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Beowulf. English IV – Mr. Rogers. Beowulf. An epic poem, probably composed sometime in the 600s or 700s.

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English IV – Mr. Rogers

  • An epic poem, probably composed sometime in the 600s or 700s.
  • Although it takes place in Denmark (and features characters who came from other parts of Scandinavia), Beowulf was written in Anglo-Saxon and is considered the historical epic of the Anglo-Saxon people.
the anglo saxons
The Anglo-Saxons
  • Descendants of three Germanic peoples (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes) who migrated from Northern Germany to England in the 5th century.
the epic
The Epic
  • Like the epics of other traditions – the Iliad and the Odyssey of ancient Greece, the Chanson de Roland of France, the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India and the Sudiata of Mali – Beowulf is the self-portrait of a culture.
  • Heroes of these stories exemplify the traditions of a particular culture.
the epic1
The Epic
  • Epics originate from a time when stories and poems were passed along by word-of-mouth.
  • In Anglo-Saxon England, traveling minstrels, called scops, captivated audiences with long narrative poems.
  • The poems changed and grew as they passed from one scop to another.
the epic2
The Epic
  • Beowulf was told and retold throughout England for hundreds of years before it was finally written down in the 11th century.
the epic3
The Epic
  • In an epic, the hero battles forces that threaten the order of his world.
the epic4
The Epic
  • The story is told in a serious manner, in special, elevated language.
the epic5
The Epic
  • Elements of the tale – monsters, dragons, brave warriors loyal to a heroic chief, the descent into the regions below the earth – are familiar elements of Scandinavian and Celtic legend.
the epic6
The Epic
  • Kennings: descriptive, poetic expressions used instead of the simple names of a person or thing.
  • The word comes from the Scandinavian words kennavith, which means “to name after.”
  • Examples: “shepherd of evil,” “guardian of crime,” “infamous killer,” and “Hell’s captive.”
  • Beowulf, a Geat from a region that is today southern Sweden, sets sail to aid the Danish King Hrothgar in his fight against the monster Grendel.
  • A terrifying swampland creature whose eyes burn with “gruesome light,” Grendel has been terrorizing Hrothgar’s great banquet hall, Herot, for twelve years.
  • The battle between Beowulf and Grendel is the first of three mortal battles that take place in the poem.
  • “From start to finish, Beowulf demands our acknowledgement that sorting out the monster from the hero and the coward is a lifetime’s struggle in the dark. Beowulf joins us to our ancestors – whoever they might have been, in whatever far country – at the top of their game, as we would like to imagine them, and as we dearly hope those who come after will someday envision us.”

Robert F. Yeager,

Professor of Literature and Language

at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

  • reparation (noun): something making up for a wrong or injury.
  • solace (noun): comfort; relief.
  • purge (verb): purify, cleanse
  • writhing (adjective): making twisting or turning motions.
  • loathsome (adjective): disgusting.
  • mead-hall (noun): a hall where mead, a drink made from fermented honey, was served.