An overview of one of the oldest poems in the english language beowulf

Provenance of Beowulf ms. The author of Beowulf is unknown, as is the exact date of the composition of the poem. In its present form, Beowulf was possibly composed as early as the seventh century or as late as This codex is a composite codex assembled in the first half of the 17th century, itself consisting of two Old English codices:

An overview of one of the oldest poems in the english language beowulf

Table of Contents Context Though it is often viewed both as the archetypal Anglo-Saxon literary work and as a cornerstone of modern literature, Beowulf has a peculiar history that complicates both its historical and its canonical position in English literature. By the time the story of Beowulf was composed by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet around a.

The Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian peoples had invaded the island of Britain and settled there several hundred years earlier, bringing with them several closely related Germanic languages that would evolve into Old English.

Elements of the Beowulf story—including its setting and characters—date back to the period before the migration. The action of the poem takes place around a.

Many of the characters in the poem—the Swedish and Danish royal family members, for example—correspond to actual historical figures. Originally pagan warriors, the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian invaders experienced a large-scale conversion to Christianity at the end of the sixth century.

Though still an old pagan story, Beowulf thus came to be told by a Christian poet. The Beowulf poet is often at pains to attribute Christian thoughts and motives to his characters, who frequently behave in distinctly un-Christian ways. The Beowulf that we read today is therefore probably quite unlike the Beowulf with which the first Anglo-Saxon audiences were familiar.

The element of religious tension is quite common in Christian Anglo-Saxon writings The Dream of the Rood, for examplebut the combination of a pagan story with a Christian narrator is fairly unusual.

The world that Beowulf depicts and the heroic code of honor that defines much of the story is a relic of pre—Anglo-Saxon culture. The story is set in Scandinavia, before the migration. Though it is a traditional story—part of a Germanic oral tradition—the poem as we have it is thought to be the work of a single poet.

It was composed in England not in Scandinavia and is historical in its perspective, recording the values and culture of a bygone era.

An overview of one of the oldest poems in the english language beowulf

Many of those values, including the heroic code, were still operative to some degree in when the poem was written. These values had evolved to some extent in the intervening centuries and were continuing to change.

In the Scandinavian world of the story, tiny tribes of people rally around strong kings, who protect their people from danger—especially from confrontations with other tribes.

The warrior culture that results from this early feudal arrangement is extremely important, both to the story and to our understanding of Saxon civilization. Strong kings demand bravery and loyalty from their warriors, whom they repay with treasures won in war. Mead-halls such as Heorot in Beowulf were places where warriors would gather in the presence of their lord to drink, boast, tell stories, and receive gifts.

Although these mead-halls offered sanctuary, the early Middle Ages were a dangerous time, and the paranoid sense of foreboding and doom that runs throughout Beowulf evidences the constant fear of invasion that plagued Scandinavian society.

Only a single manuscript of Beowulf survived the Anglo-Saxon era. For many centuries, the manuscript was all but forgotten, and, in the s, it was nearly destroyed in a fire.

It was not until the nineteenth century that widespread interest in the document emerged among scholars and translators of Old English. It was not untilwhen the Oxford scholar J.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

Beowulf is now widely taught and is often presented as the first important work of English literature, creating the impression that Beowulf is in some way the source of the English canon. But because it was not widely read until the s and not widely regarded as an important artwork until the s, Beowulf has had little direct impact on the development of English poetry.

In fact, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Pope, Shelley, Keats, and most other important English writers before the s had little or no knowledge of the epic. It was not until the mid-to-late twentieth century that Beowulf began to influence writers, and, since then, it has had a marked impact on the work of many important novelists and poets, including W.

An overview of one of the oldest poems in the english language beowulf

Old English Poetry Beowulf is often referred to as the first important work of literature in English, even though it was written in Old English, an ancient form of the language that slowly evolved into the English now spoken.

As English history developed, after the French Normans conquered the Anglo-Saxons inOld English was gradually broadened by offerings from those languages. Thus modern English is derived from a number of sources.

As a result, its vocabulary is rich with synonyms.

From the SparkNotes Blog

Fortunately, most students encountering Beowulf read it in a form translated into modern English. Still, a familiarity with the rudiments of Anglo-Saxon poetry enables a deeper understanding of the Beowulf text. Old English poetry is highly formal, but its form is quite unlike anything in modern English.

Each line of Old English poetry is divided into two halves, separated by a caesura, or pause, and is often represented by a gap on the page, as the following example demonstrates: Setton him to heafdon hilde-randas."Beowulf" is the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language and the earliest piece of vernacular European literature.

Perhaps the most common question readers have is what language "Beowulf" was written in originally. The first manuscript was written in the language of the Saxons, "Old English," also known as "Anglo-Saxon." Since then, the epic poem has been estimated to have been translated into .

Old English literature or Anglo-Saxon is often considered the oldest extant poem in English, whereas the later poem, The Grave is one of the final poems written in Old English, and presents a transitional text between Old and Andreas is 1, lines long and is the closest of the surviving Old English poems to Beowulf in style and.

Beowulf itself narrates the battles of Beowulf, a prince of the Geats (a tribe in what is now southern Sweden), against the monstrous Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a fire-breathing dragon.

The account contains some of the best elegiac verse in the language.

SparkNotes: Beowulf: Plot Overview

She murders Aeschere, one of Hrothgar’s most trusted advisers, before slinking away. To avenge Aeschere’s death, the company travels to the murky swamp, where Beowulf dives into the water and fights Grendel’s mother in her underwater lair.

Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the and an imperfect copy of another Old English poem, Judith. Beowulf is the penultimate item in this The Cotton library formed one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in , before being incorporated as part of the.

Students will develop an understanding of the evolution of English by listening to a small excerpt of Beowulf read in Old English. This lesson is part of a larger unit on the teaching of Beowulf alongside traditional Native American stories from the Assiniboine and Lakota tribes of eastern Montana.

Old English literature - Wikipedia