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LIT 2001 Major English Writers 1 Beowulf. Beowulf Beowulf in Old English The first three lines of the poem: (Old English passage and sound file from the.

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Presentation on theme: "LIT 2001 Major English Writers 1 Beowulf. Beowulf Beowulf in Old English The first three lines of the poem: (Old English passage and sound file from the."— Presentation transcript:

1 LIT 2001 Major English Writers 1 Beowulf

2 Beowulf Beowulf in Old English The first three lines of the poem: (Old English passage and sound file from the Old English at the University of Virginia Web site.)

3 Beowulf Characteristics of Old English Poetry litotes—a form of understatement in which a thing is affirmed by stating the negation of its opposite “Cain got no good from committing that murder” (109). Grendel—“nor was this the first time / he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar’s dwelling” ( ). kenning—a figurative phrase, often a picturesque metaphorical compound, used for a simple noun: whale-road, swan-road, bone-house, word-hoard (unlocked his word- hoard), shadow-stalker.

4 Beowulf In the Modern Translation: Then as dawn brightened / and the day broke, Grendel’s powers of destruction were plain: Their wassail was over, / they wept to heaven And mourned under morning. / Their mighty prince, The storied leader, / sat stricken and helpless, ( ) Pauses (caesura) in lines = / Two stresses per half-line Alliteration = note alliterative connection between the half-lines Note how the stresses and alliteration emphasize thematic aspects of the poem: the sense of doom, temporality, and mutability

5 Beowulf Elegiac aspects of the poem Elegy = “a mournful poem; a lament for the dead” = a poem or other work of literature that laments that passing of a time Elegiac = “Of, relating to, or involving elegy or mourning or expressing sorrow for that which is irrecoverably past” Theme of temporality and mutability Memento mori = remember death—even during celebrations, the characters hear stories of death Notice especially the elegiac aspects in the last part of the poem

6 Beowulf Elegiac = “Of, relating to, or involving elegy or mourning or expressing sorrow for that which is irrecoverably past” From the introduction in the textbook: “Christian writers like the Beowulf poet were fascinated by the distant culture of their pagan ancestors and by the inherent conflict between the heroic code and a religion that teaches that we should ‘forgive those who trespass against us’ and that ‘all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’ The Beowulf poet looks back on that ancient world with admiration for the courage of which it was capable and at the same time with elegiac sympathy for its inevitable doom.”

7 Beowulf Beowulf as a “heroic-elegiac” poem A poem about heroes We will read about several heroes in the course Who might we consider to be heroes today, and why? Any possible criticisms of the heroes? What makes Beowulf heroic? “Sapientia et fortitudo” (Wisdom and strength) Anything you do not like about Beowulf? Does he have any weaknesses?

8 Beowulf Lord/Thane Relationship Hundreds of “kings” in Anglo-Saxon England at the time Roles of the thane and the lord Comitatus: “the society... or brotherhood of men who owed allegiance to a chieftain and expected his benevolence in return.” “Disaffection or exile from one’s lord meant that one was without a home, friends, affection, and respect from others.” Beowulf is a thane in the first part of the poem; he is a lord in the last part of the poem. Importance of gift-giving

9 Beowulf Constant warfare (social instability and a strong code of retribution) Imagine a society with no police Strong sense of “eye for an eye” Wergild—“man price” (as occurred with Beowulf’s father—Ecgtheow killed another man, but Hrothgar paid his wergild) Unferth = (Hrothgar’s spokesperson) killed his own brother

10 Beowulf What does Heorot (the mead hall) represent? human attempt at permanence symbol of Hrothgar’s success and pride community / happiness

11 Beowulf Grendel What does Grendel look like? Projection of human fears (the unknown, evil) Concept of evil being necessary (From John Gardner’s Grendel) One film interpretation:

12 Beowulf Some Important Passages Lines : Beowulf and Grendel’s mother Lines : Things looking hopeless for Beowulf Lines : Hrothgar warning Beowulf against pride Lines : Hrothgar breaking down in tears upon Beowulf’s departure

13 Beowulf Some Important Passages Lines : The dragon and Beowulf Lines : Beowulf’s final boast Lines : Wiglaf ready to help Beowulf Lines : Wiglaf’s rebuke, the “battle-dodgers” Lines : The end


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