Origins Unknown author; possibly one Christian author in Anglo-Saxon England Unknown date of composition (roughly 8th-11th Century CE)
Literary Devices • Allusion: Biblical, Germanic oral tradition, Norse myth and legend, historical Anglo-Saxon kings (eg. King Offa of Mercia) • Alliteration (eg. Scyld’s strong son) • Epic poetry: a long narrative poem written in elevated style which celebrates the deeds of a legendary hero or god. • Kenning: two-word metaphorical name for something (eg. whale-road=sea) • Scop: Anglo-Saxon composers and storytellers (like minstrels or bards)
Warrior Code • Comitatus: Germanic code of loyalty • Thane: warrior – swears loyalty to the king for whom they fought and whom they protected • Kings: generous, protected thanes • Reputation: thanes were expected to be loyal, brave, courageous; kings were expected to be generous and hospitable • Wergild: “man-payment”; a fee paid to the family of a slain man to atone for his murder and to prevent the family from seeking revenge.
Geats and Danes • Beowulf was a war leader of the Geats, a group of people in what is now southern Sweden • Hrothgar was king of the Danes
Old English • Beowulf was written in Old English, an early form of English • Old English was spoken in the Middle Ages from about 6th century to 11th century CE • In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England, bringing his Norman French language with him; the nobility began to speak French, and gradually Old English evolved into Middle English (1100-1500): “Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote” • Modern English has been spoken since the Renaissance – Shakespeare is NOT Old English; he is Early Modern English
What do I need to know? • As we read, make a list of characters and their traits: try two-column notes • Make note of any literary devices used • Note any words with which you are unfamiliar; if necessary, define them • Think about how this epic is like The Odyssey or other epics you’ve read • Think about other works of literature that relate to Beowulf