Beowulf Text and Context Background ► Composed around 700 A.D. ► The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written. ► The action of the poem takes place around 500 AD ► Poet is reviving the heroic language, style and values and pagan values of ancient Germanic oral poetry ► The poem deals with ancient Germanic forebears, the Danes and the Geats ► Only a single manuscript of the poem survived the Anglo- Saxon era. In the 1700’s it was nearly destroyed in a fire ► It was not until 1936 when the Oxford scholar J.R.R> Tolkien published a paper on the poem that is became popular. The Beowulf Poet ► The poet is Christian ► The poem reflects established Christian tradition ► Allusions to the Old Testament ► Beowulf is a Redeemer who is sent by God to save man from sin ► The price of salvation is life itself ► Correspondences between Beowulf’s death and the death of Christ Heroic Values in Beowulf ► Relationship between king and his warriors ► The king rewards his warriors with gifts ► If a kinsman is slain, obligation to kill the slayer or obtain payment (wergeld) in compensation Conflict Christian Values and Heroic Values ► This tension is at the heart of the poem ► Pagan history and myth are made to point to a Christian moral ► Beowulf is poised between two value systems The Character of Beowulf ► He fights for personal honor, but is committed to service to his own people and humanity. ► A superhuman who remains recognizable ► Contrast old and young Beowulf ► Beowulf as savior Themes ► Good vs. Evil ► Fate ► The Importance of Establishing Identity ► Tension between Heroic Code and Christianity ► Significance of artifacts ► The past Important Elements of the Poem ► Elegaic tone ► Heroic poem ► Contrasts Christian and pagan Youth and old age Rise and fall of nations Joy and sorrow Fate and God’s will Violence Irony Sutton Hoo ► Burial site discovered in 1939 ► Important links to Anglo-Saxon world and Beowulf ► Remains of a boat were discovered and large burial chamber containing numerous artifacts ► Artifacts suggest a distinctly Christian element intermingled with pagan ritual. ► Episodes in Beowulf now have tangible archaeological violence to add creditability to the blend of customs in the text. Sutton Hook Images Suggested Further Reading ► Beowulf, A Verse Translatioin. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Ed. Daniel Donaghue. Norton Critical Edition. 2002. ► Norton bibliography on Beowulf , p. 2902. ► Websites on Beowulf, Old English poetry, and Sutton Hoo.