Introduction to Beowulf Author Unknown
Introduction to Beowulf • Story isn’t about the English—it’s about the Danes and the Geats. • Romans controlled England (up to Hadrian’s Wall) until the 5th century • Waves of post-Roman invasions by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Irish • Native Britons couldn’t hold them off http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/architecture/ss/042209HadriansWall_2.htm Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans to keep the Barbarians out. The wall is named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ruled Rome between 117 and 137 AD.
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms Map from C. Warren Hollister, The Making of England, p. 64
I. Historical background • 400-600 A.D. -- Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invade (Beowulf set) • 410 A.D. – Rome renounces control of Britain • 521 A.D. – Hygelac invades the Netherlands • 597 A.D. – St. Augustine • 625 A.D. – Sutton Hoo • 700-950 A.D. -- Christian poet composed the poem
The Danelaw • Viking raids in late 8th century along East coast of England, Ireland, northern France • In 850, Danish Vikings began to settle in Kent • In 865, a large Danish army invaded and took control of nearly all of England except Wessex • In 870, Danes attacked Wessex
The Danelaw • 871: Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex • Warrior, diplomat, administrator, scholar, Christian; Greatest Anglo-Saxon king • 872: Alfred had to bribe the Danes to stop the fighting • Built a navy of 60-oared ships, bigger and faster than the Danes’ ships
The Danelaw • After almost losing his kingdom in 872, Alfred’s military reforms allowed him to begin retaking land • By 886, Alfred had retaken London and made a treaty with the Danes establishing their area of authority in England—the Danelaw • By Alfred’s death in 899, the Danish threat was over, and subsequent kings reconquered the Danelaw
Sutton Hoo • Ship burial of a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon king, possibly Raedwald (d. 624/625) • Found in 1939 at Sutton Hoo in eastern England, formerly the Danelaw • Ship was nearly 80 feet long, laden with treasures and everyday equipment (even if it is everyday equipment made of gold) • Window into the early Anglo-Saxon world
Sutton Hoo Photos from British Museum
Introduction to Beowulf • Oral vs. written text • Many ancient works were memorized and recited—and were not written down until centuries later (Odyssey, Iliad, Beowulf) • Only surviving Beowulf manuscript dates from late 10th century • Probably composed mid-8th century
Introduction to Beowulf • The scop: Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a singing poet • Oral techniques: alliteration, repetition, variation, kennings, half-lines, metonymy (one thing substituted for another), synecdoche (part for the whole)
Beowulf Manuscript(Note the burn marks on the top and sides—the ms. was severely damaged in a fire)
Poetics Hwaet! Wē Gār-Dena in geārdagum þēodcyninga þrym gefrūnon, hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum monegum mægþum meodosetla oftēah, egsode eorlas syððan ærest wearð fēasceaft funden. Hē þæs frōfre gebād, wēox under wolcnum, weorðmundum þāh oð þæt him æghwylc þāra ymbsittendra ofer hronrāde hyran scolde, gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs gōd cyning!
Kennings • A metaphorical expression used in place of a noun • Sea = “whale-road” or “swan’s way” • Joints, ligaments = “bone-locks” • Sun = “sky-candle” • Icicles = “water-ropes”
Metonymy and Synecdoche • Metonymy: Name of one thing is substituted for the name of something else that most people would associate with the first thing • “Iron” for “Sword” • “Crown” for “king” or “monarchy” • Synecdoche: Substitute a part for the whole • “keel” for “ship” • “All hands on deck” • “Heads of cattle”
Anglo-Saxon Society • Tribal society with kinship bonds and a heroic code of behavior • bravery • loyalty to one's lord, one's warband (comitatus), and one's kin • willingness to avenge one's warband or lord at all costs – death preferable to exile. • generosity of lord to thanes and of hero to warband and lord--gift-giving • heroism (i.e., great deeds) brings honor, eternal fame, and political power
Anglo-Saxon values • Loyalty • Fighting for one’s king • Avenging one’s kinsmen • Keeping one’s word • Generosity -- gifts symbolize bonds • Brotherly love -- not romantic love • Heroism • Physical strength • Skill and resourcefulness in battle • Courage • Public reputation, not private conscience
What about the women? • Women make peace, bearing children who create blood ties • Women pass the cup at the mead-hall, cementing social bonds • Women lament loss, don’t avenge
Religion in Anglo Saxon Times • Mix of pagan and Christian values--often in conflict. • Pagan (secular (non-religious) lineage vs. Christian lineage; • Eternal earthly fame through deeds vs afterlife in hell or heaven; • honor & gift-giving vs. sin of pride (hubris); • revenge vs pacifist view (forgiveness); • Wyrd (Anglo-Saxon "Fate") vs God's will, etc.
Epic hero traits • Is significant and glorified • Is on a quest • Has superior or superhuman strength, intelligence, and/or courage • Is ethical • Risks death for glory or for the greater good of society • Is a strong and responsible leader • Performs brave deeds • Reflects ideals of a particular society