Journal – The Heroic Epic
Beowulf is basically the story of a hero
fighting monsters. Write about some
books and movies you are familiar with
that involves the classic conflict of a hero
fighting monsters.
What are some common features of these
Why do audiences like these stories?
What is the point of them? What can we
learn from them?
Background Notes
The Epic Tradition
 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.
◦ a quest story on a grand scale.
◦ mixture of myth, legend, folklore,
and history.
◦ serious in tone and grand in it’s
Beowulf and the Epic Tradition
The Greeks
The Iliad & The
The AngloSaxons
15,000 lines
3200 lines
720-680 BC
700-750 AD
Old English
The Epic Tradition
 It is the
 Beowulf
first great Anglo-Saxon work.
is part of the oral tradition,
passed down by mouth, with changes
and embellishments, from one bard
(called a scop) to another.
 It was told to people who crowded
around the bards in the communal
halls (mead halls) at night. AngloSaxon society was based around these
mead halls.
 Mead is honey wine. People would
gather in mead halls to imbibe and
listen to stories from the bards.
Mead Hall
Beowulf Plot Summary
 Beowulf,
whose name may mean
“bear,” is a Geat from Sweden
who crosses the sea to Denmark
in a quest to rescue King
Hrothgar from the demonic
monster Grendel.
◦ dream/legend (Celtic and Scandinavian)
◦ monsters
◦ god-fashioned weapons
◦ descends to the underworld
◦ fights with dragons
◦ the hero’s quest
◦ a community threatened by evil
◦ mixture of Pagan and Christian values
◦ the Anglo-Saxons were fatalistic, they
believed your fate was already determined
◦ Beowulf boasts about his accomplishments
(an Anglo-Saxon value)
The Epic Hero
◦has superior physical strength.
◦is supremely ethical.
◦during his quest, must defeat
monsters that embody dark
destructive powers.
◦at the end of his quest, is
glorified by the people he has
Christian vs. Pagan
Christian elements in Beowulf exist sideby-side with pagan (in this case, Norse
religion) elements.
 The story, passed many generations from
bard to bard, was probably finally written
down by a Christian monk
 The only manuscript we have of Beowulf
dates back to 1000 AD and is in the
British Museum in London.
 Burned and stained, it was discovered in
the 18th century, surviving Henry VIII’s
destruction of the monasteries 200 years
Beowulf: The protagonist of the epic and
a member of the Geats (Swedish tribe).
He comes to king Hrothgar’s Danish tribe
to help them against the monster Grendel.
Edgetho: Beowulf’s father.
Higlac: king of the Geats and Beowulf’s
Brecca: chief of the Brondings, a tribe,
and Beowulf’s friend
Herot (place): the golden mead-hall built
by King Hrothgar, the Danish ruler. It was
decorated with the antlers of stags; the
name means “hart [stag] hall.”
Hrothgar: king of the Danes, builder of
Herot. He had once befriended Beowulf’s
father Edgetho. His father was called
Healfdane (“half Dane”). Hrothgar’s name
might mean “glory spear” or “spear of
Unferth: one of Hrothgar’s courtiers,
reputed to be a skilled warrior. Initially
antagonizes Beowulf. His sword, Hrunting,
is used by Beowulf in a later battle.
Welthow: Hrothgar’s wife, queen of the
Wiglaf: a Geat warrior, one of Beowulf’s
select band, and the only one to help him
in his final fight with the dragon. Wiglaf
might be related to Beowulf.
Grendel: man-eating monster who lives at
the bottom of a foul mere, or mountain
lake. He attacks Herot, and Beowulf
comes to Herot to slay him. His name
might be related to the Old Norse grindill,
meaning “storm,” or grenja, “to bellow.”
Grendel’s Mother: Attacks Herot in
vengeance over her son’s death.
The Dragon: A dragon that rampages the
countryside 50 years after the fight with
Grendel’s Mother until Beowulf defeats it.
Journal – Heroes and Monsters
What do heroes symbolize in literature?
 Who is your favorite (fictional) hero and
 Who is a real life hero you revere?
 Do they share any common attributes?
What monster do you find most
frightening? Why?
 What are the attributes of a monster?
 What do monsters symbolize?
Read in Old English
Beowulf The Movie