Beowulf

retainer servant who is loyal to a king or a lord; attendant back-up during time of war
thane warrior
comitatus key relationship between king and warrior (ie Beowulf and Hrothgar)
wergild man’s prize/reward
Wyrd fate
peace-weaver person who holds things together, typically women
scop person responsible for telling the history/tradition to the tribe/people
caesura break in the middle of a line showing emphasis
alliteration repetition of first constant or letter-makes sounds pretty and engages audience (ie “Sally sells seashells on the sea shores.”)
restatement multiple names
allusion reference to history, Bible, geography and etc.
foil A foil is a character whose traits contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character.
foreshadowing An event in a story which predicts a future event in the story (The main prime example of foreshadowing in Beowulf was when the poem started with the funeral of Shield Sheafson which foreshadows Beowulf’s funeral. The second example is the story of Sigemund which foreshadows Beowulf’s fight with the dragon. The third example is the story of Heremod which foreshadows Beowulf’s way to kingship.)
kenning Kenning is a metaphorical circumlocution, signifying a person or thing by a characteristic or quality. (In line 1477 “Gold Friend’ which means good friend, line 10 “Whale Road” which means ocean, line 1443 “War Armor” which means armor also “dwelling place” which means residence. These are all the main examples used in Beowulf which defines the word Kenning.)
hyperbole exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally
symbolism the use of symbols to represent ideals or qualities (The mead-hall is the symbol of a society: it is in this central place that the people gather to feast, socialize, and listen to the scop (bard) perform and thereby preserve the history of the people. Heorot, as the largest mead-hall in the world, symbolized the might and power of the Spear-Danes under Hrothgar.)
blood revenge The avenging of the murder of a man by his next of kin, in accordance with the ancient custom of demanding a life for a life
understatement Downplaying someone or something (“He was a good king.”)
battle boast trash talk
wrecca disgrace or exile or outcast (could happen to warrior)
What important skill did the Christians bring to the British Isles? ability to recite poetic stories
Who is responsible for the manuscript of the “Beowulf” poem? Unknown (but we read the Seamus Heaney translation)
Explain what ring-gold is and what it symbolized within the Anglo-Saxon community. Ring-gold was a man’s prize. King was a ring-giver. Once Beowulf slayed Grendel, he got a fee, “ring-gold.”
Describe why battle-boasting is significant for a warrior going into battle and afterward. Include “Wyrd” in your response. Find 2 key examples of battle-boasting in “Beowulf.” Battle-boasting makes the royalty supporting your warrior actions support you and believe in you and was especially common among great men and warriors. It gives them confidence and gives those around them confidence also, and helps in terms of “wyrd” or fate. Lines 301-709 where Wife of Hrothgar thanks Beowulf for getting ready and committing to fighting Grendel. Beowulf replies with a formal boast, stating that he will either distinguish himself with a heroic deed or die in the mead-hall. Line 2514 Beowulf’s last boast is that he won battles often in his youth and that even in his old age he is going to fight the dragon “for the glory of winning.”
Describe a peace-weaver’s role in the community. Name two ways peace could be established. Wealtheow, Hrothgar’s young queen, was a peace-weaver. Her role was important because it helped keep the peace and honored the best warriors. They are “living knots,” meaning they hold things together in the society.
Define the multiple roles of “scop” in the community Scops tell the history or traditions to the tribe or people.
How were kennings important to the role of the scop? Find at least 3 previously unidentified kennings. Hyphenated metaphoric words in Anglo-Saxon They were important as the “scop” was able to make the language more beautiful as he recounted the stories, especially since these stories were orally told so they were never exactly the same each time. “death” was “sleep-of-the-sword” “the sea” was “whale-road” “the sun” was “sky-candle”
How does the poet stress that Grendel and his mother are representations of evil? Her human roots go back to the Biblical Cain (Lines 1260-68), who as the first murderer was exiled by God and became the forefather of all evil monsters and beings.
How is the dragon the most formidable enemy Beowulf could face (consider Anglo-Saxon perspective and Christian symbolism)? In Christian symbolism, there are two dragons in the Bible. Leviathan is in the Old Testament and Satan occurs in the New Testament. Satan and Leviathan are powerful beings. Satan is a created, powerful angel who turned to evil and was then removed from heaven. Leviathan was a powerful created animal of the sea. In Anglo-Saxon perspective, dragons show up as powerful supernatural entities.
How does the poet make Unferth a foil for old king Beowulf? Be able to name qualities the poet uses to show contrast. Unferth is clever and generous, and he also lends Beowulf his famous sword, Hrunting, with which to fight Grendel’s mother. Of course, the sword doesn’t work on the demon, but Unferth didn’t know that would happen.
How does the poet make Hrothgar a foil for old king Beowulf? Be able to name which qualities he uses to show contrast. Hrothgar has honor and generosity. He is a foil for old king Beowulf because he was also prideful and had “hubris” or “excessive pride” and he does not want Beowulf to do the same. Also, Hrothgar looks at Beowulf as sort of a son and he — as a young king — protected Beowulf’s Dad, Ecgtheow, who is now dead.
How does the poet make Wiglaf a foil for the other thanes? (Consider “comitatus” among other qualities.) Wiglaf is a “praise-worthy shield warrior” who goes to fight the dragon with Beowulf. Hrothgar’s men are called “thanes,” and Wiglaf is the ultra-thane because he helps Beowulf actually kill the dragon.
Explain two allusions There are several allusions that are found in Beowulf; however, most of them are Biblical. One important example that is found at the beginning of the poem is the allusion to Cain and Abel who were sons of Adam and Eve. Grendel and his “family” are said to be descendants from Cain because of the grave sin he committed when he killed his brother (Abel).
Why is Shield an example of the ideal king? How does the poet suggest that Beowulf lives up to, or surpass, this heroic ideal? Shield Sheafson is a great king of the ancient Danes and the founder of their royal line. He began life as a foundling (an infant abandoned by his parents) but quickly rose to be strong and powerful. The poet suggests that Beowulf is imposing not only because of his physical presence but also because of his powerful oratorical skill. Therefore, the poet suggests that Beowulf is a better orator and in some ways a more ideal king than Shield.
How can Beowulf be viewed as a Christ figure? He kills the dragon, but dies. Christ basically did the same thing, which was to help bring “goodness” to the world and fix problems of humanity, but then he died. In both cases, Jesus and Beowulf both walk into their own deaths with their eye open – they aren’t tricked into it – it is a deliberate sacrifice. Jesus actually comes back to Jerusalem knowing that the Romans want to nail him – and are going to nail him to the cross. Beowulf kills Grendel, then Grendel’s Mother, then the dragon knowing he might full well die.
What is the purpose of Battle Boasts? (Lines 1473-1491 and Lines 2510-2537) Battle Boasts are part of this culture whereby the great soldiers are “braggarts.” Interestingly, bragging about victories is a huge positive in this society and Beowulf does this well. Battle Boasts also let the men who survive know what they should do if the speaker/braggart dies in battle.
What is the format of a battle boast? When (and to whom) is it delivered? The format of a battle boast is like a big speech in front of all the soldiers who will be fighting in the battle/war. A famous boast is when Beowulf meets Hrothgar, king of the danes, for the first time.
After the death of Grendel…Analysis and Response Grendel dies by the hands of Beowulf, but it’s eerie because he seems to voluntarily jump off the cliff to his death. He sees all his enemies and such are watching him die. His last words are: “Poor Grendel’s had an accident. So may you all.”
After the death of Grendel…Hrothgar to Beowulf…Analysis and Response King Hrothgar gives a short speech, thanking God for Grendel’s defeat and claiming Beowulf as an adopted son. He’s not literally adopting Beowulf, of course – hulking Geat warriors do OK without foster parents – he’s just symbolically including Beowulf in his family. This is important because Beowulf’s real dad died and Hrothgar at the time was a young king who protected him for a while.
How does the poet characterize the monsters? All of them are descendants of Cain. They are seen as “evil.” Grendel is on the run from killing another, as was Cain who killed his own brother. Good vs evil and good always ends up winning, which has the poet showing that the monsters will end up losing eventually.
What cultural fears do the monsters represent? Grendel lines 164-169 Grendel reminds me of the devil from Christianity because he was “the Lord’s outcast.” The cultural fears Grendel represents are total evil since he wages a “lonely war” and “inflicts constant cruelties on people.”
What cultural fears do the monsters represent? Grendel’s Ma 89-90 She is functioning essentially in a blood-feud. Beowulf becomes the invader into her hall just as Grendel was in Heorot. Women in Anglo-Saxon culture are “peace-weavers” (because one can convince oneself that arranged marriages will prompt feuds to simmer down) and “cup-bearers” (because they fetch more booze for the men). That’s it. Grendel’s mother is the opposite of what that culture values in women.
What cultural fears do the monsters represent? The Dragon The Dragon represents the evil that continues over time. The reason is that Hrothgar tried to kill the dragon over many years and failed. Then later, Beowulf, goes to kill the dragon. Good vs evil and good wins out in this story, so evil does not triumph.
What is the poet saying about the nature of evil? The human condition? The good life? The poet is Catholic, so he is staying within Catholic tradition and saying that good wins vs evil eventually at least. The poet is saying that the human condition has ups and downs and there is good and evil in the world.
What is the overall tone of the poem? The narrator of Beowulf uses several different tones over the course of this long epic poem, but throughout everything he is always formal. This isn’t a chummy, chatty, nudge-you-in-the-ribs kind of narrator. It is kind of an elegy, which pays respect to the past and the characters from the past with respect for the dead people in the world of the poem.

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