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Introduction to Beowulf. Mr. Arizmendez. Background. The poem was composed around 700 A.D. The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written down. The action of the poem takes place around 500 AD.

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Introduction to Beowulf

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  • The poem was composed around 700 A.D.
  • The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written down.
  • The action of the poem takes place around 500 AD.
  • Poet is reviving the heroic language, style and values and pagan values of ancient Germanic oral poetry.
  • The poem deals with ancient Germanic forebears, the Danes and the Geats.
  • Only a single manuscript of the poem survived the Anglo-Saxon era. In the 1700’s it was nearly destroyed in a fire.
  • It was not until 1936 when the Oxford scholar J.R.R. Tolkien published a paper on the poem that is became popular.
the beowulf poet
The Beowulf Poet
  • The poet is Christian.
  • The poem reflects established Christian tradition.
  • The poem makes allusions to the Old Testament.
  • Beowulf can be seen as a redeemer who is sent by God to save man from sin.
  • Many at the time believed that the price of salvation was life itself.
  • The correlations between Beowulf’s death and the death of Christ cannot be ignored.
three heroic values in beowulf
Three Heroic Values in Beowulf
  • The relationship between king and his warriors
  • The king rewards his warriors with gifts
  • If a kinsman is slain, there is an obligation to kill the slayer or obtain payment (wergeld) in compensation
the conflict between christian values and heroic values
The Conflict Between Christian Values and Heroic Values
  • This tension is at the heart of the poem.
  • Pagan history and myth are made to point to a Christian moral.
  • Beowulf is poised between two value systems.
the character of beowulf
The Character of Beowulf
  • He fights for personal honor, but is committed to service to his own people and humanity.
  • He is a superhuman who remains recognizable/ accessible.
  • The poet presents a contrast old and young Beowulf.
  • Beowulf is a savior.
  • Good vs. Evil
  • Fate
  • The Importance of Establishing Identity
  • Tension between Heroic Code and Christianity
  • Significance of artifacts
important elements of the poem
Important Elements of the Poem
  • Elegaic tone (an elegy is a poem honoring one who has died)
  • Heroic poem (Heroic poems have a lasting quality)
  • Contrasts
    • Christian and pagan
    • Youth and old age
    • Rise and fall of nations
    • Joy and sorrow
    • Fate and God’s will

Violence vs. peace

sutton hoo1
Sutton Hoo
  • This helmet is one of

The most iconic and important finds of Sutton Hoo.

sutton hoo2
Sutton Hoo
  • Burial site discovered in 1939
  • Important links to Anglo-Saxon world and Beowulf
  • Remains of a boat were discovered and large burial chamber containing numerous artifacts
  • Artifacts suggest a distinctly Christian element intermingled with pagan ritual.
  • Episodes in Beowulf now have tangible archaeological violence to add creditability to the blend of customs in the text.