Beowulf: Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Section: English Essays
History can be found through stories, books, poems and other literary works. Examples of the lifestyles, society, aesthetics, philosophical values, politics and economics can be found and are shown in all works and writings. Authors of all times reveal the attitudes around them every time they write. The Anglo-Saxon period dates back to 449 to 1066. Anglo Saxons frequently fought with one another, but they had a great deal in common. Besides a common language base, they shared a heroic ideal and set of traditional heroes. They admired men of outstanding courage and loyalty. It didn't matter what tribe they cam from, if these traits were shown in a person, they were received with grave courtesy. It wasn't just the warriors and kings that were respected in this society but scops were too. Scops were professional poets and the historians of a tribe. It was he who remembered the important heroes, the kings, the important battles and the folklore of the tribe. Anglo-Saxon poetry was a oral art. It was rarely written down, but was recited as a song or riddle. One of the most renown stories of this time was Beowulf. It wasn't written down until a couple centuries ago. The story of Beowulf has been passed through many generations, but the story has still withheld a brilliant illustration of the Anglo Saxon period and has remained a true typical epic of it's time.
Almost all heroic epics have the same elements which makes this particular style of literature stand out from others. There is the "supernatural element," the "quest element," the "en medias res," "grand speeches," and "warriors and battles." The supernatural element is the element in the story that is above mankind. It could be a human with super strength or anything extraterrestrial. The quest element in an epic is the journey one of the main characters take for revenge, to conquer, or to save. "En medias res" means the middle. True heroic epics usually begin in the middle of a problem or conflict. Usually, there isn't any introduction or background information on what is going on, or the problems the characters are having when the story begins. Most grand speeches are made at the climax or turn of the story. When there is a goal being set or the story is coming to a conclusion. There are often many warriors in heroic epics, both good and bad. The battles they have can occur at any given moment in the story. There is always a final battle at the end.
Beowulf is a traditional heroic epic. The five main elements in a heroic epic can be found in the story of Beowulf. The supernatural elements in the story are Beowulf and Grendel. Grendel is the evil infamous killer and Beowulf is the hero. King Horthgar's town is being terrified by Grendel and they are in desperate need. It never said in the story, whether Grendel was a human being or not, but like mentioned before, heroic epics often leave out background information. The story does mention that Grendel is the decedent of Cain, the first murderer. Grendel kills men and eats them. After many failing attempts by his army, King Hrothgar and his meade hall is saved by Beowulf to save him. The Dane meade hall, Herot, was the best around but still, it was under the surveillance Grendel. He killed whoever entered this zone at night. Beowulf was said to be the strongest man on earth and killed giants. Grendel was unfazed by human weapons. His skin was unpiercable by them, and human would have to engage in hand to hand combat with this giant in order to defeat him. There was no one who could do this except for Beowulf.
The quest element in the story of Beowulf was Beowulf's trip from his homeland in King Higlac's village of the Geats to the land of the Danes to defeat Grendel. In the days of the Anglo Saxon period, people had to really on face to face communication as a way of informing people. They had no telephones or televisions. It took years for Beowulf to get the message from the scop of the Danes, Hrothgar, and took years for Beowulf to travel to Denmark, home of the Danes. In the Anglo Saxon Period, people traveled by horses, across land or by boat across the sea. Beowulf took 14 men with him to Denmark on a quest to save Herot.
The story of Beowulf began "en medias res," or the middle of a conflict. Grendel had been stalking the Danes before the story began. He was already known for killing men and eating them. Everyone feared him. In the opening section of the story, Grendel was described in detail, but the actual story began with man singing in the Herot. Grendel gets mad with the men singing of God and the creation of the earth. The men were drinking and soon they were all sleep. Grendel kills them all and eats them, "delighted with the night's slaughter." It never said where the men were coming from or why they were celebrating.
There were two grand speeches in the story. Both were made by Beowulf. The first speech was made when he first arrived at Denmark. He spoke of who he was, where he was from and why he was there. Beowulf boasted about himself in this speech to Hrothgar, saying that he killed so many and was great warrior. Everyone already knew about him, but he had the right to brag. He was there to serve and defeat Grendel for the king of Danes. The next speech was made by Beowulf also. This was made at the dinning table in Herot. In this speech, Beowulf spoke of his destiny and fate. During this period, all true warriors believed in fate and felt that there destiny was already determined. Beowulf did not care whether he died in battle or not, it was all under God's control. "And if death does take me, sent the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrethel and he from Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!"
The warriors in the story was Beowulf himself and Beowulf's army. In a way, you can say that Grendel was a warrior also in the way that he fought and destroyed his enemies for the common purpose of self satisfaction. Beowulf's men all came to Herot to help Beowulf defeat Grendel. There were two main battles. In the first, Grendel was uncontested and killed and ate 30 men. In the final battle Grendel was killed. No warriors in Beowulf's army actually assisted Beowulf in destroying Grendel, but one was killed before he had a chance to fight for himself. Beowulf, the good warrior, and was victorious in the final battle between he and Grendel. Beowulf, with only his strong grip, ripped Grendel's shoulder and arm from his socket. Grendel escaped but died in his swamp like home. Grendel's arm was mounted on the rafters of the meade hall, attached to his shoulder and claw for all to see.
Like a heroic epic, there are a few characteristics that define Anglo-Saxon poetry. There are three characteristics in total. Anglo-Saxon poetry has no rhyme, strong rhythm, presence of alliteration and kennings. The lines in Beowulf don't rhyme. On the hand, lines do have rhythm. Two examples of this are the 4 beats in each line and the caesuras present in the lines. A caesura is a strong pause in the middle of the line.
Alliteration is repetition of constant sounds and Beowulf is full of them. One example of alliteration is in the phrase "…the proudly setting sun." The sound made by the s and the following vowel in both words are both very similar. Another example is in the phrase "So Hrothgar's men lived happy in his hall.." The sound made by the h in this example and the following vowel is the same for the words happy and hall. The final example is "The seas, was told and swing in all.," in which the sound made by the se and sw are similar.
A kenning is a metaphorical phrase or compound. Three examples of a kenning are a "powerful monster," "shepard of evil" and "guardian of crime," all describing Grendel.
Characteristics of true heroic epics and Anglo-Saxon poetry are all present in the story of Beowulf. The society of this time is shown in this splendid piece of literature. Anglo-Saxon society was comparatively well developed, branching out from the family unit to the clan and tribe and then to the kingdom. While the Anglo-Saxons easily developed great loyalty to their chosen leaders, they had a natural tendency toward what we should call now a democratic habit of mind. That is, they liked to hold meetings in which people could openly express what they thought and felt. Tribes fought a lot, but they often helped each other out when in need. Beowulf was the strongest warrior of the Geats and with him he brought 14 strong and brave men to Denmark. There was no formal agreement between Higlac, the king of Geats and Hrothgar, the king of Danes to allow Beowulf to leave his homeland and take 14 warriors. The warriors were from Higlac's army and it wasn't his war. Beowulf left to fight Hrothgar's war. The Geats, in the story probably relied on Beowulf for protection, but this just shows the respect that the people of the Anglo-Saxon period had for each other. Little things like these in the story of Beowulf prove this work of art true, as both a heroic epic and authentic Anglo-Saxon poetry.
"The story of Beowulf has been passed through many generations, but the story has still withheld a brilliant illustration of the Anglo Saxon period and has remained a true typical epic of it's time."
I. Beowulf is a traditional heroic epic.
A. Supernatural elements
a. Powers: strength, couldn't pierce skin
b. Larger than normal appetite
a. Strength: killed giants, ripped of Grendal's arm.
b. Reputation: strongest man in world
B. Quest Elements
1. Geats to Denmark
a. Took years to travel
2. Went over seas
3. Traveled by boat
4. Beowulf's army
a. Took 14 men
C. "En Medias Res"
1. Epic began in the middles of things
a. No background info. About prior events
b. No knowledge of Grendel's life or habitat
c. Epic beginning with Grendel's anger with Hrothgar’s men for loud music.
D. Grand Speeches
1. Beowulf's grand speech
a. In which he boasted
2. Beowulf's speech at table
a. His destiny plan
b. Expressed need
E. Warrior's and battles
1. Opening battle
a. Grendel kills 30 men
1. Grendel the warrior
2. Final battle
a. Beowulf kills Grendel
1. Beowulf the warrior
2. Prestidges Beowulf
II. Anglo Saxon Characteristics(Beowulf)
A. No Rhyme
B. Strong Rhythm
1. 4 beats per line
2. Each line has a caesura(strong pause)
C. Presence of Alliteration(repetition of constant sounds)
1. "The proudly setting sun" 2. "So Hrothgar's men lived happy in his hall"
3. "The seas, was told and swing in all."
D. Presence of Kennings(metaphorical phrase or compound)
1. "Powerful monster"
2. "Shepard of evil"
3. "Guardian of crime"