ANGLO-SAXON & BEOWULF STUDY GUIDE
Primary Epic: an epic is a poem that records and celebrates the heroic achievements of
an individual or individuals. A primary epic is an epic poem that comes from an oral
tradition. The Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics.
Scop: (a.k.a. bard) an Old English term for poet. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the scop had
the important job of singing about the accomplishments of his patron and his people. The
scop functioned as both an entertainer and as an historian.
Heroic Ideal: Anglo-Saxon culture was governed by the ideals of bravery, loyalty and
generosity. The king or lord surrounded himself with a band of retainers, who are
rewarded with the spoils of their victories. As E. Talbot Donaldson writes, “the retainers
are obligated to fight for their lord to the death, and if he is slain, to avenge him or die in
the attempt. Blood vengeance is regarded as a sacred duty, and in poetry, everlasting
shame awaits those who fail to observe it.”
Comitatus: Comitatus describes, as Robert C. Hughes writes, “the society . . . or
brotherhood of men who owed allegiance to a chieftain and expected his benevolence in
Wyrd: Old English for fate, which was believed to be the controlling force of the world
for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture.
Wergild: “man-payment”; As Donaldson writes, “If one of his kinsmen had been slain, a
man had a special duty of either killing the slayer or exacting from him the payment of
wergild. . . . The money itself had less significance as wealth than as proof that the
kinsmen had done what was right. Relatives who failed either to exact wergild or to take
vengeance could never be happy, having found no practical way of satisfying their grief.”
Kenning: a poetic device in Old English poetry consisting of a compound of two words
in place of another, such as Whale-road for sea.
Litotes: an ironic understatement, also a common feature of Old English poetry.
Alliteration: the occurrence in a phrase or line of poetry of two or more words having the
same initial sound. In OE poetry, alliteration is the principal poetic device.
Caesura: a pause in a line of poetry. In OE poetry, this is found in the middle of the line.
Allusion: a reference, within a literary work, to another work of fiction, a film, a piece
of art, or even a real event. An allusion serves as a kind of shorthand, drawing on this
outside work to provide greater context or meaning to the situation being written about.
Synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to designate a
whole, for example, using "keel" for "ship.
· Danes -- in the Middle Ages, one of the Viking peoples
· Geats -- Anglo-Saxons (from Briton)
· King Hrothgar -- the strongest of Scyld's sons; builder of Heorot;
· Grendel – archenemy of all things good; the personification of evil
· Unferth -- rude, unpopular drunkard with a rotten boil; believer in Grendel
· Queen Wealhtheow -- wife of Hrothgar
· Beowulf -- nephew of King Higlac; slayer of Grendel, Grendel's mother, the Dragon,
and nine sea monsters; personification of true good
· She-beast -- Grendel's mother
· Wiglaf—Beowulf’s last faithful thane
Be familiar with all notes covering this period
Look over all information on study guide
Be able to discuss the Anglo-Saxon culture and how it relates to
Be able to discuss how elements in Beowulf go against the traditional
Be able to identify kennings and allusion.
Know basic information about events in the story.
Be able to identify main characters within the story.
Know what type of literary work the story is.
Be able to discuss elements of an epic hero and epics.
Be able to discuss the theory for God being placed in Beowulf.
Be able to discuss why Beowulf chose not to use a sword against
Be able to discuss the battles that Beowulf fought and how Beowulf
showed himself to be an epic hero through these battles.
Be able to discuss bards and their importance to the Anglo-Saxon
Be able to identify the elements, which symbolize heaven and hell.
Be able to discuss the theme of the text (good vs.evil) and how it is
seen throughout Beowulf.
Be familiar with basic themes of exile, hardship, and loneliness in