Beowulf is an epic
An epic is a
long
poem
about a
larger
than life
hero.
Characteristics of an epic:
 A loyal hero with great
strength.
 Broad setting which
includes upper and
lower worlds.
 The hero does great
deeds or goes on long
journeys.
 Supernatural beings
are involved.
 Poetic language.
Epic Hero
 Characteristics of the Epic Hero:
 Super strong – a man of stature or
nobility (but still mortal)
 Reflects the values or heroic ideals of his
society
 Extremely loyal to his leader and people.
 Brave and courageous.
 Victorious in battle – never gives up
 Selflessly fights evil to rid society of
danger.
 Has a god-fashioned weapon
 Receives help from the gods
 Is glorified by the people he saves
Why is Beowulf Special?
• Oldest
surviving epic
in British
Literature.
• Written in Old
English
between 700750.
• Depicts life in
Anglo-Saxon
times.
Beowulf, The Manuscript
• Story passed down through oral
tradition.
• Was later written down by two
scribes.
• Dates back to 1000 CE.
• Exists in a single Anglo-Saxon
manuscript.
• A fire in 1731 damaged it.
• First translated into Latin in 1815.
• Translated into Modern English
in 1837.
• The British Library in London now
owns it.
A peek
at
Old
English
N:\My documents\Department Documents\English
IV\1st six weeks - anglo-saxon,
Beowulf\Beowulf\Beowulf Prologue in Old
English.mht
What is Old English?
 It
is also called Anglo-Saxon.
 It is a mixture of Celtic, Roman and AngloSaxon.
 It was spoken for a period of 700 years –
from Anglo-Saxon invasion (5th century)
until 1066 when the Normans invaded.
 It has Germanic origin; eg, compare the
modern Good day to Old English’s “Gódne
dæg” and to the German’s “Guten Tag.”
The Anglo-Saxon folk tale originated from
oral tradition, sung by a harpist-bard for
kings and their guests in great halls to
entertain and to encourage the values of the
tribe:
1. Honoring courage over long life.
2. Enjoying feasting, storytelling, and
music.
3.Viewing life fatalistically, even within
the Christian tradition.
4. Admiring physical strength more than
mental acuity.
5. Valuing loyalty to the lord or king
The Setting
• The story is set in 6th Century Scandinavia.
• It has a historical perspective, recording
the culture and beliefs of the period.
• Beowulf’s kingdom would have been what
is now Southern Sweden
North
Sea
Baltic
Sea
The Story
Beowulf tackles three enemies:



He fights and kills the
monster Grendel.
He fights and kills
Grendel’s mother.
He fights and kills the
Dragon
Recurring Themes
The importance of establishing identity (family
lineage.)
Loyalty to one’s king and people is paramount
Heroic deeds are rewarded – Fame can be
achieved
Good vs. Evil. – When humans remain loyal
and sacrifice for those in need, even though it
may be painful, good will triumph over evil.
Code of Ethics



A code of conduct
that called for a
close allegiance
between a leader and
his followers.
Loyalty and bravery
were rewarded with
treasure and armor.
One’s rich armor
was viewed as a
symbol of one’s
success and bravery
in battle.
Literary Devices in Beowulf
Alliteration - repetition of initial consonant
sounds in neighboring words: eg, sweet smell
of success, a dime a dozen, jump for joy.
– In Beowulf, there are three alliterations in every
line:
“Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings, leader
beloved, and long he ruled in fame with all folk since his
father had gone…”
Literary Devices in Beowulf
Kenning - a literary device in which a noun is
renamed in a creative way using a
compound word or union of two separate
words to combine ideas.
• Examples:
–
–
–
–
Whale-road (sea)
Ring-giver (king)
Battle-friend (arrow)
Bone house (body)
Literary Devices in Beowulf
– Caesura: rhythm created by pauses. Usually in
the first half of a line there will be two
alliterated sounds and then a pause, followed by
another alliterated sound.
Ex: 5:218 “And then, in the morning, this meadhall glittering/”
… and finally
• We have epic poems to:
– record and chronicle one’s heroic
deeds.
– preserve history.
– achieve immortality.
– reward courage and loyalty.
– entertain and flatter.
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Beowulf - Klein Independent School District