Presentation on theme: "Beowulf Lecture 9 From the Teaching Company. Overview Gilgamesh proclaims a heroic ideal: We are fated to die, but in the meantime, let us strive to be."— Presentation transcript:
Overview Gilgamesh proclaims a heroic ideal: We are fated to die, but in the meantime, let us strive to be as great as possible. This same message is the theme of the first great work of English literature, the 8th- century Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.
Overview Continued... The story of Beowulf, like that of Gilgamesh, is the tale of a mighty warrior who goes in search of adventure and fame. In the guise of monsters, Beowulf encounters the eternal struggle of good against evil. All humans must die. That is fate. But Beowulf accepts this challenge, and in war and sacrifice, he finds the reward of enduring fame and glory. Beowulf takes his place alongside Achilles and Gilgamesh as the paradigm of the epic hero.
Beowulf, the first great work of English literature, is one of the greatest epics ever composed. This heroic epic summarizes the heroic values of the Anglo-Saxon world. Beowulf tells of an age in which the chief values were bravery in war, courage, and honor--the reputation for bravery and courage.
I. The Beowulf story was created by a warrior society A. Seagoing pirates from what is now northern Germany, Denmark, and Sweden attacked Roman Britain as early as the 3rd century A.D. B. By the end of the 5th century, these raids were no longer plundering attacks but actual conquests.
I. The Beowulf story was created by a warrior society (cont.) C. By the 7th century, the leading tribes—the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes—had conquered Roman Britain and driven the inhabitants to the west, where they became the Welsh. 1. Roman Britannia became England, or “the land of the Angles.” 2. The conquerors brought their Germanic language, Anglo-Saxon, which eventually developed into the English language. 3. England was divided into warring kingdoms, including North Umbria and Mercia, but these kingdoms gradually adopted Christianity. By the 8th century, the fierce war code of the Anglo-Saxons had been somewhat softened by Christianity. 3. England was divided into warring kingdoms, including North Umbria and Mercia, but these kingdoms gradually adopted Christianity. By the 8th century, the fierce war code of the Anglo-Saxons had been somewhat softened by Christianity.
II. Beowulf brings readers back to the values of the pagan world, tempered only slightly by references to God. A. The kings of the Anglo-Saxons were chosen mostly for their abilities in war. The king was the first among equals. B. The Anglo-Saxons believed that dying with a sword in hand was the best way to die. Such an end would transport an individual to heaven. C. For entertainment, the king would gather with his wife and retainers to listen to a minstrel. The songs of these minstrels used elaborate poetic language, which was filled with alliteration and metaphors. These songs celebrated the old days and the lineage and exploits of the king and mighty warriors.
III. Beowulf was one of these epic poems. It has come down to us possibly because it was the best A. Composed around 800, Beowulf rests on historical fact. B. A Latin chronicle indicates that Beowulf participated in a raid on the coast of northern Germany in 521. Beowulf was a warrior at the court of Higelac, who had led a raid into the land of the Frisians. He was returning with his plunder when he was attacked by Franks. Higelac was killed in battle, and Beowulf swam to safety carrying his standard (flag).
C. The poem begins and ends with the deaths and funerals of mighty warriors. 1. The funeral of King Scyld Scefing opens the poem. A ship burial discovered in 1939 at Sutton Hoo in England provides additional evidence of the veracity of aspects of Beowulf. 2. The kingship of Scyld Scefing passes down to Hrothgar, able and brave, who ruled over the Danes from his great hall Heorot. 3. Digressions from the main tale deal with themes of danger, death and trouble. The poet believes that, while God plays some role in these matters, real control over trouble rests with the individual and the manner in which he or she deals with it. Pride leads to trouble, and Hrothgar is proud.
C. The poem begins and ends with the deaths and funerals of mighty warriors (cont.) 4. Like the world of Gilgamesh and the world of the Odyssey, the world of Beowulf is filled with monsters. These beings, half-human and half-beast, have enormous powers and are evil. The world of Beowulf is filled with evil, which is a tangible force that comes from nowhere and brings destruction. 5. Hrothgar’s kingdom is invaded by Grendel, an evil monster who eats 30 men each night in Heorot. 6. In a digression, the poet explains that Grendel, like all monsters, is a descendent of Cain, who slew Abel. 7. Hrothgar grows older and weaker, and a melancholy darkness settles over the land.
C. The poem begins and ends with the deaths and funerals of mighty warriors (cont.) 8. In a hand-to-hand struggle, Beowulf, a young and notable warrior of the tribe of the Geats, overcomes and mortally wounds Grendel. 9. Grendel’s mother then wreaks havoc in Heorot, and Beowulf pursues her to the dark lake where she resides and kills her. 10. Beowulf, who has achieved fame and fortune, returns to the land of the Geats and becomes king. He rules in peace and prosperity for many years. 11. When Beowulf is an old man, a dragon terrorizes the kingdom of the Geats. This dragon—another symbol of evil—has been aroused by the plundering of a treasure trove that it guards.
C. The poem begins and ends with the deaths and funerals of mighty warriors (cont.) 12. Beowulf, with a single faithful retainer, Wiglaf, confronts and slays the dragon, but in doing so is mortally wounded. 13. He knows that he will die, but that his fame will live on. 14. The poem ends with the funeral of Beowulf, the celebration of his greatness, and the threat of disaster for his people now that the mighty warrior is dead.
III. Beowulf was one of these epic poems. It has come down to us possibly because it was the best (cont.) D. While Beowulf lived, he faced evil every time it appeared; he stood up for what was good and true and gave his life in defense of it. These were values of the heroic age embodied in Beowulf. E. Sweno’s stone, dating from around 750, in Scotland, commemorates a mighty warrior who was similar to Beowulf. These were real men in a real world, where honor, courage, and glory mattered.
Questions to Consider: 1. Compare the “heroic” view of life as we find it in Gilgamesh and Beowulf. 2. What similarities in themes and treatment do you see between Beowulf and Lord of the Rings? Do you consider Lord of the Rings a great book?