‘Then…The fire-breathing dragon was mad to attack for a third time. When chance came, he caught the hero in a rush of flame and clamped sharp fags into his neck. Beowulf’s body ran wet with his life’s-blood…. Next thing, they say, the noble son of Weohstan saw the king in danger at his side and displayed his inborn bravery and strength…. He lunged at the enemy lower down in the belly so that his decorated sword sank into its belly and the flames grew weaker.’
An explanation of the epic poem: Beowulf
1 ”The man whose name was known for courage, the Get leader, resolute in his helmet, answered in return: “We are retainers from Hygelac’s band. Beowulf is my name…”
After 340 lines Beowulf announces his name for the first time and introduces himself officially to king Hrothgar. From this moment on the story of Beowulf and his marvellous adventures commences. The poem of Beowulf was written in the West Saxon dialect somewhere between the seventh and the end of the tenth century. This language was spoken by the inhabitants of Wessex in South England.
Around 449 B.C. German tribes: the Jutes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Frisians invaded England and settled in this country. Whilst doing so they drove the indigenous people, the Celts, westwards. England became divided in several kingdoms each with their own dialect. In the east there was Northumberland and Mercia. In the south there was Kent, Sussex and Cornwall.
Literary Background for Beowulf The Dark ages was an era that consisted of change and warfare in England. The Celts were the first ... . These four tribes are known as Anglo-Saxons who occupied England from 410 A. D. to 797 A. D. Durning that ... ’s spoke dilates of German. Vikings invaded large parts of England in 797 A. D. and ruled until 1066 A. D ...
2 In 597 Saint Augustine started his mission to convert the inhabitants of England to Christianity. Augustine, sent by the Roman Catholic Church landed on the southern shores of England. He was to meet Aethelbert, king of Kent. The spouse of Aethelbert, Berta, was a Frankish Christian princess and therefore he would have more influence to make his mission in England a success. There was only one problem for Augustine. His intentions were to build an archbishopric in London, but it so happened that London was in the realm of pagan tribes, so Canterbury, the capital of the Kentish kingdom, became the new residence of the pre-eminent archbishop in England.
3 Around 750 The Vikings started to invade and inhabit England and they kept on doing so for many centuries to come. They were unstoppable until King Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings and their king Guthrum at the battle of Ethandum in 878. In 886 a treaty was signed, the Danelaw, which marked the territories of their respective kingdoms. Alfred the Great was also an educated man. His aim was that primary education was to be taught in English, with those wishing to advance to holy orders to continue their studies in Latin. Christianity remained important. Alfred once mentioned that without Christian wisdom there can be neither prosperity nor success in war.
Beowulf was written during these perilous times and the threat of battle was always present. This epic poem illustrated these ominous feelings of war. The Vikings who settled in the East and the North of England under the Danelaw mainly came from the Danish realm. It is interesting to read in Beowulf that notably their country was under the threat of supernatural beings and that they had to resort to the help of a foreigner.
4 There are researchers who see connections between Beowulf and the Old Greek poems. Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ and ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer do have some similarities. In the “Aeneid’, which was written in the late 1st century B.C., Aenas, like Beowulf, is represented as a wanderer who travels from overseas. The reception of Beowulf at king Hrothgar’s court is quite similar to Telemachos’ visit to Menelaos. Similar parallels are to be obtained for the minstrel’s lays and many other incidents.
Though the setting of Beowulf’s story takes place in a pre-Christian era there are many Christian elements that can be found. There are some references to the bible regarding Grendel’s ancestry; he is the offspring of Cain. In another part there is a reference to an ancient giant’s sword. Here we can find a link to Genesis 6 where the sons of God come down to earth to mate with Earth women. Their children become men of great name in Earth’s history. On other occasions passages refer to Christian views. E.g. line 700: The truth is clear: Almighty God rules over mankind and always has.
... king Hrothgar goodbye and said to call for him if he ever needed help again. Throughout the entire story Beowulf ... behavior throughout his life. When beowulf heard that the great king hrothgar and his knights were being ... wait for Grendel to strike. This part of the story shows that Beowolf is not completely moral ... the evil monster Grendel. Without even asking king hrothgar what was in it for him Beowolf ...
The structure of Beowulf’s story can be divided into two chronological parts. The first part of Beowulf shows our protagonist as a young man and the last part focuses on him as an older man. The action can be cut in three parts. The first one introduces the main characters and Beowulf’s quest to free king Hrothgar’s realm of the evil Grendel. The second deals with Beowulf’s struggle in the underwater cave with Grendel’s mother. The last one describes Beowulf’s last battle with the dragon.
5 Beowulf is considered to be an alliterative verse. This means that the first half of the line is linked to the second half through similarity in initial sound. Some examples are: “The Hall of the Heart” and “His Pledge and Promise”. Another technique that is being used is Kennings. Usually they are metaphors consisting of two words that replace common nouns. In Beowulf many Kenning examples can be found: “Ring Giver” (king), “Sleep of the Sword” (death), ‘Mind’s Worth” (honour).
6 The Old English line was composed of two opposed word-groups or “halves.” Each half was an example, or variation, of one of six basic patterns. These patterns were made of strong and weak elements which may be called “lifts” and “”dips.” The standard lift was a long stressed syllable. The standard dip was an unstressed syllable, long or short, with a low tone. These patterns in metre can be found in any passage of prose, ancient or modern.
Another part that plays an important part in Beowulf is exaggeration. The mythical monsters, legendary fights, the treasures –it all contributes to the suspense which makes this story so powerful. Beowulf himself is portrayed as someone with almost God like qualities. His bravery, strength and agility exceed any normal human being by tenfold. One may argue whether Beowulf is someone who can be identified with while reading this story. Perhaps it is better to see this gripping story as one of the earliest literary works that simply was made to entertain people. However, it is still an outstanding masterpiece after more than a thousand years.
... , we ignore the fact that Gardner follows the same story line as Beowulf, we will see that Grendel is constantly asking "Why ... ideal Dane. John Gardner's Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf, is a story about growing up and searching for the answers to ... as is the the author of Beowulf. The point is that plot and setting are not the most important parts of a story.. ...
“…It may not be, at large or in detail, fluid or musical, but it is strong to stand: tough builder’s work of true stone.” – J.R.R. Tolkien 1.013 words
1 Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf – A New Verse Translation -. W.W. Norton & Co., February 2001.
2 Catholic Online, “St. Augustine of Canterbury”. Catholic Online. 2009 .
3 Unknown, “King Alfred the Great (871 – 899)”. British Royal Family History. 2009 .
4 Chadwick, Hector M.. The Heroic Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912.
5 “Use of Metaphors, Exaggeration, and Alliteration in Beowulf.” 123HelpMe.com. 19 Oct 2009
6 Hall, John R. Clark. Beowulf . Edinburgh: Harrap, 1958.