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The Epic Poem, Beowulf – Is Beowulf History or Myth?

Is Beowulf History or Myth?

Many of the characters and episodes and material artifacts mentioned poetically in Beowulf are likewise presented to us from archaeological sources and from various written sources, especially Scandinavian records, thus adding credibility to the historicity of the poem. But it is obvious that Beowulf, Grendel and the Dragon clearly belong to the classification of “myth.”

In his essay “The Digressions in Beowulf” David Wright says:

Another effect of what are called the ‘historical elements’ in Beowulf – the subsidiary stories of the Danes and the Geats – is to give the poem greater depth and verisimilitude. Hrothgar, the Danish king, is a ‘historical character, and the site of his palace of Heorot has been identified with the village of Leire on the island of Seeland in Denmark. The Geat king Hygelac really existed, and his unlucky expedition against the Franks, referred to several times in the poem, is mentioned by Gregory of Tours in the Historia Francorum and has been given the approximate date of AD521 (127).

Does the above not establish in our minds an historically sound footing for the poem? “I suggested in an earlier paper that the Beowulf poet’s incentive for composing an epic about sixth-century Scyldings may have had something to do with the fact that, by the 890’s at least, Heremod, Scyld, Healfdene, and the rest, were taken to be the common ancestors both of the Anglo-Saxon royal family and of the ninth-century Danish immigrants, the Scaldingi” (Frank 60). Is not universal acceptance as truth in fact not a proof that the geneologies of the work are factual? With the exception of the hero, this literary scholar seems to agree: “He [Beowulf] appears unknown outside the poem, while virtually every other character is found in early legends” (Chickering 252). Consider the following royal burial of the Danish king, and how unrealistic it appears:

Scyld then departed at the appointed time,

still very strong, into the keeping of the Lord….

They laid down the king they had dearly loved,

their tall ring-giver, in the center of the ship,

the mighty by the mast. Great treasure was there,

bright gold and silver, gems from far lands (26-37)

But we know from archaeological evidence that the royal and aristocratic milieu of Beowulf with its lavish burials and gold-adorned armor “can no longer be dismissed as poetic exaggeration or folk memories of an age of gold before the Anglo-Saxons came to England (Cramp 114).

themebeo Epic of Beowulf Essay – Themes and Motifs in Beowulf

Beowulf: Themes and Motifs

Beowulf is the most important work of Old English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. Throughout the epic, the Anglo-Saxon storyteller uses many elements to build a certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character elements in Beowulf are Wealth

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