Beowulf



 

I. About the Text:

1. The oldest of the long poems in English Literature, composed around the 8th century, though the story had probably been orally transmitted, by scop, for some hundred years before it was recorded or rewritten by a Christian poet

2. Probably the only survivor of a cluster of Old English long epics, harking back to the tradition of Germanic heroic oral poetry, dispersed also in Iceland and Germany

3. The poet unknown, probably only one Christian, and the title given by modern editors

II. Subject matter:

1. Concerning not feats in England but those in the Germanic North Europe, happening around the 5th century
2. Highly elliptical in references to historical or legendary background

3. Heavy allusions to the Christian Bible, but strangely only to the Old Testament

4. Based on the values of Germanic heroic code:

a. Mutual trust and respect between the warrior-thane and king

b. Royal generosity: the king as the “ring-giver,” “dispenser of treasure”

c. Moral obligation to avenge a kinsman’s death (by either killing the enemy or exacting wergild, man-price): line 459~72 (wergild paid for Ecgtheow; 2435~43 (on the inanity of revenge code)

d. A sense of doom (tragic futility) permeating the whole society and the poem

5. The Conflict between Christian values and Germanic heroic code: p. 69

a. A Christianity that hadn’t eliminated the pagan elements among the Anglo-Saxons (confusion between fate and God)
b. The poet’s ironic treatment of the theme (cf. Finnsburg episode, p. 54~58)

6. Beowulf’s struggle with fate and nature:

a. A ritual of testing fate (p. 41): boast of past glory (639) vow of coming victory consciousness of possible doom (441~55; 1477~83) the courage under war, remembering one’s vow (757~58, 1529~30)

b. Dialectics of fate and courage: line 572~73, 1384

III. Discussion of Topics in the Text:

1. Germanic heroic code:

a. An Ideal King: bravery—4~11; His generosity: 20~24, 72~73, 384~85, 1020~23; an example of bad king—1709~1722

b. Emphasis on male lineage, not the individual: line 194, 262~63 (his name, 343), 372~76

2. Christian references and didacticism: line 92~98 (to the Creation), 183~188 (insisting on Christianity as true faith), 440~41

3. Belief in fate: line 455, 733~35, 696~97 (confusion between God and fate), 2526~27, 2573~2575, 2814~2816

4. Evidence of the heroic code: line 129~33 (about code of revenge), 156 (about wergild), 1019~1023 (the war gift), 1458 (the sword Hrunting), 2606 (a thane’s loyality)

5. The prevailing Harsh atmosphere: p. 43~44 (broil in Heorot), 1120~23

About Saweel Ur Raheem

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