A Jungian Reading of Beowulf

1635 Words7 Pages
A Jungian Reading of Beowulf

This essay will propose an alternative means by which to examine the distinctive fusion of historical, mythological, and poetic elements that make up the whole of Beowulf. Jeffrey Helterman, in a 1968 essay, “Beowulf: The Archetype Enters History,” first recognized Grendel as a representation of the Shadow archetype and identified Grendel’s mother as an archetypal Anima image; I wish to extend the scope of the reading by suggesting that the dragon, too, represents an archetype: the archetype of the Self. John Miles Foley, in his landmark 1977 essay “Beowulf and the Psychohistory of Anglo-Saxon Culture,” first suggested that the progression of battles between man and monster in Beowulf symbolically recalls the primal myth, the “monomyth,” which recounts both the process of individual psychological growth and the development of universal human consciousness. I will explore in greater detail the idea that the progression of battles specifically represents the process of individual psychological development through which the ego confronts personal archetypes in order to achieve complete self-knowledge: the process of individuation.

According to Jung, an archetype represents “certain instinctive data of the dark, primitive psyche…real but invisible roots of consciousness (9,i:271). He notes that the “ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described,” as elements represented by the archetypal image remain unconscious; yet he also proposes that the individual psyche responds to the presence of the archetype by imprinting it with its own psychic material, thus creating a series of images informed by both universal understanding and personal experience. Jung compares the origina...

... middle of paper ...

...arry, Jr., and H. Marshall Leicester, Jr. “Social Structure as Doom: The Limits of Heroism in Beowulf.” In Old English Studies in Honor of John C. Pope. Eds. Robert B. Burlin and Edward B. Irving, Jr. Pp 37-79.

Foley, John Miles. “Beowulf and the Psychohistory of Anglo-Saxon Culture.” American Imago 34(1977): 133-153.

Helterman, Jeffrey. “Beowulf: the Archetype Enters History.” English Literary History 35(1968): 1-20.

Hume, Kathryn. “The Theme and Structure of Beowulf.” Studies in Philology 72(January 1975): 1-27.

Jung, Carl G. The Collected Works of Carl Jung. R.F.C. Hull, trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953-1971.

Niles, John. Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Thormann, Janet. “Beowulf and the Enjoyment of Violence.” Literature and Psychology 43:1(1997): 65-76.

More about A Jungian Reading of Beowulf

Open Document