Beowulf
Historical and
Literary
Background
Map of
presentday
Europe.
Europe:p
re-6th
Century
The British Isles
Pre-A.D. to 400 A.D.
Inhabited by:
• The Britons (Celtic)
• The Picts (Pre-Celtic)
•The Gaels (Celtic, Ireland)
Druids
•Intellectual class of Britons
•Responsible for many elements of
society
•philosophers, judges, educators,
historians, doctors, seers,
astronomers, and astrologers.
Did the Druids really have anything to do with this?
The Roman Empire 150 A.D.
Roman Invasion
•Invaded by Julius Caesar, 55 B.C.
•Firmly brought under Roman control
by the Emperor Claudius, A.D. 43
•Romans brought roads, running
water, heating systems, writing
•Also brought armour, axes, etc.
•System of worship, including,
although not for a few hundred
years, Christianity
Early 400s AD, the Roman legions withdrew from the British Isles to return to Rome.
Without the protection of the Roman
Army, this led to the invasion of:
•Angles
•Saxons
•Jutes
Throughout the 5th and 6th Century (400s-500s AD)
Known as Germanic tribes-from Northern Holland,
Northern Germany, and Denmark.
War-oriented culture
They were obviously a sea-faring people.
Burial site found in England called Sutton Hoo, in
Suffolk. Dates to 7th Century. Believed to be the
burial site of a king.
The Anglo-Saxons were heathens or pagans upon their
arrival in Britain, meaning they did not worship the
traditional Judeo-Christian God.
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Woden (Odin in Norse) was the God of War, poetry, magic, and
learning. He was usually the chief of the gods.
The Anglo-Saxons did not necessarily believe in an
afterlife. They did, however, believe in WYRD- FATE.
For a true warrior, his fate was to fight and die in great
battles. This would enable him to go to an eternal battle
hall, called Valhalla (in the Norse tradition).
They were an oral culture. Story telling was very
important to them.
The only system of writing was the Runic
alphabet.
The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, as their Runic Alphabet is called, was brought into
Britain by the various tribes of Anglos, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians. This would
have been around the 5th Century, and it was used until the 11th Century.
These were used for inscriptions on jewelry, stones, weapons, money, and
monuments.
Runes would have also been used to perform rituals and rites. In the
Germanic languages of the time, rune meant mystery or secret.
Most Runic alphabets are thought to be based on the
Etruscan alphabet.
Runic alphabets
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Elder Futhark
Gothic Runes
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Younger Futhork
Hungarian Runes
Turkic Runes
Cirth (Tolkein)
Once in Briton, the Anglo-Saxons settled down
considerably and became more civilized.
Some historians
believe that this is
due to Christianity
and its influence.
St Patrick is one of the
more influential Christians
in the history of this time.
•Originally from Briton but from a
Romanized family.
•Kidnapped and taken to Ireland.
•Turned to Christianity to comfort him.
•Walked nearly 200 miles to escape
after 6 years
•Went back to Ireland as a missionary
Another Christian influence was Augustine*, who
was sent by the Pope in the late 500s as a
missionary.
He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and
baptized the king of Kent.
*Not Augustine of Hippo, the world famous philosopher and saint.
The
“invasion”
continues.
Cornwall
and
Brittany.
Heptarchy-comprised of seven kingdoms
EA-East Anglia
C-Cornwall
K-Kent
N-Northumbria
S-Sussex
M-Mercia
W-Wessex
Heptarchy
Enter the Danes
The Vikings
The Normans
The Norse
•Like the Anglo-Saxons, many of the Danes were a fierce
and war-oriented, sea-faring people when they first arrived.
•At first they raided unprotected monasteries.
•The “Berserkers” were the most feared Viking. They were
named after the bear shirts they wore. Prior to each battle
they would work themselves into a frenzy so they could
fight regardless of any pain or injury.
•They did not just invade the British Isles.
We now know for sure that they made it as far as
Nova Scotia in their pioneering longships.
Viking Settlements during the Viking Age: AD 750-1050.
This is the only true Viking helmet ever found.
Absolutely no evidence exists suggesting they
wore horned helmets.
Alfred the Great (871-899)
•Alfred was a Saxon and Christian king of Wessex.
•His battles with the Danes were numerous and
legendary.
•Eventually took London from their control.
•Forced many Danes to convert to Christianity
in one of his treaties/truces.
Alfred the Great encouraged people to read and
write in the spoken language.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
began in his reign. Much of
what we know today about the
history comes from this
document.
This was written in Old English and was a
timeline of British history written by monks.
After the initial raids, the Vikings began to settle various
areas of the British Isles. Their settlements were
agricultural and trading areas.
The next 100 years were very
turbulent.
Canute I (Cnut): 1016-1035
•Canute invaded from Denmark and took over as
king.
•He was supposed to divide the land with
Edmund II, his predecessor.
•Edmund died within a month.
•Married the widow of the Duke of Normandy.
•Became King of Denmark around 1018.
•In 1028 he conquered Norway.
Edward the Confessor
•1044-1066
•Very religious
•No children
•Father was Anglo-Saxon,
mother Norman
Harold, Earl of Wessex
•Took claim of the throne upon
the death of Edward the
Confessor in 1066, supported
by witan
•Other claims to the throne
included Prince Edgar and
William, Duke of Normandy
•Fought battle in the North against the King of
Norway
William the Conqueror
• Duke of Normandy
• Claimed that Edward promised him
ascension
• Took advantage of Harold’s fight in the
North to invade
• This is known as the Norman Conquest
The Battle of Hastings
• Establishes William as King of England
• Approximately 300 years of Norman Rule
• Aristocracy speaks Anglo-Norman (French
dialect)
• Lower class speaks Anglo-Saxon (Old
English)
Old English
• Language that Beowulf was written in.
• Sprung from the Germanic settlers and their various
dialects.
• Harsher in sound than today’s English.
• Written phonetically-no silent letters.
• More grammatically complex than Modern English.
A. Word changed form with function.
B. Word order was more flexible.
For entertainment and education:
•They sang songs
•Had epic and lyric poems
•Authors of the poems were known as scops.
•Glee men traveled from place to place to sing the song of the scops.
Beowulf
• An epic poem
• A folk-epic, which is a long narrative poem
relating stories of a hero that embodies all
the culture’s most important values.
• Written in the Wessex dialect.
• Divided into three primary episodes.
• Takes place in Denmark and Sweden, not
in England.
Written by:
We don’t know!
Written in:
We’re not sure!
Original Intended Audience:
Uh, we’re not sure about that either . . .
•Only one manuscript survived
•Badly burned in the 1700s
•Some repairs made in the 1800s
•Dates from around 1000 A.D.
•May have been composed as
early as 750 A.D.
•Author was probably a
Christian addressing a royal
audience.
•One historical figure: Hygelac,
Beowulf’s uncle. Raided the Frisian
coast around A.D. 516.
Beowulf Prologue
Hwæt! We Gardena
in geardagum,
þeodcyninga,
þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas
ellen fremedon.
•Anglo Saxon Poetry had four beats or accents in every line.
•No fixed number of unaccented syllables.
•Each line is divided by a caesura.
•Alliteration on the accented beats on each side.
•Used kennings-hyphenated expressions of metaphor-wave-traveler-ship.
J R R Tolkien
•Was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at
Oxford University
•Was profoundly interested in and
influenced by Beowulf
•Claimed that the story was “a heroic
celebration of the lives of mortal men in a
dangerous and transient world. “
•Once said in a letter, 'Beowulf is among my
most valued sources ...'
(Letters,
no.25)
Table 1: A list in alphabetical order of Old English words from Beowulf
that appear in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Old English
word
from Beowulf
Beowulf
reference
Definition
Tolkien’s equivalent
Beorn*
ll: 1299
Warrior, hero
Beorn
Beor
ll: 609
Bright, shining
Beor the Old
Eotenas
ll: 112
Giant / troll
Ent/ Ettenmoors /
Ettendales
Flet
ll: 1540
Floor
Flet
Fródan / fróda*
ll: 2025, 2928
The wise one /
old
Frodo
Fyrgen-holt
ll: 1393
Mountain-wood
Firienfeld
Grimmon
ll: 306
Mask
Grima
Hádor
ll: 497
Blithe
Hador
Háma
ll: 1198
Skin, covering
(?)
Hama
ll: 49-50
‘sad was their
heart and
mourning in their
soul’
‘has pity in her heart and
mourning in her soul’
‘him wæs
géomeor sefa
murnende mód’
Old English word
from Beowulf
Tolkien’s
equivalent
Beowulf reference
Definition
‘iúmonna gold,
galdre bewunden’
ll: 3052
‘the gold of men of
long ago enmeshed
in enchantment’
Lord of those
rings*
ll: 1507
Lord of those rings
The Lord of the
rings
Máthmas
ll: 1867
Treasure
Mathom
Méaras
ll: 1035
War-horses
Mearas
Medu-seld
ll: 3065
Mead-hall
Meduseld
Middan-geard
ll: 75
Middle-Earth
Middle-Earth
Myrcan*
ll: 1405
Dark, gloomy
Mirkwood
Orc-néas
ll: 112
Evil shades
Orc
Orþancum
ll: 406
Skill / ingenuity
Orthanc
Searo-
ll: 406
Iron / metal
Saruman
Thenga
ll: 2033
A noble
Thane
Ylfe
ll: 112
Elves
Elf
‘The Hoard’
Elvish
Right click to end the show.
•In Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the
word Wodnesdaeg meant Woden’s Day.
•Constantine the Great gave names to each day of the week,
naming the third day after the day of rest as the day which
belongs to Mercury. This meant that the first hour of that day
would be influenced by that celestial body.
•Woden is the Germanic equivalent of Mercury, the
Roman god, because he was quick and eloquent.
•Thus, Dies Mercuri became Wodnesdaeg.
witan
• From Old English witenagemot, meeting
• A council summoned by Anglo-Saxon
kings
• Nobles and church officials
• Discussed royal grants of land, church
matters, charters, taxation, customary law,
defense and foreign policy
• Size of the council varied
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Slide 1