The Epic of Beowulf - Mrs-Wilmarths-Wiki

The Epic of Beowulf
Translated by Burton Raffel
The Epic
An Epic is a long narrative poem about
a larger than life hero who engaged in
a dangerous journey, or quest, that is
important to the history of a nation
and/or its people.
The Anglo-Saxon Period (449-1066)
Historical Background
Romans controlled Britain for 400 years until about 445.
Germanic Tribes (Jutes, Angles, Saxons) Began to invade
◦ These tribes enjoyed beauty & adventure.
◦ They blended British and Germanic cultures
◦ These people originally had pagan beliefs (worshipped
god-like heroes,) but with help from St. Augustine, they
later became Christians.
At this time, most activities revolved around the
◦ Center for social, intellectual, artistic, and literary life
During this time, people began to keep historical records,
use written contracts, and courts were established.
Late 700-800’s- Danish Vikings invaded Britain
◦ They raided and destroyed the village & monasteries
◦ They were defeated in 886 by King Alfred.
Danes returned in 1016 & were defeated 1042
Anglo-Saxon period ended in 1066 when the Normans
conquered the country.
Anglo-Saxon Literature
Anglo-Saxon Literature
 Much of the Anglo-Saxon literature was oral-Stories
were told, not written down. A scop told or sang the
tales about heroes and their adventures. Some of
these oral stories were later recorded.
 Popular kinds of literature in this time period were:
◦ Heroic Epic-A long narrative poem about a hero who
has great courage & super-human ability (similar to
◦ Elegiac Epic- A poem in which a single speaker
expressed thoughts & feelings. The lyric often recalls
past events.
◦ Riddle- Verses that challenged listeners to guess
their subjects.
 Beowulf is a heroic epic set in the 200-300’s. Passed
down orally until it was recorded about 800-1000
Types of Epics
Folk Epic is a story about a hero that was
originally sung or recited. Over
generations, these stories were passed
down by storytellers until they were
eventually written down.
 Literary Epic is written down by a specific
author, usually borrowing the style and
characteristics of a folk epic.
Elements of an Epic
Elements of an Epic- All epics are characterized by
certain key elements.
Epic Hero- The larger than life main character. This
hero is strong, brave, loyal, and virtuous, although
he/she usually has a flaw.
Epic Conflict- The hero’s struggle against an
obstacle or series of obstacles. The hero proves
his/her strength, bravery, wisdom, and virtue
through overcoming this conflict.
Heroic Quest- The journey that the hero takes in
search of something that is valuable to his/her
Divine Intervention- The help or hindrance that the
hero receives from a god or some supernatural
Beowulf, like many
stories, has a prologue,
which gives the reader
information he or she
needs to better
understand a story.
Information that can
be in a prologue is
 Introduction of
 Introduction to setting
 Introduce a major
In this story, the Prologue discusses the lineage,
or family history, of the king of the Danes. It
expresses the importance of valorous heroes. It
also tells us that the story will take place in
Hear me! We’ve heard of Danish heroes,
Ancient kings and the glory they cut For
themselves, swinging mighty swords!
How Shild made slaves of soldiers from Every
land, crowds of captives he’d beaten Into
terror; he’d travel to Denmark alone An
abandoned child, but changed his own fate,
lived to be rich and much honored. He ruled
Lands on all sides: Wherever the sea Would
take them his soldiers, sailed returned with
tribute and obedience. There was a brave king!
And he gave them more than his glory,
Conceived a son for the Danes, a new leader
allowed them by the grace of God.
They had lived, before his coming, kingless
and miserable; Now the Lord of all life,
Ruler of Glory, blessed them with a prince,
Beo, Whose power and fame soon spread
through the world. Shild’s strong son was
the glory of Denmark; His father’s worriers
were round his heart With gold rings,
bound to their prince By his father’s
treasure. So young men built the future,
wisely open-handed in peace, Protected in
War; so warriors earn Their fame, and
wealth is shaped with a sword.
When his time was come the old king died,
Still strong but called to the Lord’s hands.
His comrades carried him down to the shore,
Bore him as their leader had asked, their lord
And companion, while words could move on
his tongue. Shild’s reign had been long; he
ruled them well. There in the harbor was a
ring-prowed fighting Ships, its timbers icy,
waiting, And there they brought the beloved
body Of their ring-giving lord, and laid him
near the mast. Next to that noble corpse
They heaped up treasure, jeweled helmets,
hooked swords and coats of mail, armor
Carried from the ends of the earth:
no ship Had ever sailed so brightly fitted,
No king sent forth more deeply mourned.
Forced to set him adrift, floating As far as
the tide might run, they refused To give
him less from their hoards of gold Than
those who’d shipped him away, an orphan
And a beggar, to cross the waves alone.
High up over his head they flew His shinny
banner, then sadly let The water pull at the
ship, watched it Slowly sliding to where
neither rulers Nor heroes not anyone can
say whose hands Opened to take that
motionless cargo.
Then Beo was king in that Danish castle,
Shild’s son ruling as long as his father And
as loved, a famous lord of men. And he in
turn gave his people a son, the great
Healfdane, a fierce fighter Who led the
Danes to the end of his long Life and left
them four children, Three princes to guide
them in battle, Hergar and Hrothgar and
Halga the Good, and one daughter, Yrs, who
was given to Onela, king of the Swedes, and
became his wife and their queen.
 The prologue begins with the narrator addressing the
reader to “Hear me!” as he begins to tell of Heroic
Danish kings of the past.
 First he introduces Shild, who was an orphan who
immigrated to Denmark as a child.
Shild was loved and honored by his people.
He was brave and a good fighter
Before he arrived, the Danes were miserable and kingless
He had a son named Beo
When Shild died, to honor and respect him, the Danes put his
body on a boat with treasures and gold and sent his body to
sea (so he had it in the after-life)
◦ Everyone in the country mourned his death
Shild’s son Beo took over his reign and
became as loved as his father
Beo had a son named Healfdane, who was
a fierce fighter.
Healfdane had four children: Yrs (the only
girl), Hrothgar, Halga, &Hergar
Yrs married the King of the Swedes
Hrothgar became the next king
◦ Hrothgar is the king during the tale of Beowulf
As you remember from the background
information, Beowulf was told orally for
centuries before it was finally written down.
The monks were the ones who recorded the
tale, so they added elements for Christianity
to the otherwise Pagan story.
We see a mix of both Pagan and Christian
beliefs in the Prologue because it tells us
that God sent Shild to the Danes, He brought
Beo, and He took Shild away.
However, the ceremony following Shild’s death
was typical of Pagans, since the treasure the
Danes sent with Shild was to go with him
into the afterlife.
“The Coming of Grendel”
Who is King? Hrothgar
What did he build? The great hall- Herot
Why did he build it? So they can divide treasure
from battle, celebrate & retell stories of victory
What is foreshadowed? The building’s eventual
destruction by fire
Who is the “powerful monster, living down In the
darkness, growl(ing) in pain, impatient?” Grendel
What is annoying him? The music and celebration
in the hall.
Why is Grendel so evil? He is a descendent of
Cain, who was cursed by God for killing his
Why is Cain an allusion? It is a reference to the
What does this allusion say about Grendel? He is
inherently evil
Why did Grendel go to Herot? To see what the
men do when the drinking and partying is done.
What does he find when he gets there? All of the
men sleeping
What does Grendel do? He grabs 30 of them and
kills them, then leaves happily
How does Hrothgar react? He mourns the death of
his warriors.
What happens the next night? Grendel returns
and kills again
What do the warriors do? Flee from Herot to find
safe places to sleep since Grendel kills at night
How long did Herot remain empty? 12 years
How did other people hear about Grendel’s
terror? Because of the length and awfulness
of his terror, the story was sung and told
even across the sea.
What was Grendel doing during this time?
Stalking anyone who approached Herot;
waiting for his next victim.
Why didn’t Grendel kill Hrothgar? He was
protected by God
What had the Danes tried to get rid of
Grendel? Made sacrificed to pagan gods,
asked for the devil’s help
What is the only thing that could rid them
for Grendel’s terror? God
At the same time in a far away country,
who hears of Grendel’s terror? Beowulf
 Who supported Beowulf’s journey? How do
we know? God supported his journey; the
omens were good
 Who went with him? 14 of the finest Geats
 A Kenning is an elaborate phrase that
describes a person, place, thing, or event
on a metaphoric and indirect way. What are
some kennings we see in Beowulf? “Hellforged hands”- Grendel; “King of the
Danes”- Hrothgar; “Mankind’s enemy”Grendel; “shadow of death”- Grendel;
“Healfdane’s son”- Hrothgar; “Higlac’s
follower”- Beowulf
“The Coming of Beowulf”
Who met Beowulf and his men at the Danish
shore? Wulfgar
What did he tell them to do? Leave their
weapons and go meet Hrothgar at Herot
When he meets Hrothgar, what does Beowulf
tell him? His credentials
What is on Beowulf’s “resume”? He is a good
warrior (killed so many enemies in war that
he returned dipping in their blood;) He chased
giants into chains; He swam in the dark water
hunting sea monsters; Now he has come for
What is Beowulf’s one request? For his men to
be able to fight Grendel without Danish help
What will Beowulf fight with? Why? His bare
hands; he doesn’t want Higlac to think less
of him because if he used a sword, it would
seem like he is afraid to fight the monster
 Who will decide the battle? God
 If they lose, what will happen to their
bodies and possessions? Grendel will carry
them to his lair, crunch on their bones,
smear their skin and blood on his walls.
 What does Beowulf want to happen to his
possessions if he is killed? Return his armor
to Higlac
What does he think Grendel’s plan will be?
To attack at night
 So what is Beowulf’s plan? To have his
Geats lay where the Danes had and wait
for Grendel (pretending to sleep.)
 What happened next? The Geats & Danes
feasted & celebrated the potential end of
“The Battle with Grendel”
What do we learn in the intro to this section? The
Danes have left & the Geats lay where they once
had. Beowulf is lying awake waiting for Grendel.
What does Grendel symbolize? What are some
reasons we think this?Evil; he is “bearing God’s
hatred,” he was “forever joyless,” his eyes
“gleamed with darkness & burned with gruesome
Why does Grendel come to Herot this time? To kill
What is dramatic irony & where do we see it? It is
when the reader/audience knows some-thing that
a character does not. We know that Beowulf & his
men are waiting for Grendel, but Grendel does not.
What happened when Grendel got to Herot? He
ripped the door open & entered the hall seeing it
full of sleeping warriors.
On lines 387-389, what literary device is being
used? What does it mean? Foreshadowing; Grendel
will die.
What literary term describes the following
lines (390-391): “Eyes were watching his evil
steps, Waiting to see his swift claws?”
Dramatic Irony
What happens to the first Geat Grendel grabs?
Grendel ripped him apart, drank his blood,
and swallowed him.
What happened to the second Geat? It is
Beowulf, and he grabbed Grendel’s claws and
bent them back.
What did Grendel realize at this point? He has
met his match & he wanted to run back to his
What is going on from lines 420-430? Grendel
and Beowulf are fighting.
How do the Danes react? shocked with fear
Who is winning the battle? Beowulf
Why don’t Beowulf’s men help him? They try, but
Grendel has cursed their swords so they don’t even
scratch his skin.
How did Beowulf defeat Grendel? He ripped his arm
What happens to Grendel in lines 457-465?He was
becoming weak and his death was near
Where did he display it? He hung it from the ceiling
What happened to Grendel? He went back to his
lair, we assume, to die.
What happened in the morning? A crowd gathered
outside of Herot to find the body of Grendel.
What did they find? Bloody footprints that led to a
bloody boiling lake.
What do we assume happened? Hell opened up to
receive Grendel
What did the people do? The Rode back to Herot
telling the stories of Beowulf’s bravery.
How does the end of the selection reiterate the
importance of the folk epic? It tells of old soldiers
retelling the tales of Beowulf’s bravery & heroic
What are some of the ways that the author
chooses to refer to Grendel as? What is this
literary device called?shepherd of evil, guardian
of crime, almighty’s enemy, Hell’s captive, sinstained demon; kenning
What does the last paragraph reveal about this
story? How it became a folk epic; they began
retelling the story of Beowulf’s bravery
What is the main conflict in this story? Good
verse evil
What is the theme? Good triumphs over evil
“The Fight with the Fire Dragon” &
“The Burning of Beowulf’s Body”
What has happened to Beowulf & how much
time has passes since the fight with Grendel?
Beowulf has become the kind of Geatland;
many years
 How does he encounter the dragon? The
dragon plagued his country, so he goes out to
fight it.
 Does Beowulf have any idea that he may die?
Yes, he foresees his own death.
 What happens to the dragon when Bewulf
strikes it with his sword? The dragon is not
injured, just angered.
Who is the only person to come to Beowulf’s
aid? What happens to the rest of his people?
Wiglaf; they retreat because they are scared.
What happens to Beowulf the third time the
dragon charges? He is stabbed in the throat
with its tusk.
What does Beowulf do next? Cut the dragon in
two. Then he with Wiglaf defeat the dragon.
What happens to Beowulf in the end? He dies
from his wounds
What is his regret? He has not heirs.
What is his final request? He wants a funeral
fire to be built by the sea & a tower erected in
his honor to guide sailors.
Did the Geats honor Beowulf’s last request?
What did the Geats do? Cry & mourn his
death. They feared the future without
How long did it take to build the tower? 10
What did they put in and around the tower?
They put his ashes in the walls, bared the
treasures of the dragon around the tower
What did they do to show respect of Beowulf
beyond his requests? the 12 bravest Geats
rode around the tower praising & telling
stories of their loved leader

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