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    Beowulf Notes

    I.                   Epic poem

    A.     Definition—story poems, much like a ballad, but more formal and longer.  It is a long narrative poem centered around the adventures of a character of heroic mold and written in a dignified style with enough detail to give a view of an age or a civilization.  Each story of the hero was called an epos.  All make up an epic.

    B.     Five characteristics of an epic

                                                                  i.      Hero is widely known

                                                               ii.      The setting covers a wide area

                                                             iii.      Action includes superhuman courage

                                                              iv.      Supernatural forces intervene

                                                                 v.      Nationality of the hero is exalted

    C.     Elements present

                                                                  i.      Mythology—explains acts of nature as being results of acts of gods and goddesses

                                                               ii.      Legends—folk stories handed down from generation to generation

                                                             iii.      Historical fact—facts in history are used as background

                                                              iv.      Ideals, customs, and traditions of the people in a particular place during a particular time

    D.    Examples—Odyssey, Iliad, Aeneid

    II.                Characteristics of an Anglo-Saxon hero

    A.     Champion of freedom and justice

    B.     Courageous

    C.     Superhuman strength

    D.    Unfailing loyalty

    E.     Devotion to duty

    III.             History of poem

    A.     Author unknown

    B.     Was written in 7th or 8th century by a monk or other Christian cleric who added Christian ideals

    C.     Announces his theme at the opening and calls on the muses to help him in the telling of the story

    D.    Manuscript

                                                                  i.      Originally copied and kept by monks

                                                               ii.      Manuscript has two distinct handwritings

                                                             iii.      Copy found its way to library of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631)

                                                              iv.      Was given to British government in 1700

                                                                 v.      First destroyed two hundred pages of manuscript in either 1731 or 1740

    E.     Links

                                                                  i.      Electronic Beowulf project http://www.uky.edu/~kiernan/eBeowulf/guide.htm

                                                               ii.      Recordings of readings of the original Beowulf http://historymedren.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&sdn=historymedren&cdn=education&tm=27&gps=90_368_1020_562&f=00&tt=14&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.engl.virginia.edu/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Beowulf.Readings.html

    IV.              Pagan epic with Christian ideals

    A.     Pagan elements

                                                                  i.      Monsters

    1.                  Sea beasts

    2.                  Fire dragons

                                                               ii.      Magic arts—casting spells on swords to make them powerless against monsters

                                                             iii.      Sword blade melts

                                                              iv.      Beowulf obtains a sword made by giants or Titans

    B.     Christian elements

                                                                  i.      Necessity of praying to God

                                                               ii.      Reward is promised to righteous

                                                             iii.      Good conquers evil

    V.                 Poetic elements

    A.     Kenning—a compound metaphor in which a poetic synonym consisting of compound words or phrases describing something replaces the name of someone or something

                                                                  i.      “Ring-giver” is king

                                                               ii.      “Whale-road” is rough sea

                                                             iii.      “Swan-road” is smooth sea

                                                              iv.      “Wave-skimmer” is a boat

                                                                 v.      “Shadow-walker” is a dragon

                                                              vi.      “The mingling of the waves” is the ocean

    B.     Alliteration—the repetition of initial consonant sounds (Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.)

    C.     Onomatopoeia—the use of a word whose sound imitates or suggest its meaning

    D.    Metaphor—a figure of speech which directly compares two unlike things

    E.     Simile—a comparison using like or as

    VI.              Style

    A.     Subject—a universal one: An age-old story of a great leader who saves or tries to save a people in grave danger.

    B.     Action takes place in Denmark and Sweden

    C.     Tone is dark, melancholy, austere, and bloody

    VII.           Important characters and terms

    A.     Beowulf—hero of the Geats, nephew of Hygelac

    B.     Hrothgar—King of the Spear Danes

    C.     Heorot—meaning stag hall because the horns of a stag or hart/deer adorned its gables

    D.    Grendel—monster of human shape but of superhuman size

    E.     Hygelac—King of Geats and uncle of Beowulf

    F.      Geat—Sweden

    G.    Wyrd—god of fate

    H.    Thane—man who received lands or goods from king for having done military service

    I.       Wiglaf—loyal companion and kinsman of Beowulf, a loyal thane

    J.      Scyld—a mythical found of royal Danish family line

    K.    Byrny—coat of mail made of rings locked together

    L.     Wulfgar—a proud warrior at Heorot

Last Modified on November 12, 2007