2 I. Historical background A.D. -- Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invade (Beowulf set)410 A.D. – Rome renounces control of Britain521 A.D. – Hygelac invades the Netherlands597 A.D. – St. Augustine625 A.D. – Sutton HooA.D. -- Christian poet composed the poem
3 II. The manuscript Handwritten by a monk around 1000 A.D. Written in Old EnglishObtained by Sir Robert CottonBound in Cotton Vitellius A.15.Damaged in fire in 1731Currently at British MuseumAvailable on “The Electronic Beowulf” CD
4 III. Poetic form and devices Alliterative verseSame initial consonantsLine halved by caesuraFour stresses per lineKenning: compressed metaphorLitotes: ironic understatementSynecdoche: part for wholeMetonomy: associated word for word itself
5 IV. Anglo-Saxon values Loyalty Fighting for one’s king Avenging one’s kinsmenKeeping one’s wordGenerosity -- gifts symbolize bondsBrotherly love -- not romantic loveHeroismPhysical strengthSkill and resourcefulness in battleCouragePublic reputation, not private conscience
6 V. Beowulf vocabulary Comitatus: Germanic warrior band (Tacitus) Scop: poet in oral culture (“shaper”)Preserves historyEntertains courtSpreads hero’s fameThane (thegn): warrior retainerWergild: “man-price”Substitute for violence(G won’t pay; H pays for B’s father; paid for Hondscioh; Hrethel can’t get)Wyrd: fate (to the POET = God’s will)
7 VI. The structure of the poem Three fights (Rogers 1955)GrendelGrendel’s motherThe dragonRing structure (Niles 1983)Individual passagesThree main combatsExamplePoem as a wholeInside/order vs. outside/chaosHeorot
8 X. What is heroism? Strong will? Valor in battle? Concern for others? Are the same traits required for a warrior and for a king?
9 XI. Is Beowulf a hero?Does Beowulf act for selfish motives – glory? treasure?Does Beowulf act for selfless motives – preserving the community?Does Beowulf ever make a raid or start a feud?Does B stand for violence or civilization?Is Beowulf successful as a warrior? As a king?
10 XII. What is the poet’s attitude toward the culture? Does the poet celebrate the culture he depicts and mourn its loss?Does he view it as limited and inferior to another alternative, perhaps Christianity?It affirms vengeanceIt overvalues gloryIt depends on a heroReferences