Beowulf: Who’s Who. Beowulf --a Geat, Hygelac’s thane Hrothgar --a Dane, elderly king of Danes Wealtheow --wife of Hrothgar Grendel --half man, half monster, descended from Cain Grendel’s mother --all monster Unferth --a Dane who taunts Beowulf, then lends him sword Hrunting
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Beowulf: Who’s Who • Beowulf--a Geat, Hygelac’s thane • Hrothgar--a Dane, elderly king of Danes • Wealtheow--wife of Hrothgar • Grendel--half man, half monster, descended from Cain • Grendel’s mother--all monster • Unferth--a Dane who taunts Beowulf, then lends him sword Hrunting • Wiglaf--helps Beowulf slay dragon
Beowulf: 2 Early Battles • Beowulf hears of Grendel’s assault on Heorot and quests with 14 companions. • Hrothgarwelcomes Beowulf and reminds him of old favors he did Ecgtheow, B’s dad. • Beowulf pulls out Grendel’s arm and nails it to the lintel of the Heorot’s door. • Grendel’s mother gets revenge. • Beowulf gets Grendel’s mother • Hrothgar rewards Beowulf, who returns to share his plunder with Hygelac.
Beowulf: fifty years later • Hygelac and his son had both died in war. • Hygelac’s widow offered Beowulf the throne. He became a good protector of the people, but had no heir. • A slave steals from a sleeping dragon in Beowulf’s kingdom, riling said dragon • The dragon burns Beowulf’s hall. • Beowulf needs help from Wiglaf to slay the dragon, and dies killing the dragon. • Wiglaf predicts that Beowulf’s death and the cowardice of the people will lead outsiders to invade the Geats.
Beowulf: Poetic structure • Alliteration--each line of poem alliterates gomban gyldan þæt wæs göd cyning! (tribute of gold that was a good king!) • all vowels alliterate with one another • use of kennings “whale road” for sea; “night flier” for dragon; “hall’s mouth” for door • substantives = use of adjectives in place of nouns as in “hot and battle-grim seized all his neck with his sharp fangs” (2691).
Beowulf and classical epic • What’s alike? • values of the warrior culture • desire to revenge wrongs • desire for plunder • many pagan values--see selves ruled by Fate • What’s different? • poetic structure • short alliterative lines rather than long metrical lines • much shorter epic 3000 lines vs. 15,000+ lines • poetic device of kennings rather than extended similes • no unified structure: Beowulf tells of three great battles in hero’s life. Iliad unified around Achilles’ anger. Odyssey around journey. Aeneid around Aeneas’ sacrifices.
Beowulf: discussion questions • What are the values of Beowulf’s warrior culture? • How does understanding wergild (man gold) help you understand this culture? • What is the role of women in this culture? • How is Grendel’s cannibalism ironic? • What are the attributes of a good king? A bad king? • What are the attributes of a good thane?