Gilgamesh Tablet In 1872, George Smith was working at the British Museum. On a long table were pieces of clay tablets, among the hundreds of thousands that archaeologists had shipped back to London from Nineveh, in present-day Iraq,. Many of the fragments bore cuneiform hieroglyphs. Smith was a self-taught linguist and never went to high school. He was the first to read the story in over 2,000 years. Keep in mind the difficulty there must have been (still is) in trying to figure out exactly how the story went and what it could mean.
The “Hero Myth” (rough) outline Gilgamesh leaves home with helper, Enkidu, to begin adventure (Frodo and Sam?) Hero enters “other world” (woods) Gilgamesh must undergo tests—he defeats the monster Humbaba, slays Bull of Heaven, etc. Lessons: Gilgamesh goes off to learn the secret of immortality. The “boon” (prize) is the knowledge that immortality is for the gods only. Notice the motif of the evil serpent connected to “knowledge humans shouldn’t have” The story, like many epics, have the hero come full circle (back home), but with a new outlook/knowledge about humanity. Notice how Gilgamesh is now the narrator at the end.
Key Dates 43Roman invasions of Britain under Claudius begin 382 St. Jerome Latin version of the Bible 429Germanus comes to Britain to convert people to Christianity 449Germanic tribes called Angles, Saxons and Jutes by Bede (Ecclesiastical History of the English People ) invade Britain 594Gregory of Tours writes of a Danish king Hygelac. This is the only dated event in Beowulf that can be attested from an independent source
780Vikings attack England (first Viking age) 871Alfred the Great reigns after winning victory over Danish leader Guthrum. One of their agreed treaty points: We earnestly forbid every heathen practice. It is heathen practice if one worships idols: namely, if one worships heathen gods and the sun or the moon, fire or surges of water, wells or stones or any kind of forest trees; or if one practices witchcraft, or causes death by any means, either by sacrifice or divination, or takes part in delusions of this sort. 980-1066Second Viking age 1000Compilation of Beowulf (redaction like Bible) 1066William the Conqueror is crowned William I, King of England. This “Norman Invasion” changed England from a Scandinavian influence to French
Sutton Hoo Sutton Hoo is an estate near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, that is the site of an early grave of an Anglo- Saxon king (compare with lines 34-45 in Beowulf)
In the burial site there were 41 items of solid gold, now held in the British Museum. The ship also contained 37 coins, a helmet, a necklace and a shield mount, all of gold.
Type of Neck ring given to Beowulf by Wealhtheow
The Danes The Danes were residents of Denmark The Scylding line is known through Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon sources; the Anglo-Saxon king Cnut (1016- 1042, a period coincident with the composition of the Beowulf manuscript) is known to have descended from this line.
The Geats The Geats were Beowulf's clan - a seafaring tribe residing in the south of Sweden. As the poem suggests, the Geats appear to have been conquered and disappeared into history.