Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf Background Background Information 30,000 lines
Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf Background Background Information 30,000 lines of Anglo-Saxon poetry survive today 3, 182 (10%) of the lines are from Beowulf Setting - Denmark and Sweden Author - Unknown, probably a monk
Composed in the 7th or 8th century Oldest surviving English poem Anglo-Saxon Culture Belief in fate (Wyrd) Accumulated treasures amount to success Fame and fortune zealously sought after Loyalty to ones leader crucial Importance of pagan, Germanic, and Christian ideals to people whose lives were often hard and uncertain
Anglo-Saxon Culture Fierce, hardy life of warrior and seamen Strength, courage, leadership abilities appreciated Boisterous yet elaborately ritualized customs of the mead-hall Expected the hero to boast Anglo-Saxon Ideals
Codes of Conduct Good defeats evil Wergild--restitution for murder or expect revenge from victims relatives Boasts must be backed with actions. Fate is in control Fair fights are the only honorable fights Epic Poem Long narrative poem that recounts the adventures of a hero.
Elevated language Does not sermonize Invokes a muse Begins in media res Mysterious origin, super powers, vulnerability, rite of passage The Epic Hero Actions consist of responses to catastrophic situations in which the supernatural often intervenes.
Code of conduct forces him to challenge any threat to society Destiny discovered through a series of episodes punctuated by violent incidents interspersed with idyllic descriptions. Elements of Anglo-Saxon Poetry Chant-like effect of the four-beat line Alliteration (Then the grim man in green gathers his strength)
Caesura-pause or break in a line of poetry (Oft to the wanderer weary of exile) Kenning-metaphorical phrase used instead of a name (battle-blade and ring-giver) Epithet-description name to characterize something (keen-edge sword) Hyperbole-exaggeration Title of Epic Poem
Anglo-Saxon word Beo means bright or noble Anglo-Saxon word wulf means wolf Beowulf means bright or noble wolf Other sources say Beo means bear
How we date Beowulf Some Important Dates: 521 A.D. death of Hygelac, who is mentioned in the poem 680 A.D. appearance of alliterative verse 835 A.D. the Danish started raiding other areas; after this, few poets would consider them heroes SO: This version was likely composed between 680 and 835, though it may be set earlier
The Poetry in Beowulf 1. Alliterative verse a. Repetition of initial sounds of words (occurs in every line) b. Generally, four feet/beats per line c. A caesura, or pause, between beats two and four d. No rhyme
The Poetry in Beowulf 2. Kennings a. Compound metaphor (usually two words) b. Most were probably used over and over For instance: hronade literally means whaleroad, but can be translated as sea Setting: Beowulfs time and place
Europe today Time of Beowulf Some terms youll want to know scop A bard or story-teller. The scop was responsible for praising deeds of past
heroes, for recording history, and for providing entertainment Terms: Thane and Mead-Hall thane A warrior mead-hall
The large hall where the lord and his warriors slept, ate, held ceremonies, etc. Term: Wyrd wyrd Fate. This idea crops up a lot in the poem, while at the same time there are Christian references to
Gods will. Main Characters Beowulf Epic hero Geat (from southern Sweden) Nephew of Higlac (King at storys start)
Sails to Denmark to help Hrothgar Hrothgar Danish king Builds Herot (banquet hall) for men Tormented by Grendel for 12 years Loses many men to
Grendel Joyless before Beowulfs arrival Grendel Referred to as demon and fiend Haunts the moors (swampy land) Descendant of Cain
Feasts on 30 men the night of 1st attack Grendels Mother Referred to as she-wolf Lives under the lake by Heorot Mead Hall Challenges Hrothgar when she kills one of his best men
Fire Dragon Lives in Beowulfs kingdom Wakes up when thief steals cup Guards countless treasures Anglo-Saxon word play
During the 5th century, Germanic tribes people known as Angles, Saxons and Jutes began to settle in the British Isles. The Anglo-Saxon period lasted for 600 years and, in that time, the language, culture and politics of the British Isles were completely transformed. Anglo Saxon dialect words form the basis of the language we now call
Old English, and approximately one third of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary still survives into modern English. Beowulf About 400 Anglo Saxon texts live on from this era, including many beautiful poems. Many of these tell of wild battles and heroic journeys. The famous poem Beowulf tells the story of a bloodthirsty
monster called Grendel. Beowulf is much admired for the richness of its poetry - for the beautiful sounds of the words and the imaginative quality of the description. Kennings About a third of the words in Beowulf are words known as kennings. Kennings are words that are in themselves metaphorical descriptions, and were a typical feature of Anglo Saxon poetry. Kennings combine two words to create an evocative and
imaginative alternative word. By linking words in this way, the poets were able to play and experiment with the rhythm, sounds and imagery of the poetry. Beowulf contains over a thousand kennings. In off the moors, down through the mist-bands God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping. The bane of the race of men roamed forth, hunting for a prey in the high hall. Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it until it shone above him, a sheer keep
of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling although never in his life, before or since, did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders. Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door turned on its hinge when his hands touched it. From Seamus Heaneys translation of Beowulf Kennings Some well-known Anglo-Saxon kennings include:
bone-house (banhus ) - the human body battle-light (beadoleoma) - sword wave-floater (wgflota) ship Descriptions of the sea included: whale road (hronrad) fish home (fiscesethel) seal bath (seolbp) Create your own
Try to create some kennings. See if you can describe yourself or your home or school using this technique. Consider: How do the kennings help you describe what you're trying to say? Do they affect the rhythm and the sound of the language? Do you find this technique easier/ more creative/ harder/ more confusing or more powerful than using everyday words?
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