eowulf and Old English Literature. Beowulf is the Oldest Surviving Northern European Epic . Gloomy. Fierce. Stalwart. “Nothing stirred the poet’s imagination more than a sword or a ship.”. Mostly anonymous Exceptions: Caedmon & Cynewulf. Old English Poetry. Oral Tradition.
Beowulf is the Oldest Surviving Northern European Epic
“Nothing stirred the poet’s imagination more than a sword or a ship.”
Old English Poetry
Two types of Poetry:
1. Heroic Epics
Definition: a long, narrative poem about the exploits of a hero who embodies the values of the culture
2. Elegiac lyrics
Definition: a poem that reflects the poet’s thoughts & feelings, and that laments the loss of something
Example: “The Seafarer”
A pause in the middle of a line of poetry
A compound noun that is colorful & descriptive
“whale road” = the sea
COLE WAS THE KING; HE WAS KEEN AND MERRY;
MIRTHFUL HE WAS; WITH MINSTRELS IN MEAD
HE CALLED FOR HIS CUP; HE CALLED FOR HIS PIPE.
HIS FIDDLERS WERE THREE, AND FINE WAS THEIR
Only one manuscript survives: the Cotton Manuscript
Almost destroyed by fire
Discovered in the 16th century but not published until 1815
Beowulf is the definitive English epic and the beginning of English literature,
The hero is a Geat (Yea-ot) or Swede, and none of the action takes place in England.
In 449 AD Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons & Jutes) invaded the British Isles; they brought this story with them.
Beowulf embodies Anglo-Saxon values and celebrates the essence of a warrior society.
The challenges of Existence
It is difficult to convey just howchallenging the lives of the earliest Anglo-Saxons were. Every day was abattle to survive. The Anglo-Saxonslived in hutsanddressed in animal skinsto protect themselves against themiserable, bone-chilling dampnessof the weather. They eked out an existence by farming the land, hunting, and venturing forth ondangerous, turbulent seas to fish. When
they weren't scraping together a skimpy existence, they werefightingneighboring tribes and clans. Thesetough conditionscreated strong ties within tribes and
encouraged intense loyalty to clan leaders. The
environment also contributed to the high esteem in which the inhabitants held individualbravery, a quality they honored above all others.
Beowulf also shows the influence of Christian culture.
Beowulf represents a violent warrior culture;
Belief in a higher power who rewards virtue, forgiveness, honesty
Old Testament Elements (Ex.: Cain)
Trolls, monsters, & elves from Norse mythology
Belief in Wyrd
The reason for this contradiction lies in the transmission history of the poem. . .
597 AD Christian Conversion
Oral Tradition: Beowulf-type stories are told. “The BearStory”
Beowulf sung by scops
Monks in the Scriptorium: preservers and editors of Anglo-Saxon literature
Hrothgar, King of the Danes
The Young Hero from Geatland
. . .and he dies in his last battle with a dragon