Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem

Powerful Essays
The epic poem Beowulf, is a work of fiction and was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the first millennium, in the language today called Anglo- Saxon or Old English. This story is a heroic narrative, more than three thousand lines long, concerning the deeds of the Scandinavian prince, also called Beowulf, and it stands as one of the foundation works of poetry in English.

Beowulf is obviously a creation of the poet, through partial comparisons have been made between him and somewhat similar characters in folklore and Icelandic sagas. As related to other characters in the poem, he would probably have been shortly before 500 and died as a very old man. That Beowulf's origin is obscure, that he apparently never married and/or produced any children, that he returned alone from the battle that took the life of his king instead of dying by his side in the best Germanic-heroic tradition, that he was almost entirely inactive in the Geat-Swede conflicts, that he seems at times superhuman and at other times merely a remarkable ma, that he is such a curious blend of pagan and Christian, that he never appears anywhere else in all literature of the North- these things are not bothersome o difficult to understand when we realize that a major poet was trying something big and new, and that he created for his work and original character to bring together all of its complex features.

The poem was written in England but the events it describes are set in Scandinavia, in a "once upon a time" that is partly historical. Its hero, Beowulf, is the biggest presence among the warriors in the land of the Geats, a territory situated in what is now southern Sweden, and early in the poem Beowulf cr...

... middle of paper ...

...t at a heavy cost. The dragon bites Beowulf in the neck, and its fiery venom kills him moments after their encounter. The Geats fear that their enemies will attack them now that Beowulf is dead. According to Beowulf's wishes, they burn their departed king's body on a huge funeral pyre and then bury him with a massive treasure in a barrow overlooking the sea.


Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.

Lawall, Sarah. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 8th edition. NewYork: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005

Nye, Robert. Beowulf: A New Telling.New York:Bantom Doubleday Dell Books for For Young Readers, 1963

Raffell, Burton. Beowulf: Translation with an Introduction and Afterword. Massachusetts: Amherst, 1971

Rebsamen, Frederick. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Get Access