Textual Background • Composed around 700 A.D. • The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written. • The action of the poem takes place around 500 A.D. • 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.
Heroic Code – code of behavior and belief for the hero • Strength • Courage • Loyalty • Hospitality • Generosity • Honor and Remembrance
Heroic Values • Relationship between king and his warriors • The king rewards his warriors with gifts • If a kinsman is slain, obligation to kill the slayer or obtain payment (wergeld) in compensation
Pagan Versus Christian Reward is received in the afterlife Turning the other cheek Humility • Honor attained in this life through deeds • Retaliation • Glory/Pride
Geats and The 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 the 6th century to 11th century BC • 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)
Oral Tradition and Tools of the Scop • Scop – bard, singer, poet Helping the Scop • Alliteration - Lade ne letton. Leoht eastan com. • Kennings - A metaphorical expression, usually compound in form, that is used in place of a name or noun: whale-road (for sea), sea-horse (for ship), and iron-shower (for the rain of spears or arrows during a battle). • Epithets - An epithet is an adjective or a brief phrase used to characterize a person, place, or thing: ruler of elves (Beowulf), The Lord of all Life (God) = summary of the character’s qualities
Elements of an Epic • Long Narrative Poem – formal, elevated style • Epic hero– a character with a trait or characteristic that is valued by his society • Quest– A journey through which the character or the reader learns something • Valorous Deeds– Doing something bravely • Divine Intervention– The hand of God (or gods) help the hero, proving his value. • Great events– The hero has a hand in something important in the history or mythology of a culture.
Types of Epics • Folk • Told out loud first (usually by scops) • Unknown author • Unknown dates • Literary • Known author • (Paradise Lost by John Milton is a literary epic)