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- from Beowulf
Unknown , England, 1000
Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic poem first composed sometime in the later Early Middle Ages, probably in the 8th Century and subsequently modified and rewritten over the following 200 years. It is the most significant surviving work of Anglo Saxon poetry and continues to be the source of novels and movies.
It size and influence have led it to being called England’s national epic.
Authorship of the poem is open to much speculation. The poem contains both pagan and Christian motifs and themes suggesting that the author was well acquainted with both belief systems. In reality, an original pagan version was probably rewritten to accommodate later Christian ideals in the hero of the poem. Still, the poem, as reflects the time of its writing retains much of the pagan symbolism, motifs and imagery.
According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, most scholars believe that extant version Beowulf was written by a Christian poet although the characters are distinctly pagan and there are no explicit references to Christianity. While the story is set in the fifth century and reflects references Saxon and Scandinavian locations, there is some evidence that the poem was first composed in Rendlesham in East Anglia in the 7th Century.
The poem blends legends and myths with well known historical events. Many characters in the poem are also based on real kings and rulers from the fifth century and reflect the ancestors and legends of the Saxons and Angles who moved from Germany and Denmark to the East of England.
The extant poem is known only from a single manuscript the precise date of which is debated although most scholars estimate it to be 1000. Although Beowulf probably started out as an oral poem, the form we have today is highly literate and shows literary devices that only work for a literate audience. Instead of pairs of lines joined by rhyme, Anglo-Saxon poets typically used alliteration;
Beowulf is a Norse warrior who is a guest of the King Hroogar. But Hroogar’s men anger a nearby monster who attacks the king’s encampment. The poem details the exploits of Beowulf who is forced to confront the monster, Grendel, who manages to kill most of Hroogar’s men. Beowulf is then forced to take on another monster, Grendel’s mother who comes seeking revenge. Finally, after being anointed a hero he becomes a king but is later forced to take on a final battle against a dragon who comes seeking redress for a crime committed by one of Beowulf’s men.