The epic poem Beowulf, is a work of fiction and was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the first millennium, in the language today called Anglo- Saxon or Old English. This story is a heroic narrative, more than three thousand lines long, concerning the deeds of the Scandinavian prince, also called Beowulf, and it stands as one of the foundation works of poetry in English.
Beowulf is obviously a creation of the poet, through partial comparisons have been made between him and somewhat similar characters in folklore and Icelandic sagas. As related to other characters in the poem, he would probably have been shortly before 500 and died as a very old man. That Beowulf's origin is obscure, that he apparently never married and/or produced any children, that he returned alone from the battle that took the life of his king instead of dying by his side in the best Germanic-heroic tradition, that he was almost entirely inactive in the Geat-Swede conflicts, that he seems at times superhuman and at other times merely a remarkable ma, that he is such a curious blend of pagan and Christian, that he never appears anywhere else in all literature of the North- these things are not bothersome o difficult to understand when we realize that a major poet was trying something big and new, and that he created for his work and original character to bring together all of its complex features.
The poem was written in England but the events it describes are set in Scandinavia, in a "once upon a time" that is partly historical. Its hero, Beowulf, is the biggest presence among the warriors in the land of the Geats, a territory situated in what is now southern Sweden, and early in the poem Beowulf crosses the sea to the land of the Danes in order to clear their country of a man eating monster called Grendel. From this expedition (which involves him in a second contest with Grendel's mother) he returns in triumph and eventually rules for fifty years as king of his homeland. Then a dragon begins to terrorize the countryside and Beowulf must confront it. In a final climatic encounter, he does manage to slay the dragon, but also meets his own death and enters the legends of his people as a warrior of high renown. Beowulf is a gratifying surprise, completely unexpected in an age which favored straightforward heroic lays concerning conflicts between human beings.
Anglo-Saxon England is curiously viewed by most as a place of warring primitive tribes worshiping pagan Gods and dominated by illiterate kings constantly fighting among themselves and drinking the nights away while their unlettered minstrels recited tales of conquest and bloodshed, sheltering in smoky halls strewn about with bones and cracked drinking horns. This may well have been true of some kingdoms from the first arrivals of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in England around 450 and on down through the final conquest of the Romano-Celtic inhabitants about a...