Beowulf Terms

In its strict use by literary critics, the term epic is applied to a work that meets at least the following
criteria: it is a long narrative poem an a great and serious subject, related in an elevated style, and
centered on a heroic or quasi-divine figure on whose actions depends the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the
human race. The "traditional epics" (also called "primary epics" or "folk epics") were shaped by a literary
artist from historical and legendary materials which had developed in the oral traditions of his nation
during a period of expansion and warfare. To this group are ascribed the Iliad and Odyssey of the Greek
Homer, and the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.
The elegy, a type of lyric poem, is usually a formal lament for someone's death.
An epithet is usually an adjective or a brief phrase used to characterize a person, place, or thing.
For example, in Beowulf God is variously described as “the Lord of all Life,” “the Ruler of glory,”
“the Lord of heaven and earth,” and “our eternal Lord.” As you read Beowulf, pay attention to the
epithets. Note how they provide a brief summary of major characters’ most essential qualities.
Allusions are references in a work of literature to a well-known person, place, event, written
work, or work of art. Beowulf contains numerous biblical allusions.
In literature, a kenning is a compound poetic phrase, a figure of speech, substituted for the usual name
of a person or thing. In its simplest form, it comprises two terms, one of which (the 'base word'), is
made to relate to the other to convey a meaning neither has alone. For example the sea in Old
English could be called seġl-rād 'sail-road', swan-rād 'swan-road', bæþ-weġ 'bath-way' or hwælweġ 'whale-way'. In line 10 of the epic Beowulf the sea is called the hronrāde or 'whale-road'.
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which an author drops subtle hints about plot developments to come
later in the story. Each of these hints widens the range of possible consequences and maintains tension
throughout the narrative as these possibilities narrow. An example of foreshadowing might be when a
character displays a gun or knife early in the story. Merely the appearance of a deadly weapon, even
though it is used for an innocuous purpose — such as being cleaned or whittling wood — suggests
terrible consequences later on.