BEOWULF 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 memory. 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 leadership. • 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 death. 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?