Beowulf

Life without Courage and Honor is Death.


Beowulf Character List

Beowulf – a Geat (Jute) warrior, son of Edgetho and nephew of Hyglac, king of the Jutes.  Hyglac is Beowulf’s Feudal Lord as well as his uncle.  He is the Greatest Warrior of the Jutes. Beo - bee; wulf - wolf = Beewolf, a.k.a. "Bear" Arthur - "Bear"

 

Brecca – chief of the Tribe of Brondings and a great friend of Beowulf.

            

Grendel – a man eating monster who lives at the bottom of a foul mere or mountain lake.  His name might be related to the old Norse “grindill,” meaning “storm,” or “grenja,” “to bellow.” He is described as the living dead – the Draugar.

 

Grendel’s Mother – another of Cain’s descendants, the mother of Grendel is more foul than her offspring.  The idea of the mother comes from the word “Ketta” meaning “She Cat.”

 

Hrothgar – King of the Danes, builder of Herot.  He had once befriended Beowulf’s father.  His father was called Helfdane (half-dane).  Hrothgar’s name might mean “glory spear” or “spear of triumph.”

 

Unferth – one of Hrothgar’s courtiers, who is reputed as a skilled warrior.  He is a despicable character in this story for what he did to his family.  His sword is called “Hrunting," and used by Beowulf later in battle.  Sometimes, Unferth’s name is translated as “strife.”

 

Welthow – Hrothgar’s wife, queen of the Danes

 

Wiglaf – a Jute warrior, one of Beowulf’s select band of warriors, and the only one to remain by his side during the final battle with the dragon.  Wiglaf might be blood related to Beowulf, he is definitely one of his ring-retainers.

 

Hygd – Hygelac’s queen.  Beowulf gives her the necklace that Welthow gives him.

 

Dragon – guards a vast treasure horde under the ground until one of the Jutes steals a cup from his horde.  He awakes and causes havoc in Juteland.

 

Hrunting – Unferth’s Sword used by Beowulf to fight Grendel’s Mother.

 

Naegling – Beowulf’s Sword used to fight the dragon.

Why are the swords named?

 

Wyrd – Fate or destiny of the warrior

 

Herot – Mead Hall of the Danes.  Built by Hrothgar the Danish King.  It was decorated with the antlers of stags; the name means “hart (stag) hall.”  Scholars think that Herot might have been build near Lejre on the coast of Zealand in

 Denmark.

 

 

 

 

 


The Tribes

Maps

Danes – Danish people troubled by Grendel.

 

Geats (Jutes) – People of Juteland, tribe of Beowulf.


Themes of Beowulf

Fame and Glory – What is the difference between the two?

Self versus the Wyrd

Fortune – What is the purpose of amassing great fortune and fame?  What ideal does this uphold in the Anglo-Saxon world?

What makes a hero?

What do weapons and armor say about the individual?

Epic of extreme contrasts.

Struggle of human-kind.

The Manly Virtues – all are seen in this poem.

Comitatus - community of warriors - die to save prince or king.  Strict loyalty code.

Interlacing Poetry - like a Celtic Knot.

Hospitality and loyalty to host and guest.

Pride as a sin - Hrothgar warns Beowulf about this - does Beowulf fall into the trap?

Heroic Code - tragic


As you read the epic, look and define the following ideas or characters.  Why are they important to the story?

Hrunting:

  

Grendel:

  

Grendel’s mother:

  

Dragon:

  

Chain Mail:

  

Helmet:

  

Sword:

Herot:

  

Grendel’s Cave:(underwater)


Contrast Herot and Grendel’s Cave

 What is the other contrasts?  Explain your answers.

 Herot is the physical body with the conflict between good and evil inside the soul.

 Look for other symbolic images in contrast.


 The Beowulf Manuscript

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The story is composed at least 200 years before it is written down, originally sung by a scop.  Words have mystical power for these people.

            Composed 500-725 C.E. written 700-1000 C.E. Christianized 597 C.E.

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Written down by a Monk in an Illuminated Manuscript.

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Christian Imagery added by Monks, originally didn’t have biblical imagery.  What does the Biblical Imagery mean?  How is it a reconciliation between the pagan world and the new Christian world?  Virtuous Pagans?

- All Biblical allusions come from Genesis.
- Hero Quest Epic, legend from Scandinavia, brought to England by Viking invaders.
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It is not known how the only Manuscript of Beowulf came into the possession of Sir Robert Cotton(1571-1631).  In fact, the manuscripts history is lost. 

In 1731, the Manuscript was in a fire and was moved with the rest of the Cotton Collection to the British Museum, where it now can be seen by the public.  

The edges of the manuscript are charred by the fire in the reproduction.  Scholars do not know what else was lost in the fire, but it is amazing to think the English speaking world almost lost one of its prized possessions.

 


Beowulf's Poetic Form - Kenning

Two half lines joined to make a full line.

Alliteration - beginning with same consonant sounds with a regular pattern.

First half of the line had one or two alliterations

Second half of the line - the third stressed syllable alliteration, never the fourth syllable.

Sample in Anglo-Saxon

Full Text in Anglo-Saxon Old English


Beowulf’s Genealogies

Types of Danes: Bright, Half, Ring, Spear, North, East,West.

Scyldings: Honor, Victor, War, Ing’s Friends.

Scyld

Beow (ulf) the Dane

Healfdane

Heororgar   Hrothgar  m. Wealhtheow  Halga  Daughter  m. Onela the Swede

Hrethric   Hrothmund   Freawaru m. Ingeld the Heatho-Bard   Hrothulf.

Types of Geats (Jutes): Sea, War, Weather.

Hrethel

 Herebeald    Haethcyn    Hygelac  m.  Hygd    Daughter m. Ecgtheow

                                                             Heardred  Daughter 1st m. Eofor    Beowulf the Great


Questions

1.  How is the b 1.  How is the beginning of the epic set up with Grendel?  What sort of

 images do we g      What sort of animal is it?  How does this give validity to Christianity? 

                                   Why does this story cross pagan and Christian beliefs?  How could it

                                   be used as a conversion techniques?

2.                      2.  Why would Beowulf boast about his past achievements?  Why would

                                    he fight without a weapon?

3.   Why would Unferth speak out against Beowulf’s legacy?  Unferth

      killed his brothers, what does that say about him?

4.  Why are more lines devoted to the preparation for battle than the   

      actual battle?

5.   Why do you think Beowulf allows Grendel to kill one of his own troops before he acts?

6.   What evidence is there that this was a fight between ultimate good and evil?

7.   Why do you think Beowulf hangs Grendel’s arm from the rafters?

8.   What imagery in the description of Grendel’s lair associates Grendel with death and darkness?

9.   Why would Beowulf borrow Hrunting?  From whom did he borrow it?  Why would Hrunting fail?

10. Giant’s Sword, why is this important?

11.  Describe Beowulf as he goes to his final battle.

12.  Why fight the dragon, at seventy years old?

13.  His sword cracked, how is this a foreshadow?

14.  Does Beowulf accept his fate?

15.  Why do you think the warriors desert Beowulf now when they were   ready to help when he fought Grendel?

16.  Why do the warriors run?

17.  What is the importance of amassing fortune and treasure?

18.  How is this a story of the struggle for humankind?

For Web Sites, click the picture.

 

 St. George and the Dragon

Reading Questions

Comparative Quote

Films and Documentaries:

Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxons - Documentary Origins

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Edoras the Rohan Capital

Beowulf and Grendel

Beowulf

Arms in Actions: The Sword

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Film sna d