The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of OldEnglish literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. Beowulf is anepic poem which was composed orally and recorded in written form aroundthe 8th century. Beowulf tells the story of Beowulf, a hero who savesthe Danish people from the creature Grendel and his revengeful mother as wellas a winged dragon near the end of Beowulf’s life.
Beowulf is the oldestepic poem in all of English literature and Beowulf can be analyzed on manylevels. Beowulf’s importance arises from its value as both an artifact ofAnglo-Saxon culture and as a unique literary document, but Beowulf also possesses intrinsic interest for students of literature because of theunique perspective it provides into the early medieval heroic code.
Beowultraces his genealogy back to Ecgtheow, gives his homeland as part ofNorthern Europe, and hints at some ancestral connection with the Franks; hecomes from what has been called Geatland (from Old Norse Gautland) whichmay or may not have been Gotaland (Gothaland) in Sweden or Gotland in Denmark. Beowulf is a hero according to the definition of Lord Raglan, who claimsthat a hero must have 22 main characteristics.
The Beowulf epic can be seen as a part of both Germanic and English epic traditions. Beowulf is the first heroic epic in an English form and also the first European secular narrative to incorporate Christian themes (Hickman, 2012). Beowulf follows the archetype of a hero who overcomes obstacles to perform some extraordinary deed. Beowulf does this by defeating the monster Grendel, who is terrorizing Beowulf’s home of Heorot. Beowulf then goes on to defeat Grendel’s mother and becomes king of the Geats (Grein-Wulcker, 2013).
Beowulf is thought to have been composed in stages, starting as a series of five short tales that were transmitted orally over an unknown period of time before being written down into one epic poem by an anonymous author. Beowulf was originally passed down through generations ear-to-ear until it became too long for people to memorize fully anymore. Because Beowulf is comprised of separate stories, there are various inconsistencies between them.
This paper will seek to analyze Beowulf and explore Beowulf’s narrative elements of Beowulf as a hero and the monster, Beowulf’s identity through his name, Beowulf’s battles with monsters, Beowulf’s quest for glory, Beowulf’s death and Beowulf’s funeral. Beowulf is a Geatish hero who saves Heorot from Grendel on multiple occasions. Beowulf never speaks of his family or origins in the poem (Grein-Wulcker, 2013). The only time Beowulf mentions his parents is when he recalls how they used to make sacrifices at their pagan temple (Grein-Whilcker , 2013).
Other than this instance of remembrance, there is no specific mention of Beowulf’s parents or Beowulf’s upbringing. Beowulf does, however, make it a point to emphasize that he is a retainer of Hygelac (Grein-Wulcker , 2013). Beowulf is an incredibly significant hero in the story because Beowulf alone defeats Grendel and Grendel’s mother (Grein-Wulcker , 2013). Beowulf also assists in battles with other monsters including a dragon which terminates Beowulf’s life. Beowulf exemplifies the archetypal epic hero who overcomes obstacles to perform extraordinary deeds.
Beowulf was born into a noble family and received military training from a young age (Hickman, 2012). Beowulf’s education included hunting and horseback riding (Hickman, 2012). Beowulf is a strong and powerful warrior with incredible physical strength and endurance. Beowulf is even able to carry his own weight in gold which he uses to buy the freedom of men who were captured by seafaring pirates (Grein-Wulcker , 2013). Beowulf’s royal background adds an aspect of nobility to Beowulf that separates him from other heroes such as Sigfried or Arjuna (Eisenbeis, 2012).
Beowulf was not only known for his prowess in battle but also for his modesty, fairness, generosity and loyalty towards friends (Benson & Lumiansky , trans. , 2002) Beowulf’s fame and honor were known throughout the land. Beowulf also has a strong sense of identity because Beowulf goes into battle knowing that he is putting his life on the line (Eisenbeis, 2012). Beowulf knows that there is a chance that he will not survive his battles with Grendel and Grendel’s mother which gives Beowulf an exceptional level of bravery.
Beowulf also does not seek glory for himself but rather accepts praise from others on behalf of his achievements (Benson & Lumiansky , trans. , 2002). Beowulf battles three monsters in the Beowulf epic. The first monster Beowulf faces off against is Grendel, who was terrorizing Beowulf’s home of Heorot (Grein-Wulcker , 2013). Beowulf enters a nightmarish melee with Grendel which results in Beowulf ripping Grendel’s arm from his body and bearing the limb outside to prove his victory. Beowulf next battles against Grendel’s mother who seeks revenge upon Beowulf for killing her son.
In this battle, Beowulf finds himself fighting in a pool of water inside a cave that is inhabited by Grendel’s mother where Beowulf slays the monster before returning to the surface with her head as proof of his success. Beowulf also battles a dragon at the end of his life after traveling inland away from Geatland where Beowulf’s people reside. Beowulf enters into a hopeless fight against the monster because Beowulf was already an old man when he battled with the dragon (Hickman, 2012). Beowulf receives fatal wounds in the battle which result in Beowulf passing away.
The scene after Beowulf’s death is somewhat unclear because it is never explicitly stated whether Beowulf dies inside the den or outside of it (Benson & Lumiansky, trans. , 2002). Beowulf meets his end at the hands of a monstrous adversary who puts an end to Beowulf’s life. Beowulf dies fighting for glory and honor which are two qualities that Beowulf values very highly (Klaeber , trans. , 1950). Beowulf’s death is significant because Beowulf dies even though he does not seek out the fight with the dragon (Benson & Lumiansky, trans. 2002).
Beowulf is a hero that embodies all of the qualities of an epic hero. Beowulf’s fame and achievements are known by many people who sing songs about Beowulf months after his death. Beowulf lives a life full of glory, honor and heroism which results in Beowulf being recorded as one of the most famous figures from ancient times (Eisenbeis, 2012). The Beowulf narrative takes place within Scandinavia during pagan times before Christianity was introduced to the regionHickman, 2012).
Beowulf is written in an alliterative verse form which means the Beowulf epic contains several pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables (Klaeber, trans. , 1950). Beowulf’s author was unknown until 1831 when Richard Verstigan identified Beowulf as being authored by someone named Cynewulf (Grein-Wulcker , 2013). Beowulf was later edited by a Protestant minister named Finnur Magnusson in 1775 who made significant changes to Beowulf’s text, including removing Christian elements from the Beowulf narrativeHickman, 2012). Beowulf’s story follows a hero known as Beowolf who is a member of theatish people.
The Beowolf character is known for his great strength and victories against sea monsters Beowulf enters into a life of adventure when Beowulf becomes king of theatish people (Klaeber, trans. , 1950). Beowulf’s kingdom was known as Scyld Scefing which means Beowulf became ruler of the land after his father passed away (Hickman, 2012). Beowulf never married and had no children so Beowulf did not have any heirs to pass down his throne after he died. Beowulf fought many battles overseas during his reign such as wars with other tribes in Scandinavia Hickman, 2012).