Beowulf : An Archetypal Anglo Saxon Literary Work And A Cornerstone Of Modern Literature

Beowulf : An Archetypal Anglo Saxon Literary Work And A Cornerstone Of Modern Literature

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The poem of Beowulf is often considered an archetypal Anglo-Saxon literary work and a cornerstone of modern literature, although it has a particular history that complicates both its historical and its canonical position in English literature. The medieval Scandinavian epic is narrated omnisciently in the third person, as historically it was first told by an unknown Anglo-Saxon arguably around 700 A.D. Over the course of time there has been much scholarly debate concerning its literary origin and the exact dates of when and where events took place. Beowulf tells the story of a warrior who was more than a man or a king, but rather a God-like figure in terms of the relics of pre–Anglo-Saxon culture. All throughout the poem, the main characters such as Beowulf, Hrothgar and Grendel are perceived to represent the light and dark side of the everlasting rivalry between Christians and Heathens. That being said, every character seems to be concerned with establishing their own identity and how others view their persona, holding themselves to tradition and principle is of extreme importance. In Seamus Heaney and Roy Liuzza’s modern translations, the poem upholds traditional Germanic paternalistic codes of honor, differentiates a good warrior from a good king and emphasizes community.

First and foremost, Beowulf is a man of all men who wears his heart on his sleeve for fellow countrymen. He is the epitome of the perfect hero, embodying the manners and values of the Germanic heroic code. His word is truly as good as his sword. The poem explores his heroics in upholding and defending his Geats and the Danes. Beowulf’s resumé speaks for itself, his character is predominantly composed of pride, courage and loyalty, which is a direct reflectio...


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...t has a tendency to hide behind Wealtheow’s skirt. As he gets older, he wants to direct the plan of action but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty in the execution, which is why he beckons the youthful Beowulf to take care of business on the front lines of the battlefield. Grendel is misunderstood to be a ravenous, man-eating beast, when in reality he is a troubled misfit with mixed emotions of pain and sorrow. All of that being said, I think it is imperative to keep in mind that one’s hero is another’s villain and vice-versa under the right circumstances. In closing remarks, as an undergraduate scholar of the Beowulf text and additional translations, I believe there is no single manuscript or alternate version of the poem that is truly complete. As a reader of such works, one must acknowledge a variety of interpretations in order to form a more well-rounded opinion.

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