Beowulf Background PPT

20 FACTS About the AngloSaxon Age
Early Anglo-Saxons lived in
groups called tribes
These tribes had the following levels:
The Leader – chosen for strength. Remained
leader until defeated
The Elders – older tribe members who had
proven themselves in battle.
The Warriors – strongest male members.
Followed the leader without question.
The Women – had some rights, but few
The Philosophy of the Tribe:
“What will be, will be.” Believed strongly
in Fate. They used animal sacrifices to see
“omens.” Very superstitious.
The Meadhall
The meeting place for each tribe was a
building called the meadhall.
Mead was the drink of the warriors.
Mead is a sweet, alcoholic beverage made
of honey, sugar, water, spices, and barley.
Equipment of the Warrior
Sword – steel blade and gold handle
Coat of Mail – chain suit for armor
Helmet – covered the head completely
Spear – ash wood, with a banner
Horse – provided by the leader whenever
Shield – round, usually made of wood
Cultural Influences on England
Ancient Brythons 300 BC – c. 65 AD
Romans – 55 BC – 409 AD
Angles and Saxons – 449 – 1066
Came from Germany
Danes – came from Denmark
Vikings – came from Sweden
Early Anglo-Saxons believed in many gods
and goddesses. Their religion was very
similar to the ancient Norse religion.
Woden or Odin – chief god. “Wednesday”
Thunor or Thor – god of thunder and weather.
Burial Rituals
Burial involved gods and elements of fire
and water. Body was either placed on a
stand (pyre) and burned with all
possessions, or placed on a boat with
possessions and pushed out to sea.
In 597 Augustine, a priest from Rome,
brought Christianity to England. The tribes
began to convert. Christianity had a
calming effect on the tribal culture, and
gave the Anglo-Saxons something in
common with the rest of Europe.
An important person in the tribe was called
a bard or scop. They were educated
storytellers, and were treated as honored
guests. Their tales of great warriors
embodied the values of the culture.
Two types of poetry: heroic and
Heroic Poetry: poetry that recounts
the achievements of warriors
Elegiac Poetry: Lamenting the
deaths of loved ones and the loss of
the past.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
The only complete history of these early
Anglo-Saxons in existence.
Became the stronghold of faith and
learning. Valuable documents and treasures
were stored there. They were the first
places hit when tribes attacked each other.
An epic is a long story, written in poetic
form, about a hero who performs brave
deeds. The theme was good versus evil,
and good always won.
Epic Hero
Epic hero-Unrealistically great warrior that
exemplifies the ideal man for a particular
society. He always has a tragic flaw or
Became popular with the bards. Only a few
On earth this warrior is strangely born
Of two dumb creatures, drawn gleaming
Into the world, bright and useful to men.
It is tended, kept, covered by women-Strong and savage, it serves well,
A gentle slave to firm masters
Who mind its measure and feed it fairly
With a careful hand. To these it brings
Warm blessings; to those who let it run
Wild it brings a grim reward.
Answer: FIRE
The Norman Conquest
In 1066, England faced an invasion from
William, Duke of Normandy, on the coast
of France. He killed the last Anglo-Saxon
King in the Battle of Hastings and became
William I of England.
This ended the Anglo-Saxon Age and
marked the beginning of
The Middle Ages.
Beowulf is the only manuscript that
survived the monastery destruction by
Henry VIII.
First epic poem written in English (Old
Written c.650 A.D.
By Whom?
By whom was it written?
Originally oral.
Translated or retold by a Bard (Scop) until first written
down c.650 A.D.
The Beowulf-poet, scholars believe, was an English
monk (and therefore, Christian)
About Whom?
Even though the poet himself was English
and Christian, the poem is about neither
Englishmen nor (full-fledged) Christians
It is the story of several Scandinavian peoples
(tribes, really), mainly the Geats and the
Danes, but also the Swedes. Beowulf is a
Geat. He goes to the aid of the Danes, whose
king is Hrothgar
Who are the main characters?
The Geats
The Danes
The Monsters
The Geats
Beowulf (hero)
Higlac (Beowulf’s uncle, king of the Geats at
the story’s opening)
Edgetho (Beowulf’s father-dead)
Hrethel (lord that takes in Beowulf after his
father died)
Hrunting (Beowulf’s sword, given to him
by Unferth)
The Geats Cont.
Wiglaf (Beowulf’s right-hand man, king
after Beowulf)
Wextan (Wiglaf’s father)
The Danes
Hrothgar (king)
Herot (his great and famous mead hall)
Unferth (Hrothgar’s right-hand man, jealous
of Beowulf)
Healfdane (father of Hrothgar)
The Monsters
Grendel’s mother
Literary Terms
Allegory-A story in which the characters,
settings, and events stand for abstract or
moral concepts.
Kenning-A compound (usually two word
and hyphenated) term which employs
figurative language in place of a singleword, concrete noun.
Allusion-A reference to another literary
work (often the Bible or mythology).
Literary Terms
Epithet-An adjective or descriptive phrase
expressing a quality of characteristic of a
Hyperbole-Exaggerated statements
typically not meant to be taken literally.
Alliteration-The repetition of letters or
sounds in closely connected words.
Caesura-A break or pause near the middle
of a line.
Grendel stands for fratricide; he is born of Cain
(who is know for killing his brother). The Geats,
Danes, and Swedes, were in many ways “brothers,”
but they were also at war.
The story itself can be read as an allegory for man’s
indecision and willingness to conform. Consider the
characters religious convictions (compared with the
time period in which the story was written) and how
easily they change depending on the situation.
The Title
Beowulf was originally written in Old
English which, despite its name, bears little
resemblance to modern English.
The word beowulf means “bee wolf” which
a kenning meaning “bear”.
Read to find out if this is a fitting name for
the hero of the tale.
Important Themes in the Poem
Fame (often achieved through war)
Masculine and feminine roles in the
Christianity emerging as the dominant
The end of comitatus (everyone protects
the king at all costs even if it means a
warrior giving up his own life)