Beowulf 700 [?] Anglo Saxon Epic Poetry



Composed by an unknown poet who lived more than 1200 years ago, Beowulf marks the beginning of English literature. Minstrels called scops recited this poem to audiences in England about 300 years before it was first written down. Only one original manuscript of the complete 3,128-line poem survives, but Beowulf is in no danger of becoming extinct. Not only does it have lasting historical importance as a record of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in England, but it also tells a hair raising tale that has electrified readers and listeners through the centuries.

Beowulf, a Great from a region that is today Southern Sweden, sets sail to his homeland to try to free the Danish King Hrothgar’s great banquet hall, Herot, of a monster that has been ravaging it for 12 years. The monster, Grendel, is a terrifying swampland creature of enormous size size whose eyes burn “with gruesome light.” The struggle between Beowulf, a young adventurer eager for fame, and Grendel, a fierce blood thirsty foe, is the first of 3 mortal battles in a long poem.

Although the action takes place in 6th century Scandinavia, the poem is unmistakably English. Recited originally in Old English, Beowulf is based on legends and chronicles of the various Northern Europeans who migrated to England.

An epic is a long narrative poem, some times developed orally, that celebrates the deeds of a legendary or heroic figure. Few epics predate the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, including the Greek Iliad and Odyssey by Homer, and the Roman Aeneid by Virgil. Typically and epic features a hero who is larger than life and concerns eternal human problems such as the struggle between good and evil. An epic is presented in a serious manner, often through the use of elevated language. The hero of the epic represents widespread national, cultural, or religious values.

Beowulf is one of the oldest European epics. Its hero, Beowulf, embodies the highest ideals of his time and place: loyalty, valor, selflessness, and a sense of justice. He represents good, whereas Grendel represents evil. Throughout Beowulf there is a prevailing yet somewhat uneasy blend of Christian ethics and pagan morality. Against the backdrop of gloom that reflects the Anglo-Saxons’ stoic acceptance of fate, the story applauds the highest virtues of human nature- courage, generosity, faithfulness. Despite its blood and horror, Beowulf is a deeply idealistic narrative.

Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, of which Beowulf is the greatest example, has certain distinctive features. One is the two-part line. Each line is separated by a pause, known as a caesura, and there are generally two strong beats per part. Another feature is the kenning, a colorful, indirect way of naming something: The sea is a whalepath; a battle is spear play; the sun is the candle of the skies.

The picture was illustrated by artist Musibat-Khan from Pakistan.


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