Beowulf and Epics Background Information

published in: Legend & Myth Literature // Literature

Beowulf and Epics Background Information
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toward heroic legends. Almost certainly the one who first cast the epic Beowulf legend into coherent and artistic form and wrote it …

Background Information on Beowulf

Name:____________________________ Period: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Read the following selection and answer the questions at the right: B E O W U L F — AN ANGLO-SAXON EPIC
Belief in a hero has always been an important article in the social and political faith of the Germanic peoples, whether they were Christian or not. The fact that such a hero could be related to the figure of Christ no doubt attracted the sympathy of many a cleric toward heroic legends. Almost certainly the one who first cast the epic Beowulf legend into coherent and artistic form and wrote it down in the language we now call Old English was a Christian cleric who was evidently Norse in his sympathies and interests, if not in his nationality. This unknown author, who flourished probably in the first half of the eighth century, is known as the Beowulf Poet. It is generally supposed that Beowulf was a heroic Scandinavian epic legend, a story of the type the scop chanted to the warriors assembled in the great hall. The only surviving full-length heroic epic in Old English, Beowulf tells of Scandinavian kings and heroes. Its presence in Anglo-Saxon England can be explained simply by saying that the Viking Danes brought the legend to England, or that it may derive from classical sources. However, legendry of this type is common to all Germanic nations. The probabilities are strong that there were extant on the Continent a large number of epics comparable in length and scope to Beowulf which have unfortunately been lost, either because they were not lucky enough to survive the destructiveness of time or because no one ever wrote them down. In Beowulf a truly non-Christian story of monsters and mighty sea beasts and firedragons is blended, although rather incongruously, with serious thoughts about the dispensations of a wise God, the necessity for praying to a Christian deity, the fate that will befall the evil, and the reward that is promised to the righteous. Through the story stalks the impressive and noble figure of Beowulf, in whom pagan fatalism mingles strangely with Christian qualities. The Beowulf Poet possessed a sense of drama, an ear for music, and the power to create effective word-pictures. There is no end rhyme, but by regularly dividing each line into two parts and by extensive use of alliteration, the poet achieved a rhythmic, musical effect. Most striking is his use of kennings, poetic synonyms that are often metaphorical compounds. They-were probably drawn from a large stock of formula-phrases characteristic of Anglo-Saxon verse. Thus the king is the "ringgiver," the rough sea is the "whaleroad," the smooth sea is the "swan-road," the boat is the "wave-rider," the dragon is the "shadow-walker," and the ocean is "the mingling of the waves."

1. Beowulf is the only surviving _________________ ___________________________________________ 2. It tells the story of _______________________

_______________________________________, and reflects life as lived in 7th or 8th century England.
3. The unknown author is called, simply,

4. Although he did not compose the story, he is

most certainly the one who _______________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________
5. What was his occupation?_________________ 6. How did this Scandinavian story come to be

part of English literature? _________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________

Why is Beowulf the only surviving epic?___________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ 8. Why is Beowulf a mixture of myth and history, of pagan and Christian elements? _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________ ____________ 9. The person who would have chanted such stories as Beowulf at feasts was the _____________.


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