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Listen to Beowulf, read by its translator, Seamus Heaney Click here for Part

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1 Listen to Beowulf, read by its translator, Seamus Heaney Click here for Part

2 Britons Picts Gaels Prior to Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain around 50 B.C., the British Isles were tribal and pagan. The three most powerful tribes were the Britons, the Picts, and the Gaels. British Islands, pre 50 B.C.

3 Romans Picts Gaels Caesar controls the island now called Britain only as far north as what is roughly the border with modern-day Scotland. British Islands, c. 50 B.C. to c. 450 A.D.

4 British Islands, c. 450 B.C. to c. 1066 A.D.. Tribes from northern Germany and southern Scandanavia settle in the southeastern parts of the island now called England. These tribes are (among others) the Jutes, the Danes, the Frisians, the Geats, the Angles, and the Saxons.

5 Epic Poetry/Review We read Homer’s Iliad because it is the first – and probably the best example of epic poetry. Remember that an epic poem has the following characteristics: –It is long, and characterized by dignified tone and highly- stylized language. –It features a central character – the EPIC HERO – who must accomplish great and difficult deeds. –The fate of the hero’s people depends upon his success. –The hero embodies social, cultural, or religious ideals. –Supernatural forces work for or against the hero.

6 3 more characteristics of the EPIC HERO he makes a long and challenging journey his heroic reputation precedes him he makes the journey to use his heroic talents on behalf of a foreign people or in a foreign land

7 The Hero’s Code Achilles remembers what his mother Thetis told him about his fate: “If I stay [in Troy] and fight, I’ll never return home, but my glory will be undying forever. If I return home to my dear fatherland, my glory is lost, but my life will be long.” (IX, 422 ff) In Beowulf: “I mean to perform to the uttermost what your people want, or perish in the attempt, in the fiend’s clutches… I shall fulfill that purpose [and] prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead-hall.” (ll. 634 ff) The hero willingly sacrifices his life for the promise of eternal glory or honor.

8 Beowulf as an Example of Epic Poetry Beowulf, like the Iliad, is a very strong example of epic poetry. Its main character, Beowulf (like Achilles) embodies socio/cultural ideals, faces difficult tasks, and must overcome supernatural powers. Beowulf, whose author is unknown, is a long, narrative poem written in a distinct, highly formalized style. Like the Iliad, Beowulf is a product of a long tradition of sung verse. The only surviving manuscript of the Beowulf story dates from between 700-900 A.D. This makes Beowulf the oldest known work of “English” literature.

9 Why “English”? The Beowulf manuscript was discovered in England. At the time the manuscript was created, though, “England” did not exist. The manuscript was written by an unknown poet. It remains the oldest known work of literature in “English.”

10 Starting in the late-600’s A.D. the Angles/Saxons and the Danes began to fight in earnest for control of the region. The Normans, an equally powerful faction from the area now known as France, conquered and effectively united England in 1066 A.D. Prior to 1100 A.D., then, Scandanavian and Germanic language and culture had powerful influence in Britain. The Norman invasion from France marked the beginning of a very long period of French cultural/linguistic influence. Why “English”?, cont.

11 The story of Beowulf originated in Scandanavia. It’s about two Scandanavian kings. It’s told to us today in a language like Scandanavian and German, but also unique enough to the area that’s now Great Britain to be called something different. This language used to be called “Old English”. It is now referred to as Anglo-Saxon. Why “English”?, cont.

12 That the language of the Beowulf manuscript was once called “Old English” can be misleading. “Old English” bears almost no grammatical or phonetic resemblance to modern English. It is, essentially, a “dead” foreign language, so as with the Iliad, we need to read it in translation.

13 This Anglo-Saxon letter is called “thorn”. Phonetically, it represents a “thh” sound, as in “the”. This letter once was used to spell the word “The” in titles, as in “Ye Olde Shoppe”

14 Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Poetry The break in each line is called a “caesura” (Latin for “pause”). Why is it appropriate that this written version of what started as a song/poem would have these built-in pauses? Anglo-Saxon poetry was highly alliterative.

15 Names You Need to Know Beowulf is the nephew of Hygelac (aka “Higlac”), King of the Geats. The Geats had once been enemies of the Danes, but a long peace had developed. Beowulf’s father is Ecgtheow – a “noble warrior-lord” of the Geats. Hrothgar is king of the Danes. His father was Healfdane, his grandfather was Beow, and his great-grandfather was Shield Sheafson (Scyld Scēfing) a “scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches.” Wiglaf is one of Beowulf’s bravest warriors. Unferth: one of Hrothgar’s men. He’s a drunken braggart who questions Beowulf’s legendary achievements.

16 Beowulf Manuscript dates to 700-900 A.D. Like Homer’s Iliad, Beowulf has a loose grounding in history. A Geatish king, Hygelac, did lead raids on Denmark c. 525 A.D. But, like the Iliad (and other epics) the “truth” of Beowulf lies in the values it seeks to pass down from generation-to-generation, first as an artifact of ORAL TRADITION, then as a written narrative poem/song.

17 Dane-land – Hrothgar’s Kingdom Modern Denmark Geat-land – Hygelac’s Kingdom Modern Sweden

18 “ S hield was still thriving when his time came and he crossed over into the Lord’s keeping. His warrior band did what he bade them… they shouldered him out to the sea’s flood… stretched their beloved lord in his boat… and launched him alone out over the waves.” (lines 30 ff)

19 Viking Armor a chain mail tunic – also called a hauberk – worn with heavy cotton and leather padding beneath.

20 Viking Armor, cont. Because methods of smithing and smelting metals had improved, and because iron and steel had long since replaced bronze, Viking swords were much longer, heavier, and sharper than the swords used by the Greeks at the time of the Trojan War. Beowulf’s sword has a name. He called it “Hrunting”.

21 Viking Armor, cont. The chain mail hood was called a coif. It was often worn under another, heavier “helm”.

22 A meadhall is an “audience chamber or “throne room” that was also used for banquets and celebrations. Hrothgar’s meadhall is called Heorot (or Herot).

23 Mead Mead is mentioned several times in Beowulf. Mead is the world’s first known alcoholic beverage. It is made from fermented honey. As the Scandanavians drank it, mead would have been very much like ale, or lightly carbonated, very strong beer.

24 “ G rendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marshes, marauding round the heath and desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery, among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.” (lines 102 ff)

25 a Viking longboat

26 “ T he monster’s whole body was in pain, a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split, and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning.” “The Geat captain had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes: he had healed and relieved a huge distress… C lear proof of this could be seen in the hand the hero displayed high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel’s shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.” (ll. 815 ff)

27 Hrothgar is king of the Danes. He is a widely respected, very generous man. (through l. 98) Hrothgar’s father (Halfdane), grandfather (Beow – no relation to Beowulf), and great-grandfather (Scyld Scēfing) were also good, generous, respected warrior-kings. (through l. 98) Hrothgar builds a meadhall – Heorot – a where he celebrates his good fortune with his loyal warriors. (through l. 98) Grendel, a descendant of Cain, is driven to murder by the songs of praise which are sung constantly in Heorot. (through l. 110) Beowulf Summary

28 Hrothgar’s men – brave warriors all – begin to stay away from Heorot altogether. Fear and suspicion grow among the people of Daneland. (through l. 143) Hrothgar’s counselors are unable to advise their king of a way to safeguard Heorot from Grendel’s punishing attacks. (through l.180) Pagan gods are consulted – also with no effect. Word of Hrothgar’s dilemma begins to spread to neighboring lands. (through l. 180) Beowulf, son of a brave Geatish warrior and nephew to their king Hygelac, leaves for Daneland along with 14 brave volunteers. (through l. 228) Beowulf Summary

29 Beowulf lands in Daneland after a brief voyage at sea. In spite of their warlike appearance, he and his men convince Hrothgar’s coast guardsman of their good intent and ability to combat Grendel’s evil. (through l. 300) At Heorot, Beowulf and his band are welcomed by Hrothgar and his queen with gifts, words of praise and thanks (and warning) and promises of great reward should they succeed in their quest to defeat Grendel. (through l. 498) Beowulf Summary

30 Beowulf is reminded that Grendel has charmed the harm from all blades, and so goes to sleep, along with his volunteers, empty-handed and unarmored on the floor of Heorot. (through l. 680 and ll. 800 ff.) Grendel, sensing the presence of fresh meat, attacks. He kills outright one of Beowulf’s most valiant men. (through l. 740) Beowulf awakes, and attacks Grendel. A vicious hand-to-hand battle ensues. (ll. 740 ff) Beowulf Summary

31 Beowulf defeats Grendel by ripping his arm off from the shoulder. (ll 808-835) Grendel lopes away to his lair under the swamp. He is mortally wounded. (ll. 836-851) Beowulf is honored as a hero by Hrothgar and the court. He is awarded treasure and is made an honorary son of Hrothgar. a “torque” Beowulf Summary

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