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Anglo Saxon Heroic Poetry Essay

5706 words - 23 pages

Old English poetry is divided into two types: the Heroic, the sources of which are pre-Christian Germanic myth, history and custom; and the Christian. Heroic, or Epic Poetry belongs to one of these two types and refers to long narrative poems celebrating the great deeds of one or more legendary heroes, in a grand, ceremonious style. In its strict use by literary critics, the terms 'Heroic Poetry' or 'Epic' are applied to a work that meets the following criteria: such a poem must be related in an elevated style, and centered upon a heroic or quasi-divine figure on whose actions depends the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the human race. The hero, usually protected by or even descended from gods, performs superhuman exploits in battle or in marvellous voyages, often saving or founding a nation or the human race itself. The main characteristics of the Epic Hero include the following:1.The hero is introduced in the midst of turmoil, at a point well into the story; antecedent action will be recounted in flashbacks.2.The hero is not only a warrior and a leader, but also a polished speaker who can address councils of chieftains or elders with eloquence and confidence.3.The hero, often a demi-god, possesses distinctive weapons of great size and power, often heirlooms or presents from the gods.4.The hero must undertake a long, perilous journey, often involving a descent into the Underworld, testing his endurance, courage, and cunning.5.Although his fellows may be great warriors (he may have a commitatus, or group of noble followers with whom he grew up), he undertakes a task that no one else dare attempt.6.Whatever virtues his race most prizes, these, the epic hero as a cultural exemplar, possesses in abundance.7.The concept of arête (Greek for "bringing virtue to perfection") is crucial to understanding the epic protagonist.8.The hero gains little honor by slaying a lesser mortal, but only by challenging heroes like himself or adversaries of superhuman power.9.The two great epic adversaries, the hero and his antagonist, meet at the climax, which must be delayed as long as possible to sustain maximum interest.10.The hero's epic adversary is often a "god-despiser", one who has more respect for his own mental and physical abilities than for the power of the gods. The adversary might also be a good man sponsored by lesser deities, or one whom the gods desert at a crucial moment.11.The hero may encounter a numinous phenomenon ( a place or person having a divine or supernatural force) such as a haunted wood or enchanting sorceress whose strength, cunning, and divine assistance he must use to overcome obstaclesOld English heroic poetry is the earliest extant in all of Germanic literature. It is thus the nearest we can come to the oral pagan literature of Germanic culture, and is of such inestimable value as a source of knowledge about many aspects of Germanic society.The "traditional epics" (also called "primary epics" or "folk epics") were shaped by a...

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