Thesis: Beowulf the Epic

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Beowulf

The Epic of Beowulf is one of the most renowned epics from the English and the old Germanic literature. The Epic has been known for centuries and it dates back to approximately eight-century a.D.(Abrams et al., 1987). The Poem presents the life of a classic epical hero by the name of Beowulf and his journey through a chain of events in which he is put to test.

The story contains five parts and in the first one we are presented with the history of the Danish king by the name of Scyld. King Hrothgar, the great-grandson of Scyld, has a flourishing kingdom and has had numerous successes in battle. Hrothgar decides to build a great hall in which the Danish warriors could celebrate their victories. The Danish king decides to build the hall in the nearby vicinity of a pond which is inhabited by a monstrous creature named Grendel. Being disturbed by the celebrations and by the noise done by Hrothgar's people, Grendel breaks in one night and kills thirty of the warriors while they were asleep.

Beowulf, an orphan, is being taken and raised by king Hrethel, father of Hygelac. Despite his extraordinary power as a teenager, Beowulf is teased by the others and is seen as not having the attributes of a warrior. Our hero succeeds several times in proving them wrong as he proves to be both a great swimmer and fighter.

As he becomes an adult, Beowulf sails to Denmark along with fourteen friends in order to support the Danish king, Hrothgar, with military power against evil forces. The hall of Denmark, which is named Heorot, had been wreaked havoc on for the last twelve years by Grendel.

With the giant only attacking by night, the Danes celebrate the coming of Beowulf with a feast that lasts into the night and ends with the hosts withdrawing as they leave Beowulf and his companions asleep. Unlike his friends, Beowulf decides to keep on his watch instead of sleeping. Later on, Beowulf proves that he had been clever when choosing not to sleep as Grendel closes in, tearing the iron bar doors in an instant and killing one of Beowulf's friends. Determined, Beowulf decides to wrestle the beast with his bare hands and succeeds in ripping an arm from Grendel's body. With no chances of continuing the battle and being aware that he didn't have much life left in him, Grendel attempts an escape but leaves a strain of blood which enables Beowulf to follow the monster until the latter acknowledges Grendel's death.

The poem highlights the fight between the forces of evil represented by Grendel and his wicked ways, and the forces of good embodied by Beowulf.

Denmark now being a safe haven, the Danish king calls for a celebration and decides to spend the night in the hall while Beowulf and his friends were being housed elsewhere. To everyone's surprise, the nightmare is far from over, as Grendel's mother shows up revengeful and slaughters an important Danish official. Beowulf chooses to end the terror and hurries to Grendel's underwater chamber dedicated on slaying the beast. After an intense fight with the mother of Grendel, Beowulf thrives in killing her and also finds Grendel's lifeless body in the chamber.

Amazed and pleased with Beowulf's actions, Hrothgar decides to recompense the hero with great treasures at his departure. At his arrival in his native country, Beowulf tells of his adventures to his adoptive uncle Hygelac and inspires the latter to reward him. As a war hero, Beowulf is given full recognition and he is the most respected men in the kingdom during the reign of Hygelac.

Our hero assists Hygelac in several battles. During the invasion of Hetware, the king receives a powerful blow from a Hugas chieftain by the name of Daghrefn, which renders him lifeless. Beowulf manages to capture his king's slayer and kills him in order to repay for his fallen master. At his retreat, Beowulf once again proves his amazing powers by swimming to his ship with thirty of the armors of Hugas's. Despite the tempting offer of becoming king that Hygelac's widow offers him, Beowulf refuses to stay in charge and settles on assisting Hygelac's son, Heardred until he reaches an adult age.

As he leads a campaign against the Swedes, Heardred is killed and leaves Beowulf as the only feasible contestant to be king.

Beowulf proves his abilities of being a successful ruler as he stays in power for fifty years with no major setback. Nevertheless, his country is attacked by a fierce fire-breathing dragon, which is determined to turn the place lifeless. Despite his age, Beowulf decides to confront the dragon on his own. After choosing eleven skilled warriors to accompany him to the dragon's den which is an ancient treasure deposit, Beowulf calls for the beast. As the dragon rushes to meet his visitors, Beowulf companions are terrified at the creature's sight and leave their king alone. Beowulf is visibly overwhelmed by the beast's strength and when all hope is gone he is joined by a young warrior by the name of Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, that could not help from intervening to help his master.

Beowulf manages to kill the dragon with the help of Wiglaf, but is himself mortally wounded before striking the final blow. Wiglaf brings back great treasures from the dragon's den to his dying king that names Wiglaf his successor on the throne before giving his last breath.

At the hearing of the news, the country decides to praise the hero as it was customary for a northern hero to be honored by burning his body and then burying its ashes along with the dragon's treasure.

The heroic character of Beowulf is proved several times across the tale as he is portrayed with the features of a very powerful man that only uses his power to do well. Beowulf first chooses to sail to Denmark and to risk his life instead of letting his uncle Hygelac fight Grendel. At the end of the story he once again proves his fearless character by going to war against the dragon, despite the fact that he had been aware of the gravity of the situation and of his chances of winning the fight with the beast.

Inspite of the presence of fairytale creatures, the Epic seems to be inspired from the real life also, as there are many similarities between the story and real life events as presented by Melissa Snell. (Snell, M) Apparently Beowulf's people, the Geats, were coming from a tribe residing in the south of Sweden. The issue concerning the exact location in which Beowulf lived is controversial, as there are many historians that link the events from the story to various events that took place on the North Kent coast. (Hall, Simon. 1998) Thus, the poem might prove to be a testimony of the Germanic settlement in Britain.

According to Simon Hall, one can place the hero in the early sixth century, when considering the name of his master, Hygelac. "The Historia Francorum of Gregory of Tours records the death of Hygelac in Frisia in about 521." (Hall, Simon. 1998)

The date in which the poem has been written is also controversial as most clues revolve around the early 7th century. The chances that the poem might be translated from an old Scandinavian original are little, with no strong evidence existing. The only supposition that can be made concerning the poem is that it had originally been written in an Anglian form and then translated in its West-Saxon form. This has been sustained by the fact that the poem doesn't hold any West-Saxon name. (Snell, M)

As stated by Melissa Snell, the original form of the poem had been created in order for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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