2 Why Study Beowulf?1. Beowulf is the oldest poem in the English language, so everything written since Beowulf stems from it in some way2. The story of Beowulf encompasses common themes that we still see in English literature today3. Beowulf is simply good writing
3 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 English6. It’s a great story
4 Beowulf’s Provenance What we don’t know: who wrote it when exactly it was writtenhow much, exactly, is based on historical truth
5 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 11th century A.D. (1000’s), however…
6 The actual poem probably dates from the 8th 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.
7 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.
8 Beowulf’s ProvenanceSo what’s happened to the manuscript since the 11th century?Eventually, it ended up in the library of this guy.Robert Cotton ( )
9 Beowulf’s ProvenanceUnfortunately, 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.
10 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.
11 Setting: Beowulf’s time and place Insert: Time of BeowulfEurope today
12 How we date Beowulf Some Important Dates: 521 A.D. – death of Hygelac, who is mentioned in the poem680 A.D. – appearance of alliterative verse835 A.D. – the Danish started raiding other areas; after this, few poets would consider them heroesSO: This version was likely composed between 680 and 835, though it may be set earlier
13 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out for1. Alliterative verseRepetition of initial sounds of words (occurs in every line)b. Generally, four feet/beats per linec. A caesura, or pause, between beats two and fourd. No rhyme
14 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out forAlliterative verse – an example from Beowulf:Oft Scyld Scefing sceapena praetum,Monegum maegpum meodo-setla ofteah;Egsode Eorle, syddan aerest weard.
15 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out forThere was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.The terror of the hall-troops had come far.
16 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out for2. Kenningsa. Compound metaphor (usually two words)b. Most were probably used over and overFor instance: hronade literally means “whale-road,” but can be translated as “sea”
17 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out forOther kennings from Beowulf:banhus = “bone-house” = bodygoldwine gumena = “gold-friend of men” = generous princebeaga brytta = “ring-giver” = lordbeadoleoma = “flashing light” = sword
18 A few things to watch out for The Poetry in BeowulfA few things to watch out for3. LitotesA negative expression; usually an understatementExample:Hildeburh had no cause to praise the JutesIn 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.
19 Some terms you’ll want to know scopA bard or story-teller.The scop was responsible for praising deeds of past heroes, for recording history, and for providing entertainment
20 Some terms you’ll want to know comitatusLiterally, this means “escort” or “comrade”This term identifies the concept of warriors and lords mutually pledging their loyalty to one another
21 Some terms you’ll want to know thaneA warriormead-hallThe large hall where the lord and his warriors slept, ate, held ceremonies, etc.
22 Some terms you’ll want to know wyrdFate. This idea crops up a lot in the poem, while at the same time there are Christian references to God’s will.
23 Some terms you’ll want to know epicBeowulf 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.
24 Some terms you’ll want to know elegyAn elegy is a poem that is sad or mournful. The adjective is elegiac.homilyA homily is a written sermon or section of the poem that gives direct advice.
25 Themes and Important Aspects Good vs. EvilReligion: Christian and Pagan influencesThe importance of wealth and treasureThe importance of the sea and sailingThe sanctity of the homeFateLoyalty and allegianceHeroism and heroic deeds
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