Celtic knot
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Celtic Knot. What do you notice about this pattern?. Illustration from The Book of Kells (approx. 800 AD). How can you compare/contrast with the previous image?. Church doors: Sognefjord , Norway. What do you notice? Similarities/differences from previous pictures?.

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Celtic Knot

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Celtic Knot

What do you notice about this pattern?


Illustration from The Book of Kells (approx. 800 AD)

How can you compare/contrast with the previous image?


Church doors: Sognefjord, Norway

What do you notice? Similarities/differences from previous pictures?


Viking brooch (replica based on ancient design)

What parallels can be drawn between this graphic art (Celtic and Norse) and Beowulf?


The interlace structure of Beowulf

  • Based on the work of John Leyerle, University of Toronto

  • Beowulf shifts rapidly in terms of place, time with little concern for chronological order

  • Composed at a time when great value placed on interlacing design, complexity of which has not been reached since


Interlace basics

  • Seen in variety of places: jewelry, metal and stone work, calligraphy, other forms of decoration (ships, etc.)

  • Ribbons of interlace appear both in knots, etc. and zoomorphs (animal forms like the brooch)

  • The tighter the ribbons, the harder it is to follow an individual strand

  • High level of skill and intricacy dispels, in part, the idea of Anglo-Saxons being ignorant and crude


Interlacing in Beowulf

  • Variation of two or more subjects = stylistic interlace

  • Examples of interlace:

    • Hygelac’s Frisian expedition comes in four parts

    • Lines 1202-14, 2354-68, 2501-9, and 2913-21

    • Interlacing allows for a juxtaposition not possible with linear narrative

      • Beowulf’s gift of golden torque connected to its later loss when Hygelac killed

      • Beowulf’s preparation to face dragon connected to Hygelac’s Frisian adventure

      • Hygelac’s death seeking treasure parallel’s Beowulf’s death with dragon


Interlacing and the heroic story

  • Only two episodes told in chronological order: killing of Grendel and his mother, and the fighting of dragon

  • Narrative intersected by other stories which provide a different perspective

    • As Beowulf prepares to fight dragon, continues allusions to Swedish wars, illustrating the full consequences of Beowulf’s actions

    • Human threat far more menacing than the dragon

  • Interlacing allows for connection to circular nature of time, reoccurrence of human actions all told through a circular medium


Finding the parallels

  • Fighting monsters

    • Beowulf fights the water monsters when swimming against Braca/battles Grendel’s mother in the water

    • Unferð (mar-peace) issues insult against Beowulf, he responds by saying Unferð killed his own brother connecting him to Cain, Grendel

  • Hospitality

    • Grendel breaks hospitality of Heorot/ Freawaru’s marriage to Ingeld results in the erupting of a feud and Heorot is burned


Additional parallels

  • Gold

    • Leaders give gold to their retainers for their continued allegiance/ monsters like Grendel, the dragon hoard treasure

    • Beowulf does not take treasure from Grendel’s cave –there for revenge/ Hygelac and Beowulf are later destroyed by treasure (Frisians/dragon)

  • Funerals

    • Poem begins and ends with death of leaders, bringing it full circle


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