Introductory Notes for the Epic and Beowulf

Epic Notes
An epic is a long narrative poem (tells a story) about a serious subject.
Characteristics of the epic
1. includes a hero of high imposing stature, of national or international importance, and of great
historical or legendary significance.
2. setting is vast, covering great nations, the world, or the universe
3. the action consists of deeds of great valor or requiring superhuman courage.
4. supernatural forces—gods, angels, demons—interest themselves in the action.
5. a style of sustained elevation is used.
6. the poet retains a measure of objectivity.
Intro. to Beowulf
Beowulf is a folk epic (an epic of unknown authorship)
 the oldest epic poem in any modern European language (written in the language of the
people (Anglo-Saxon English) rather than in Latin)
part of the oral tradition
poems such as Beowulf were performed by scops (singer, storyteller, minstrel) who
performed Anglo-Saxon poetry and passed it from generation to generation
contains a blend of pagan (Anglo-Saxon) and Christian values (first recorded by monks
in the 8th century/copy still in existence from the 10th century).
Written in the alliterative style
Setting of Beowulf
3rd or 4th century in northern Germany, Denmark, and southern Sweden
Two tribes involved—Geats and Danes
(Beowulf )
Characteristics valued in Anglo-Saxon culture
Belief in Wyrd (Fate) guided actions and values; to achieve fame was to achieve immortality
 Courage—to defeat enemies
 Wisdom—to lead others
 Physical strength—to overcome enemies
 Boastfulness—dare to destiny and commitment to immortality
 Loyalty/duty to king