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Beowulf. Terms to Define :. Thanes – retinue of fighting men gathered by the king to protect him, warriors Mead – fermented drink made from water, honey, malt and yeast

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Terms to Define:

  • Thanes – retinue of fighting men gathered by the king to protect him, warriors

  • Mead – fermented drink made from water, honey, malt and yeast

  • Scop- singing poet who entertained the king and his court during feasts, meals (ministered; he preserved record of achievement for later generations)

Terms to Define:

  • Epic – long verse narrative describing adventures and achievements of a hero from the distant past

  • Epic hero – larger than life warrior hero

  • Kennings- two or more words that name something by a metaphor (ex. Candle of heaven = sum; whale – road = ocean; peace weaver = woman; light of battle = sword)

Terms to Define:

  • Comitatus – concept of social unit bound together by ties of honor and interdependence – band of devoted comrades in arms

  • Lay – short lyric or narrative poem to be sung; song, tune

  • Litotes- understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (He’s not a bad ball player) – opposite of hyperbole

Terms to Define:

  • Allegory- narrative (verse or prose) where characters, action and setting represent abstract concepts apart from the literal meaning of the story

  • Caesura – break in the middle of each line of verse

  • Alliteration –repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words or within word, particularly in accented syllables (it helped people memorize spoke or sung poems / it was crucial to the survival of oral literature)

Terms to Define:

  • Wergild – remuneration / “man payment” / compensation to family of murdered warrior / victim to avoid blood feuds

  • Wyrd – Anglo Saxon concept of fall that manifests itself chiefly in a hero’s willingness to test fate by matching his courage against heavy odds

Beowulf Introductory Notes

  • Beowulf is the first Masterpiece in English literature.

    • Its author is unknown.

    • The original audience and purpose of the work is also unknown.

    • It was written in Old English.

  • Beowulf (the hero and main character of the poem) came from what is now the southern part of Sweden.

    • He came to aid people who lived in what is now Denmark.

    • The Beowulf stories were probably part of the cultural history of some Germanic tribe who invaded and then settled in England (ex. The Angles, the Saxons or the Jutes).

  • The fact that there are no references to pagan gods in the Beowulf poem, indicates that the poet came from a Christianized culture.

    • Lines 1827 – 1828 contain a possible reference to the Christian Lord.

    • “Seed of Cain” is a biblical reference found in line 65.

  • The poetry of Beowulf is densely packed and full of sounds.

    • The subject matter deals with heroic adventures and some fairy –tale themes (i.e. fire breathing dragons and big scary monsters).

    • It also deals with the nature of success and friendship in Anglo Saxon times, as well as the final value to be found in life and death.

Part I - Study Guide

  • Read the article “Reading an Epic Poem” on page 8 before you start to read “Beowulf.” Then copy the five boldface headings from the article on the lines below.

    • Understand the nature of the Epic Hero

    • Look for parallels and comparisons

    • Appreciate the pageantry

    • Understand the purpose and nature of dialogue

    • Look for symbolism in details

Part I - Study Guide

  • The headnote on page 10 is really a summary of the first 37 lines. Read the headnote and then read the first 37 lines. Was Scyld a hero? What happened to him after his death?

    • Yes

    • The Danes set his body amid his heap of treasure, adrift at sea

Part I - Study Guide

  • (lines 38-70) The poet goes on to describe Hrothgar and the evil spirt “who dwelt in the darkness” of Hrothgar’s great hall. What was the demon’s name?

    • Grendel

Part I - Study Guide

  • Read lines 71 – 129. What causes Grendel to attack the mead-hall?

    • He can hear the revelry in the mead hall and it arouses him to attack

  • How long does the feud between Greandel and Hrothgar last?

    • 12 years

Part I - Study Guide

  • Lines 130-305 describe Beowulf’s journey to rescue the Danes and the welcome given him by King Hrothgar. Beowulf then gives a speech (lines 311-352). With what weapon does Beowulf plan to fight Grendel? Why?

    • Beowulf plans to use his bare hands because Grendel doesn’t use a weapon; also, he wants his omen to admire him

Part I - Study Guide

  • What does Beowulf’s speech to King Hrothgar reveal about his personality?

    • The speech reveals his pride, courage, and determination.

  • Continue reading through line 480. What does Beowulf tell the story of his battle with Breca (lines 406-451)?

    • To reveal the heroic nature of his accomplishments

Part I - Study Guide

  • From the descriptions of Grendel’s attack (lines 525 – 570), list four words or phrases that describe Grendel. Give the line number for these.

    • Line 526 – fiend;

    • Line 529 – evil demon

    • Line 534 – accursed of God

    • Line 535 – murderous ravager

Part I - Study Guide

  • To what are Grendel’s eyes compared? Quote the entire line from the poem.

    • (a flame); “a baleful glare from his eyes was gleaming, most like to a flame” (line 547)

  • During the account of the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, the narrative point of view keeps shifting. From whose viewpoint is the battle described in the following lines:

    • Line 556 – Beowulf

    • Line 602 – the Danes

    • Line 624 – Grendel

Part I - Study Guide

  • Why would the poet use different points of view to describe the battle?

    • More dramatic and vivid

  • What injury does Beowulf inflict upon Grendel?

    • Tears off shoulder and arm / or claw

Part I - Study Guide

  • In lines 649 – 786, the Danes celebrate Beowulf’s victory over Grendel. How do King Hrothgar and the Danes show their gratitude to Beowulf?

    • Hrothgar and Danes shower him with gifts and words of honor

  • Describe the condition of Heorot after Beowulf’s battle with Grendel.

    • Heorot is “wholly shattered” (line 734) Hinges were riven (line 736)

Part I - Study Guide

  • Indicate the correct sequence of the following events in the poem by listing the letters in their proper order:

    • B. Beowulf hears of Grendel’s ravages in Hrothgar’s mead-hall.

    • G. Beowulf arrives at Hrothgar’s mead-hall.

    • D. Beowulf tells the story of his race with Breca.

    • E. Grendel attacks the mead-hall while Beowulf’s men sleep.

    • C. Beowulf tears Grendel’s arm and shoulder from his body.

    • A. Grendel slinks off, back to his sea-cave lair.

    • F. A feast of celebration is held in Heorot.

  • B, g, d, e, c, a, f

Part I - Study Guide

  • What element of the poem makes it similar to a fairy tale?

    • It portrays an elevated hero who must fight an exaggerated monster like a fire breathing dragon

Beowulf Part I – Notes

  • Part I – (Lines 1 – 789) Portrays the struggle between Beowulf and the Monster Grendel.

    • For 12 years Grendel has slaughtered and carried away warriors of the Danish King Hrothgar.

Beowulf Part I – Notes

  • Beowulf is a Geat of great strength and bravery who hears of Hrothgar’s plight and comes to his aid.

  • Beowulf set sail to vanquish Grendel and is warmly welcomed by the Danes.

Beowulf Part I – Notes

  • On the night of his arrival, Beowulf confronts Grendel without a shield or sword and twists off the monster’s arm.

  • Grendel slinks off into the night; at a feast, the jubilant Danes honor Beowulf for ridding them of the fiend.

  • Beowulf’s motives are a combination of honor, fame and courage; he wants to help others, but he also wants fame, financial rewards, and a solid reputation as a great warrior.

Beowulf Part II – Study Guide

  • (lines 790 – 831) The men guarding the mead-hall go to sleep thinking they are safe from the mortally wounded Grendel. But “an avenger survived / Prolonging the feud.” Who is this avenger?

    • Grendel’s mother

  • One of Hrothgar’s warriors is killed. What is his name?

    • AEschere

Part II - Study Guide

  • Define alliteration, and find an example of alliteration in Hrothgar’s lament for his dead friend (lines 847 – 855). Write it down.

    • Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words or within words, particularly in accented syllables. Ex. “He is my comrade, closest of counselors” (line 849)

Part II - Study Guide

  • In lines 868 – 887, the poet describe the lair of Grendel’s mother. List three words or phrases the poet uses to create a sense of dread in the reader.

    • “Dread tracts of fen” (marshyland) – line 870

    • “Gloom and shadow” (871)

    • “Darkening cliff” (872)

    • Lonely mire” (lake / pond) (873

    • “shadowing gloom” (875)

    • “haunted pool” (883)

    • “eerie” (884)

    • “bottomless depth” (878)

Part II - Study Guide

  • Why does the poet devote so much time to describing the monster’s sea-cave?

    • To emphasize the dire situation into which Beowulf enters

  • In lines 896 – 900, Beowulf suggests that there is a better reward for him than the “ancient treasure and twisted gold” (line 892) that Hrothgar promises him. What reward does he seek?

    • Beowulf seeks fame and glory so that his name will survive him

Part II - Study Guide

  • In lines 953-989, Beowulf prepares to battle Grendel’s mother. He carries a borrowed sword. Who does this sword belong to?

    • Unferth (given to him by Hrothgar?)

  • How is Beowulf’s underwater battle with Grendel’s mother similar to an earlier tale in the poem (lines 990 – 1055)?

    • This tale is similar to Beowulf’s swimming race with Breca in length of time in the water in the struggles with which he must cope.

Part II - Study Guide

  • What two objects does Beowulf take with him from the cave (lines 1065 – 1098)?

    • Grendel’s head and the sword hilt

  • In lines 1095 – 1150, Beowulf returns to Heorot and tells of his battle with Grendel’s mother. To what source does Beowulf attribute his escape from death at the clutches of the monster?

    • Beowulf attributed his escape to God’s divine intervention

Part II - Study Guide

  • Hrothgar responds to Beowulf’s account of the battle with a speech (lines 1160-1227). Describe two main ideas that Hrothgar addresses.

    • Hrothgar formally praises Beowulf accomplishments; he also issues a warning of the dangers of pride and arrogance (possible reference to Christian ideals – departure from chest beating of pagan Germanic tribes)

Part II - Study Guide

  • Hrothgar refers to a “Fiend” in line 1194, a fiend that threatens to be more powerful even than Grendel. Who or what is the fiend?

    • The fiend is “pride.”

  • What does Hrothgar imply about the accumulation of material riches?

    • Hrothgar implies that the accumulation of riches is acceptable only when those riches are liberally shared

  • Beowulf Hrothgar

    Youthful, primeOld age

    Proud, arrogant Humble

    Courageous Unable to take


Beowulf Part II – Notes

  • Part II ( Lines790 – 1303) Portrays the struggle between Beowulf and Grendel’s Mother.

    • The night after Beowulf’s attack on Grendel, Grendel’s mother takes revenge. She seizes Aeschere, Hrothgar’s chief counselor, and flees into the night.

Beowulf Part II – Notes

  • Beowulf, armed with a sword given to him by Hrothgar, descends into the lair where he defeats Grendel’s mother after a long, fierce battle with another sword belonging to the “Old Giants.”

  • While in the watery lair, Beowulf also decapitates the wounded Grendel.

  • A great celebration ensues upon Beowulf’s return to the hall of Hrothgar.

Beowulf Part II – Notes

  • Literary Term: Metaphor – a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two otherwise unlike things.

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • Upon his departure, what gift does Beowulf give to the coast warden of the Danes?

    • A battle sword with a gold hilt

  • Identify the two things being compared in the metaphor in line 1325.

    • Beowulf’s ship is compared to a plow horse

  • What treasures does Beowulf bring to King Hygelac from King Hrothgar (lines 1350 – 1354)?

    • Headpiece, helmet, sark, war-sword

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • What gifts does King Hygelac bestow upon Beowulf in honor of his accomplishments in battle (lines 1359 – 1368)?

    • Battlesword of Hrethel, a hall, a stately seat, land

  • How long does Beowulf govern his kingdom?

    • 50 years (fifty winters)

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • How is Beowulf’s old age characterized in lines 1372 – 1373?

    • This is essentially a positive view: “Aged and wise with the wisdom of years.”

  • Lines 1374 – 1429 describe the events that lead to Beowulf’s battle with the dragon. How long has the dragon been guarding the treasure?

    • 300 years (300 winters)

  • Why is the dragon “aroused. . . to anger and rage”?

    • A thief breaks in and steals a golden goblet

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • How does the reason for this monster’s attack differ from that of Grendel’s attack?

    • Grendel had no grievance. He was envious of the happiness and revelry he observed in the mead hall. The dragon, however, is provoked by an intruding thief.

  • Beowulf makes a final speech (lines 1488 – 1507) to his men before the battle. How does his preparation for this battle differ from his preparation for his fight with Grendel?

    • He arms himself heavily (shield and byrny) (shirt of armor)

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • In lines 1550 – 1565, the poet describes what happens when Beowulf is “enveloped in flame.” What do all but one of his fellow warriors do when they see Beowulf in trouble?

    • His fellow warriors flee to save themselves

  • What causes Wiglaf to come to the aid of Beowulf (lines 1566 – 1584)?

    • Wiglaf remembers Beowulf’s generosity, admires his past courage and chooses to risk dying in battle rather than living with the cowardice of flight.

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • As he lay dying, Beowulf says “. . . And now for all this, Though my heart is grievous, my heart is glad.” (lines 1656 – 1657) What makes his heart glad?

    • His heart is glad because he courted no quarrels, made no false oaths, fought no neighboring rulers

  • What are Beowulf’s dying wishes?

    • To see the treasure for which he has given his life and to have a barrow (grave / burial mound of stones or earth over a grave) built in his remembrance

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • What last gift does Beowulf give to Wiglaf?

    • A collar of gold helmet ring and byrny (shirt of armor)

  • What happens to the treasure for which Beowulf fought?

    • The treasure is burned with him in a funeral pyre

Beowulf, Part III - Study Guide

  • What do you think will happen to Beowulf’s kingdom after his death? Support your answer with evidence from the poem.

    • There are signs at the end of the poem that Beowulf’s kingdom will come to an end. (Thanes who didn’t fight exiled for not doing their duty / Wiglaf forsees breaking up of two kingdoms wandering aliens fighting for their lives and being killed)

Beowulf, Part III - Notes

  • Part III – (Lines 1304 – 1896) Tells of Beowulf’s return to Geatland and his subsequent battle with a dragon over stolen treasure.

    • Beowulf returns to his homeland and is rewarded with riches and position.

Beowulf, Part III - Notes

  • Many years later, one of the Geats discovers a great treasure and angers the dragon guarding it by taking away a golden goblet.

  • Beowulf, now king of the Geats, fights the furious dragon with the help of only one of his warriors, Wiglaf, while all the others flee.

Beowulf, Part III - Notes

  • Though the dragon is dispatched (beaten), Beowulf is mortally wounded.

  • The Geats, in accord that their leader possessed unsurpassed heroism and courage, gave Beowulf a royal funeral befitting such a hero.

Beowulf, Part III - Notes

  • Literary Term

  • Foreshadowing – The technique of giving hints or clues of what is to come. This device helps to create suspense, as readers are eager to see if the inferences they draw are correct. It also sets the stage for future events to be told in the story. It may be specific (ex. “Everyone knew some tragedy would befall them. . . “); or may involve only vague hints expressed through setting or other description (ex. “Silent, lonely and sublime, the castle seemed to stand sovereign over the scene and to frown in defiance on all who dared to invade its solitary reign…”)

Heroic Morality: (page 39)

  • In his work Germania, the Roman historian Tacitus gave a detailed account of the customs of Germanic tribes like those who populated England during Anglo-Saxon times.

  • It was a disgrace to a chief for what to happen on the field of battle?

    • To be surpassed in courage by his followers or for his followers not to equal the courage of their chief

Heroic Morality: (page 39)

  • If a warrior left the field of battle alive after his chief had fallen, what would await him?

    • Lifelong shame / infamy

  • In Tacitus’ account, the Germanic tribes had no taste for peace.

Heroic Morality: (page 39)

  • The warriors received meals in lieu of pay.

  • The Germanic tribesman thought it tame and spiritless to do what?

    • To accumulate slowly by hard work what can be got quickly by loss of a little blood in battle

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