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Beowulf Text and Context. Background ► Composed around 700 A.D. ► The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was.

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Presentation on theme: "Beowulf Text and Context. Background ► Composed around 700 A.D. ► The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was."— Presentation transcript:

1 Beowulf Text and Context

2 Background ► Composed around 700 A.D. ► The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written. ► The action of the poem takes place around 500 AD ► Poet is reviving the heroic language, style and values and pagan values of ancient Germanic oral poetry ► The poem deals with ancient Germanic forebears, the Danes and the Geats ► Only a single manuscript of the poem survived the Anglo- Saxon era. In the 1700’s it was nearly destroyed in a fire ► It was not until 1936 when the Oxford scholar J.R.R> Tolkien published a paper on the poem that is became popular.

3 The Beowulf Poet ► The poet is Christian ► The poem reflects established Christian tradition ► Allusions to the Old Testament ► Beowulf is a Redeemer who is sent by God to save man from sin ► The price of salvation is life itself ► Correspondences between Beowulf’s death and the death of Christ

4 Heroic Values in Beowulf ► Relationship between king and his warriors ► The king rewards his warriors with gifts ► If a kinsman is slain, obligation to kill the slayer or obtain payment (wergeld) in compensation

5 Conflict Christian Values and Heroic Values ► This tension is at the heart of the poem ► Pagan history and myth are made to point to a Christian moral ► Beowulf is poised between two value systems

6 The Character of Beowulf ► He fights for personal honor, but is committed to service to his own people and humanity. ► A superhuman who remains recognizable ► Contrast old and young Beowulf ► Beowulf as savior

7 Themes ► Good vs. Evil ► Fate ► The Importance of Establishing Identity ► Tension between Heroic Code and Christianity ► Significance of artifacts ► The past

8 Important Elements of the Poem ► Elegaic tone ► Heroic poem ► Contrasts  Christian and pagan  Youth and old age  Rise and fall of nations  Joy and sorrow  Fate and God’s will ViolenceIrony

9 Sutton Hoo ► Burial site discovered in 1939 ► Important links to Anglo-Saxon world and Beowulf ► Remains of a boat were discovered and large burial chamber containing numerous artifacts ► Artifacts suggest a distinctly Christian element intermingled with pagan ritual. ► Episodes in Beowulf now have tangible archaeological violence to add creditability to the blend of customs in the text.

10 Sutton Hook Images

11 Suggested Further Reading ► Beowulf, A Verse Translatioin. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Ed. Daniel Donaghue. Norton Critical Edition ► Norton bibliography on Beowulf, p ► Websites on Beowulf, Old English poetry, and Sutton Hoo.


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