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Beowulf Mr. Marcel British Literature I. Origins of the English Language How did the English language start? What were the first works of literature in.

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Presentation on theme: "Beowulf Mr. Marcel British Literature I. Origins of the English Language How did the English language start? What were the first works of literature in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Beowulf Mr. Marcel British Literature I

2 Origins of the English Language How did the English language start? What were the first works of literature in English? –Keep in mind that The Odyssey was written around 700 B.C.

3 Britain A.D. At this time Britain –small part of the Roman Empire for nearly four hundred years. The Roman Empire was Christian; its universal language was Latin--the spoken Latin which in the next five centuries would develop into French, Italian, Spanish, and the other "Romance" languages. In Roman Britain, as far as we can tell, people spoke both Latin and Briton--the "Celtic" language (related to modern Welsh, Breton, and Irish and Scots Gaelic) which the Britons had been speaking before being conquered by Rome. Polytheistic to monotheistic.

4 Anglo-Saxon Conquest 450 A.D., a group of barbarian warriors crossed the English Channel and invaded Roman Britain. These invaders were members of various tribes--Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians. Known as the Anglo-Saxon invasion. The Anglo-Saxons were pagan: they worshipped a collection of gods that included the war god Tiu; Woden, the clever one-eyed leader of the gods; thunder-hammering Thor; and Freya, the seductive love-goddess. (Four of the modern days of our week are named after these gods: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.) Their language was part of a group we now call "Germanic," related to modern German, Dutch, and Danish.


6 Anglo-Saxon Conquest The Germanic tribes = fond of warfare. It was noble for a warrior to fight fiercely and die in battle. Complicated feuds: if someone from another tribe killed your kinsman, you were morally obligated to get revenge on someone from the killer's tribe; they were then obligated to get revenge on you, and so forth. “Mead halls," drinking and listening to poets sing stories of famous heroes fighting and killing each other. The poets "sang" these stories in poetry because the Anglo-Saxons were illiterate. Poetry is easier to remember than prose + attractive rhythm.

7 Anglo-Saxon Conquest It took them about a hundred years to gain control of what we now call "England." ("England" is "Angle-land," named after the Angles, and "English" is "Anglish"--the language the Angles spoke.) Wales and Cornwall remained Celtic and unconquered, as did Scotland, which had never been part of Roman Britain, either. (Neither the Romans nor the Anglo-Saxons conquered Ireland, the large island to the west.) In the areas conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, Christianity disappeared, as did any trace of the Latin or British languages. Society was, roughly, divided between "earls" (or nobles) and "churls" (free workers).

8 Christianity in England Pope Gregory the Great sends a group of missionaries to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Within about a century all England had become Christian. Christianity - more hopeful than the old pagan religion The monks and missionaries - brought books and ideas - teach the Anglo-Saxons to read and write.

9 Old English Poetry Few books were written; most of those were written in Latin, for religious purposes. What are the earliest works written in Old English? Four books of Old English poetry exist today. 1.Stories from the Old Testament turned into Old English poetry 2.Christian poems based on themes from the New Testament or lives of saints. 3.An anthology of different short poems 4.The fourth contains Beowulf. Badly burned in 1731; today it is carefully preserved in the British Museum, in London

10 Beowulf First page of the Beowulf manuscript How Old English sounds: u/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Pr ologue.htmlhttp://www.engl.virginia.ed u/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Pr ologue.html

11 Old English Poetry Our ignorance about Beowulf. –Was it a traditional heroic story, written down by a monk and then recopied by other monks who added a thin veneer of Christian moralizing to a basically pagan tale? –Was it written by a scholar trying to create something like the great Latin epic, the Aeneid?


13 Introduction “The poem called Beowulf was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the first millennium, in the language that is today called Anglo- Saxon or Old English. It is a heroic narrative, more than three thousand lines long, concerning the deeds of a Scandinavian prince, also called Beowulf, and it stands as one of the foundation works of poetry in English.” - Seamus Heaney (translator, poet)

14 Background on Beowulf 3182 lines Chief literary monument of the Old English Period Author unknown - - likely composed in 8th century, by monk putting down oral tradition, with a mixture of Christian tenets (unique combo of Germanic pagan heroism + early Christian teaching/world-view) –first printed in the 19th century

15 Background on Beowulf Setting: not in England, but in earlier period in Scandinavia (though it has been transformed into a uniquely English text) –in the heroic age of Germanic peoples (5th and 6th centuries) –hence, celebrates a past centuries old, glorified by oral traditions

16 Map of Scandinavia

17 Beowulf and Poetic Beginnings 1.Use of Contrast (man-filled Heorot vs. lonely Grendel stalking among corpses) 2.Early use of Symbolism (Beowulf hangs Grendel’s arm on wall: symbol of victory) 3.Hyperbole (struggle so fierce even the mighty Heorot is threatened)

18 Beowulf and Poetic Beginnings 4.Kennings - a compact metaphor that functions as a name or epithet…a riddle in miniature. Oar-steed = ship Storm of swords = battle Fire-drake = dragon Ring-river = moat Whale-path = Mead-hall = 5.Alliteration 6.Caesura: a pause in a line of poetry.

19 Important Terms Primary Epic: an epic is a poem that records and celebrates the heroic achievements of an individual or individuals. A primary epic is an epic poem that comes from an oral tradition. Scop: an Old English term for poet. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the scop had the important job of singing about the accomplishments of his patron and his people. Heroic Ideal: Anglo-Saxon culture was governed by the ideals of bravery, loyalty and generosity. The king or lord surrounded himself with a band of retainers, who are rewarded with the spoils of their victories. As E. Talbot Donaldson writes, “the retainers are obligated to fight for their lord to the death, and if he is slain, to avenge him or die in the attempt. Blood vengeance is regarded as a sacred duty, and in poetry, everlasting shame awaits those who fail to observe it.”

20 Important Terms Wergild: “manprice”; “If one of his kinsmen had been slain, a man had a special duty of either killing the slayer or exacting from him the payment of wergild. The money itself had less significance as wealth than as proof that the kinsmen had done what was right. Relatives who failed either to exact wergild or to take vengeance could never be happy, having found no practical way of satisfying their grief.” Comitatus: “the society... or brotherhood of men who owed allegiance to a chieftain and expected his benevolence in return.” Wyrd: fate, which was believed to be the controlling force of the world for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture.

21 Basic Narrative of Beowulf 1.Beowulf (a Geat) travels to Denmark to help their king, Hrothgar; Beowulf’s victory over the cannibal/ogre/monster Grendel in Hrothgar’s mead- hall, Heorot. 2.Beowulf’s slaying of Grendel’s mother in her lair: a cave at the bottom of a swamp/lake 3.Beowulf’s return in glory to his uncle, Hygelac, King of Geatland, whose son Heardred, he succeeds to the throne 4.Fifty years later, with help of faithful young kinsman, slays dragon, but himself falls in the fight

22 Anglo-Saxon Characteristics 1.The “Hero-King”: Superman 2.Importance of the “mead-hall” (read “castle”) Heorot Heorot, therefore, is symbol of man’s loyalty and celebration of unity Grendel, excluded, is jealous? --Grendel as “outsider” 3.Warrior-Thane relationship of mutual trust and respect –Good kings: “protector of warriors,” “dispenser of treasure,” “ring-giver” –Bad kings: greedy, bad-tempered

23 Anglo-Saxon Characteristics 4.Wer-gild (man-price) –Loyalty is paramount –Revenge payment for slain kin –$ is not as significant as wealth as it is proof of worth (great treasure on Beowulf’s pyre) –Better to avenge death (by killing Grendel and mom) than to mourn –Notion of avenging Abel (Grendel as descendant of Cain) –Existence of so many feuds requiring vengeance & unsatisfied by arranged marriages leads to feeling of potentiality of attack & pervading sense of doom

24 Old English Poetry Tone –Beowulf shares its gloomy mood with a good many other Old English poems. In this poetry the season seems always to be winter (hail, snow, icicles), the central figure often a displaced person comparing his or her present misery with some past (or hypothetical) state of joy.

25 Christianity in Beowulf The only hope can come from God--the Christian God. –Some see Beowulf as a Christ figure, dying for his people; –Some see him as a doomed pagan, victim of his own pride when he decides to take on the dragon single-handed. The poet treats Beowulf sympathetically, but Beowulf's behavior generally fits the values of a Germanic warrior better than the values of Christ, and his self-sacrificing death leads not to the salvation but to the destruction of his people.

26 Christianity in Beowulf Old English poets seem less interested in confronting their heroes with moral choices (one right, one wrong) than in putting them in situations where any choice loses. The Old English heroes do what they think is right, but lose anyway. –The importance of fate (or wyrd) in the Old English worldview.

27 HOW CHRISTIAN THEMES/RHYTHMS ARE INTERLACED INTO WORK 1.God is referred to as the creator of all things (w/monotheistic sense) 2.God’s will = Fate (wyrd) 3.Grendel made to be descendant of Cain 4.Sword in Grendel’s mother’s lair has the story of people destroyed by The Flood 5.Grendel and Mother are sent to Hell (reference to the Devil) 6.Hrothgar’s advice to Beowulf to avoid Devil’s temptations & make “better” choice seems not unlike Christian notion of conscience 7.Hero is made as Christ-like as possible--high-minded and gentle, fighting chiefly against monstrous embodiments of evil, in the end laying down his life for his people

28 THE UNIQUENESS OF BEOWULF 1.The author of Beowulf transcends the folk tales on which the story is based, for he strove to serve a purpose not unlike Virgil in the Aeneid (a Roman work, the “monk” would have known well): exalt a past which by tradition or fictions belongs to the cultural heritage of the poet’s nation (ie. English literature begins to see self at “nation”) 2.In structure and tone, this is NOT a song such as would have been sung by a scop, but has been transformed into a elaborate and sophisticated narrative (again, reminiscent of the Aeneid)...hence, making,self-consciously, something much closer to what we would call “Literature.” Ie. a purposefully artful “story.” AND, remember “narrative” can still be “in poetic format.”

29 Hegelian Dialectics German philosopher Hegel's dialectic was a three-step process of Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis Three dialectical stages of development: –a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, –an antithesis which contradicts or negates the thesis, –and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. Namely, a "thesis" (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its "antithesis" (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a "synthesis" (e.g. the Constitutional state of free citizens).

30 Grendel - Background John Gardner –Published 5 novels since 1966 –Published Grendel in 1971 –Last 3 novels (incl. Grendel) are his best All include an “alien” – an eccentric, estranged from a society The biting wit of alienation pitted against righteousness Gardner’s tone is dark humor told philosophically (a sad clown whose jokes emerge from a mood of despair)

31 Grendel - Background John Gardner –Calls Beowulf the “greatest single work in (loosely) English” –Connects with Beowulf’s dark tone: hero dies alone, deluded He thinks he has saved his people, when in fact his “treasure” is worthless, and his people are certain to die at the hands of the Swedes. “One of the main things Beowulf is about is how, in this world, you simply cannot win, no matter how noble you are. The best you can hope for is fame…[which] eventually dies” - Gardner –We will all die –Creates this philosophical novel – it asks questions (and doesn’t give many answers)

32 Grendel - Background “Grendel came from two places simultaneously--from the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre (whom I dislike) and from the poem Beowulf. In Beowulf Grendel represents irrationality. When I ask myself what is the chief irrationality of the modern age, I answer Sartre's version of existentialism. In essence, Sartre argues that (1) there's no god or meaning in life, so (2) one can assert any meaning (or no meaning) as one pleases. The trouble with this philosophy is not the first assertion. There may or may not be a God, but in all likelihood the question's irrelevant since we'll never know unless, if there is one, we meet him or her in an afterlife, at which point it's too late for this life.

33 Grendel - Background “So it's a matter of opinion (whether or not there's a god), and given the way the world has always gone, it's an easy opinion that probably there isn't, in fact, a god. But the real question is, if there isn't a reachable god, and if life has no inherent meaning how should one live? There are basically two choices: either you behave as if there were a god and try to determine what's right, in other words you make up values, you dream up a future better than the present and try to create it; or else you accept the world as it seems to be and scoff at all values (dreams for the future) because according to what is true at this moment, they're lies.” - John Gardner

34 Group Work Get in your groups Check your chapter’s sign & ism Describe how are they relevant to the chapter

35 Existentialism Each man exists as an individual in a purposeless universe, and he must oppose his hostile environment through the exercise of his free will. Existence precedes essence

36 Existentialism Atheistic: essence does not exist (God) or else it is only a relative term for man’s own creation of self Christian: that we are existing individuals caught in time and that essence is problematic; there is a problem or paradox in the existent apprehending essence

37 7 Steps of Existentialism 1.The Abyss 2.The Absurd 3.Anxiety 4.Defianace/Rebellion 5.Freedom/Responsibility 6.Self-Creation 7.The Present. Here and Now.

38 Grendel Change in perspective Do you feel sympathetic towards Grendel now? If it were in 3 rd person, would you have more or less sympathy?

39 Traits of the Anti-Hero Grendel exhibits characteristics of the anti-hero, who frequently appears in modern literature…the opposite of the traditional hero. Deprived of the rules and consequences of society. Outlaw; has no status in society; must wander on fringes of society Rejects values, rules, attitudes of society and political establishment Seeks to establish his own rules and ethics A failure, crude, sometimes stupid or even dishonest Often angry

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