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Beowulf The Poem The Society Christian Tradition ValuesTechniquesThemes.

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1 Beowulf The Poem The Society Christian Tradition ValuesTechniquesThemes

2 The Poem the oldest of the great long poems written in English more than 1200 years ago the oldest of the great long poems written in English more than 1200 years ago composed in the first half of the 8th century deals with their Germanic forebears, with 2 south Scandinavian tribes--the Danes and the Geats composed in the first half of the 8th century deals with their Germanic forebears, with 2 south Scandinavian tribes--the Danes and the Geats concerns a time following the initial invasion of England by Germanic tribes in 449 AD (5th~6th Cent.) concerns a time following the initial invasion of England by Germanic tribes in 449 AD (5th~6th Cent.) the composer “Christianizes” the work the composer “Christianizes” the work Author removes most of the supernatural references and softens the bloody overtones of the original poem (to remove the pagan deities) Author removes most of the supernatural references and softens the bloody overtones of the original poem (to remove the pagan deities) an epic, not as complete as Homer's epics an epic, not as complete as Homer's epics more elegy than epic: a poem honoring Beowulf: his heroic exploits and his death-- the past hero--honoring the past way of life more elegy than epic: a poem honoring Beowulf: his heroic exploits and his death-- the past hero--honoring the past way of life

3 Societal Values Values of Anglo-Saxon Society tribal society with kinship bonds tribal society with kinship bonds heroic code of behavior heroic code of behavior –bravery –loyalty to one’s lord, one’s warband (comitatus), and one’s kin –willingness to avenge one’s lord or warband without regard for personal danger or cost—death preferable to exile and lordless life –generosity of lord to thanes and of hero to warband and lord—gift-giving –heroism (i.e., great deeds) brings honor, eternal fame, and political power

4 Women were portrayed as peace-weavers Women were portrayed as peace-weavers –married to powerful men from enemy states to bring political solidarity and to reconcile warring kingdoms –not entirely successful mix of pagan and Christian values mix of pagan and Christian values –often in conflict, e.g., pagan (secular) lineage (Geats, Danes, etc.) vs Christian lineage (race of Cain) –eternal earthly fame through deeds vs afterlife in hell or heaven –honor and gift-giving vs sin of pride (hubris); revenge vs pacifist view (forgiveness); Wyrd (Anglo-Saxon "Fate") vs God’s will, etc. –Germanic revenge ethic is consistent with Old Law of retribution (Old Testament Lex Talionis), not with New Testament Law of forgiveness. songs, tale-telling, and boasting (i.e., words) inscribe deeds in the cultural memory — oral transmission songs, tale-telling, and boasting (i.e., words) inscribe deeds in the cultural memory — oral transmission

5 Christian Tradition God: the Creator of all things God: the Creator of all things the ruler of the Heavens - God's will the ruler of the Heavens - God's will identical with fate of Grendel: descendent of Cain the race of giant destroyed by flood identical with fate of Grendel: descendent of Cain the race of giant destroyed by flood the dead await God's judgement the dead await God's judgement BUT no reference to the New Testament in Beowulf BUT no reference to the New Testament in Beowulf also reflects an ancient pagan, warrior society tradition, in the sense of tragic waste also reflects an ancient pagan, warrior society tradition, in the sense of tragic waste

6 Values it evokes 1) human relationship between the warrior (the thane) and his lord 1) human relationship between the warrior (the thane) and his lord –mutual trust and respect –loyalty treasured --a kind of visible proof that all parties are realizing themselves to the full in a spiritual sense –symbolic importance (spiritual material; give honor/worth, value, ultimate achievement) –The warrior society centered in the mead-hall provided by the lord for his and their protection –Gift-giving: acknowledging one's worth (primitive and sophisticated) –Boasting: challenging yourself to gain renown, reputation: feeling of worth

7 relationship between kinsmen to exact wergild (manprice) or to take vengeance for their kinsmen's death relationship between kinsmen to exact wergild (manprice) or to take vengeance for their kinsmen's death the need to take vengeance created never- ending feuds, bloodshed, a vast web of reprisals and counter-reprisals (a strong sense of doom) fatal evil the need to take vengeance created never- ending feuds, bloodshed, a vast web of reprisals and counter-reprisals (a strong sense of doom) fatal evil –Quests: In undertaking the slaying of Grendel, later Grendel's mother, and the later, thye dragon, Beowulf is testing his relationship with unknowable destiny. –Whether he lives or dies, he will have done all that any man could do to develop his character heroically courage/ fate / "the boasting" pagan immortality. –The memory in the minds of later generation; through the writing of the poet, will keep him alive.

8 Poetic Techniques Alliteration (Peter Piper…) Alliteration (Peter Piper…) Kenning (figurative expression: oar-steed = ship) Kenning (figurative expression: oar-steed = ship) Boasting Boasting Litotes (understatements) Litotes (understatements) Interlacing (digression) story Interlacing (digression) story Epic (long, adventure, Epic (long, adventure, The poet honored the hero and the end of a cultural group far earlier in the old English period to take the past of old culture that is coming to an end and a good start of new Christian culture. The poet honored the hero and the end of a cultural group far earlier in the old English period to take the past of old culture that is coming to an end and a good start of new Christian culture. The poem ends with Beowulf's death: the old society, something beautiful has passed away: Human-- mortality The poem ends with Beowulf's death: the old society, something beautiful has passed away: Human-- mortality

9 Themes The transience and the potentiality-- or inevitability--of sudden attack, sudden change, swift death - omnipresent The transience and the potentiality-- or inevitability--of sudden attack, sudden change, swift death - omnipresent Little hope to escape - strong sense of doom Little hope to escape - strong sense of doom Feud: the tragic waste - the system of revenge repeated in the poem Feud: the tragic waste - the system of revenge repeated in the poem Wars settled by Beowulf kept Beowulf's death feud going on Wars settled by Beowulf kept Beowulf's death feud going on The contest /eternal conflict between dark and light, good and evil Fate: The contest /eternal conflict between dark and light, good and evil Fate: –"fate often saves the undoomed man when his courage is good.“ –"God often saves the man when his courage is good." –"God often saves the man when his courage is good."

10 –Fate: God's will and one's own courage together –Courage is the quality that can perhaps influence Fate  “Beowulf” is chiefly concerned not with tribal feuds but with fatal evil that threatens to the security of the lands.  Because the evil monsters are outside the normal order of things, they require of their conqueror something greater than normal warfare requires.  Unlike Beowulf, the old Hrothgar lacks this quality that later impels the old Beowulf to fight the dragon.  Hrothgar is not the kind of man to develop his human potential to the fullest extent that Fate would permit: that is Beowulf's role.

11  Boasting: a warrior's tradition--a way of forcing oneself to achieve a higher level, to find the best. –When one boasts, he is choosing the heroic way of life. –One's boast becomes a vow –The hero has put himself in a position from which he cannot withdraw.  Treasure :Beowulf gives the gift received from Hrothgar to Hygelac, his king - a gesture of good will, a gesture of generosity. –The gifts are proof of Beowulf's value & worth as a warrior. –Understatement (to say less than might be said; a typical way of speaking in old English)


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