
Themes and Important Aspects Good vs. Evil Religion: Christian and Pagan influences The importance of wealth and treasure Loyalty and allegiance The importance of the sea and sailing The sanctity of the home Fate Heroism and heroic deeds