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A Comparison of the Scop in Beowulf and Widsith

The Scop in Beowulf and Widsith.

The scop in Anglo-Saxon times had a very defined role. A comparison between the scop in Beowulf and the scop in Widsith will more clearly define for us what that role was.

The 142 verses of Widsith are the oldest in the English language, and form the earliest output in verse of any Germanic people. Widsith contains a huge catalog of 70 tribes and 69 important people, many of whom are proven to have lived in the third, fourth and fifth centuries. The vast knowledge of history which was required of a good scop, just amazes the reader. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature(v1,ch3,s6,n30) states that so many princes and peoples are mentioned in the course of the poem that its importance for the history of the migration period can hardly be overestimated. This Old English poem was transcribed by a monk around the year 1000. Widsith tells the story of the scop Widsith, who accompanies Ealhhild, a Lombard princess, on her journey eastward from Angel to the court of Eormanric the Goth. Ealhhild, the sister of Aelfwine, King of the Lombards, is made to marry Eormanric. In this poem the geography and the chronology are not precise or accurate.

“At an early date Germanic kings began to keep professional poets, with functions not wholly unlike those of the poet laureate or official poet of later times” (Malone 75). This pretty well expresses the life of Widsith, except that he was not located at any one court, rather he travelled from the country of Egypt, India and Israel to Britain and to northern Europe, going from court to court. His home court, if it can be called such, was with King Eadgils. But Widsith travelled to all the “heathen” and non-heathen k…

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…st was the theme of sacrifice. . . .” ( Malone 77).

It’s obvious from our brief comparison between the scop in Beowulf and the scop in Widsith that the scop in Anglo-Saxon times had a very defined role: He was singer, storyteller, public relations man, recipient of gifts, traveller, linguist, historian, and servant of the audience.


Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.


Epic of Beowulf Essay – Dating and Locating the Composition of Beowulf

Dating and Locating the Composition of Beowulf

Dating and locating the composition of Beowulf is impossible to do with precision at this time because we do not have enough information about the poem’s specific historical context and because the poem is not constructed in such a consistently symbolic way to warrant a single allegorical-historical interpretation..

Estimates of the date of the poem’s composition “range from 340 to 1025, with ca. 515-530 and 1000 being almost universally acknowledged as the possible extremes” (Bjork 13). Current thinking is balanced between roughly this view and the late ninth to early tenth centuries. “critics generally agree upon an early period, ranging from the late seventh to the early ninth century (Greenfield 66). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states in v1, ch3, s3,n11: “. . . most of the historical events mentioned in Beowulf are to be dated within the first three decades of the sixth century.”

One clue to dating the composition was thought to lie in the use of the word merewioingas (translated by some scholars as Merovingian), a word which is used only in this poem and in no other Old English poetry or prose. In 752 the Merovingian dynasty ended, but poetic reference to it could have been added later – so this is no real help. “. . . the composition of the poem, thich is usually thought to have taken place no later than the eighth century” (Stanley 4).

Scholars now consider that there were only five times and places possessing the power and culture that could have supported the production of such a sophisticated work of art as Beowulf: (1) seventh century east Anglia (the age of Sutton Hoo); (2) late seventh to earl…

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…ert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Fulk, R.D.. “Textual Criticism.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Greenfield, Stanley B. “Nature and Quality of Old English Poetry.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.

Stanley, E.G.. “Beowulf.” In The Beowulf Reader, edited by Peter S. Baker. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.

Thompson, Stephen P. “The Beowulf poet and His World.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.


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