Uploaded by Nathan King

Beowulf Intro

The Hero‘S Journey
• Beowulf is the oldest
surviving English poem.
It’s written in Old English
(or Anglo-Saxon), which is
the basis for the language
we speak today.
• Beowulf encompasses
common themes that we
still see in English
literature today.
• We know that some of
the characters in the
poem actually existed.
• The only copy of the manuscript
was written sometime around the
11th century A.D.
• The actual poem probably dates
from the 8th century (700’s) but
was set during the 6th century
(500’s) and was written by
unknown authors.
• Few people read in this period
people practiced the oral tradition.
• Would have been performed
and/or sung by a Bard from
BEOWULF is an EPIC poem.
• An epic is a long, narrative poem that relates the
great deeds of a larger-than-life hero who embodies
the values of a particular society.
• The epic hero must undertake a quest to achieve
something of tremendous value to themselves and
their society. They are a larger than life hero; often
with super-human characteristics representing
widespread national, cultural, or religious values.
• An epic deals with eternal human problems like the
struggle between good and evil and is presented in a
serious manner using elevated (poetic) language.
• This epic poem of Beowulf is often divided into 3
sections; it is about Beowulf’s 3 epic battles with evil.
• Beowulf has to overcome three obstacles: Grendel, Grendel’s Mother and a Dragon.
• The story takes place in Geatland and Denmark (Modern Sweden and Denmark)
• It takes place in three main archetypical horror scenes, a barricaded Mead Hall, the
underworld lair of Grendel's Mother and the wild reptile-swarmed forests and mountains of
the Dragon’s Lair.
Cultural Concepts
• An Anglo-Saxon was to be loyal to his king no
matter what. (According to the Anglo-Saxon code
of the comitatus, warriors must defend their lord
to the death.)
• A warrior’s success was measured in gifts from
their leader and from fame of doing well in battle.
• The Anglo-Saxons believed that “wyrd” or fate
controlled lives.
• The perfect Anglo-Saxon was supposed to be
loyal and brave.
• The death price. Beowulf is set during a time
when warring tribes populated England and
Scandinavia. Violence was a part of life, but it
wasn't a free-for-all. If you killed somebody, their
relatives might demand reparation (i.e., payback)
in the form of wealth—or your life.
• Beowulf makes use of the hero's
journey to tell the story and build up
the heroic character of Beowulf. The
story closely conforms to a hero
journey archetype.
• Beowulf begins with a call to
adventure, after Beowulf hears about
Grendel. He has an older mentor, king
Hrothgar, who forms his impression of
• Beowulf crosses the threshold, coming
to the king of the Danes, where he
faces enemies and tests in the form of
the monster Grendel and the swamphag, Grendel’s Mother.
• Having gone through this ordeal,
Beowulf claims his reward from the
king, then begins the return journey.
• He has atonement with the dragon,
then concludes the story with his
So What?
- Beowulf is important in the same way Shakespeare is - the foundations of much of the
texts we enjoy can find their roots in these early texts.
- When looking at modern ‘Hero’s Journey’ texts, it is worth noting that Beowulf can act
as a guide for navigating the less obvious structures of those films.
To Do:
- Read from your Beowulf booklet, the Prologue to the end of the Battle with Grendel.
Take time to identify where in the Hero’s Journey cycle this portion of the story is and
where it’s likely to go.
- What are considered to be Beowulf’s heroic characteristics?
- How would this event play out in a modern setting?
- Is Beowulf still worthy of being called a heroic figure?