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The Epic Poem Beowulf Essay

2323 words - 9 pages

 
        Beowulf is an epic poem. Why? Because (1) it is a long narrative work that relates the adventures of a great hero and (2) it reflects the values of the Anglo-Saxon society in which it was written prior to 1000AD.

This Old English poem in unrhymed, four-beat alliterative style narrates, through the course of about 3200 verses, the bold killing of two monsters, Grendel and his Mother, and a fire-dragon, as well as numerous other brave deeds in lesser detail, by Beowulf, “the strongest of men alive in that day, mighty and noble,” “the good Geat.”  Roberta Frank in “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History” sees the hero as “the synthesis of religious and heroic idealism” (Frank 59). Professor Tolkien in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics states: “But in the centre we have an heroic figure of enlarged proportions” (Tolkien 38). “That crafty sailor” led his warriors “on the waves” to Hrothgar’s Danish kingdom where the first two adventures took place (“Herot, the bright ring-hall, is purged.”), earning the hero the greatest respect of the king (“You have by your deeds, achieved fame forever.”) and queen and people. More than “fifty winters” later the third great feat occurred in the Geat homeland where Beowulf was reigning as king. This adventure of armed combat against a fire dragon resulted not only in the dragon’s death but also in that of the Scandinavian hero. Numerous other adventures of the hero are presented in lesser detail: “With my sword I slew nine sea monsters,”  “he had survived many battles,” “he avenged Heardred’s death,” “He deprived King Onela of life,” “I repaid Hygelac … with my bright sword,” “I was the killer of Daghrefin,” etc. The poem rightfully claims that Beowulf “performed the most famous deeds among men;” “he was among warriors the most magnificent.”

 

Beowulf  reflects the values of the Anglo-Saxon society of the first millenium. George Clark in Beowulf says: “As far as one can tell from the evidence of archaeology and the poem’s sometimes ambiguous details, the material culture of the poem’s actors and audience can hardly be distinguished” (Clark 49). This culture manifested strong ties of loyalty between members of one’s family. The family formed a circle of protection and loyalty, and was duty-bound to avenge a member’s death. Feuds between families, clans, tribes and nations were passed down from generation to generation until revenge was effected. Consider Beowulf’s revenge of the murder of Heardred, son of Hygelac, by the sons of Othere. And the awaited revenge on the Geats by the Swedes in retaliation for Wulf and Eofor’s killing of Ongentheow.  Hygelac, going “to the land of the Frisians, attacked the Hetware,” provoking a feud between the Geats on one side and the Franks, Frisians and Mereovingians on the other side. It caused considerable personal discomfort/grief when an unnatural death could not be avenged: When Hygelac’s sibling, Herebeald, was killed accidentally by a brother,...

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