Readers today approach the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf with cultural preconceptions very different from those expressed by the author of this poem. This essay hopes to enlighten the modern reader regarding the customs and values from the time of the poem’s composition.
Beowulf makes reference to Ingeld and his wife and the coming Heathobard feud:
in that hot passion
his love for peace-weaver, his wife, will cool (2065-66)
This is a rare passage, for Anglo-Saxon poetry rarely mentions romantic feelings between spouses. In fact, one’s marital status was even considered insignificant. For example, with the hero himself the poet never mentions whether he is married or not. On the other hand, feelings between men are presented frequently and with surprising intensity. Consider Beowulf’s farewell from Hrothgar and Heorot:
Then the good king, of a noble race,
great Scylding prince, held that best thane
round the neck and kissed him; his tears ran down,
streaked his great beard. Wise in his age,
he expected two things, but one the more strongly,
that never again would they look on each other
as in this brave meeting. That man was so dear
that he could not withhold those deep tears;
fixed in his heart by the bonds of thought,
a deep-felt longing for the beloved man
burned in his…
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…ld English days.
From the above it’s obvious that abundant evidence amply demonstrates that Beowulf truly reflects an Anglo-Saxon culture which is so much different from anything modern readers are used to.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Cramp, Rosemary. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited byDonald K. fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Robinson, Fred C.. “Differences Between Modern and Anglo-Saxon Values.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
Collins, Roger and McClure, Judith, editors. Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Beowulf is a True Epic
An epic is defined as a long narrative poem that traces the story of a hero. Stories throughout history have shown us many things about the culture and people of that time. While many stories have heros and morals, there remains something much more that sets an epic apart from the rest of literature. “Beowolf” is an amazing story that exhibits all aspects of a proper epic.
While many things define an epic poem, one very important aspect is that the hero of the story is identified with society, the hero, Beowulf clearly identifies himself with both the Dane and Geat people. Beowulf the main character of the story is the archetypical hero. He is a legendary character who embodies the goals and virtues of an entire nation or culture. He is loved by his followers and earned their respect through his actions. ‘Hrothgar replied, protector of the Danes: “Beowulf, you’ve come to us in friendship…’ (190-191). When Beowulf first arrives at Harot hall, he is welcomed by Hrothgar and the many men that seek his help against the monster Grendel. He brings together both the Geats and the Danes, and represents the danes in the best manner possible. “Danes and visiting Geats Celebrated as one, drank and rejoiced,” (231-232). He represented his fellow Geats while also taking on the goals and virtues of the Danes by taking the task of fighting the dragon and Grendel who threatened and killed many Danes. Beowulf’s courageous lifestyle enabled him to take this task on. He was extremely determined to fuel a safe environment for his people, because of this he was able to accomplish the goal of his people, safety.
As well as exhibiting all of what a true epic hero must, Beowulf does many great deeds in battle, which only adds to his heroic …
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…akes himself look good. In many ways does the author speak well of Beowulf, portraying him as a great apiece hero, yet at the same time there is a negative feeling coming from the others. The authors biased point of view and feelings on a certain character remains yet another aspect of a true epic.
The hero, setting, language and overall tone of the story is very important, “Beowolf” portrays all of these in the same way that any epic should. Beowulf, the main character, is very important for he does not show up in any other Anglo-Saxon literature. Many of his traits that constitute him as an epic hero contribute to the overall aspect of the proper epic in which this story is. “Beowolf” is a powerful epic that will forever be remembered as the archetypical epic poem.
“Beowolf.” Elements of Literature. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 2007.