Epic of Beowulf Essay - Depiction of Anglo-Saxon Society in Beowulf

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The Depiction of Anglo-Saxon Society in Beowulf The Old-English or Anglo-Saxon era extends from about 450 to 1066. The Germanic tribes from the Continent who overran England in the fifth century, after the Roman withdrawal, brought with them a language that is the basis of modern English, a specific poetic tradition, and a relatively advanced society. All of these qualities and spirit are exemplified in the eighth-century epic poem Beowulf. To begin with, much of the Old English poetry was probably intended to be chanted, with harp accompaniment, by the Anglo-Saxon scop. In Beowulf, the scop entertains warriors at Heorot, also known as The Hall of Hart. Often masculine and strong, but also mournful in spirit, the stories emphasize the sorrow and ultimate futility of man's lot and his helplessness before the power of fate. Beowulf, composed in 750 A.D., was originally handed down in the same oral tradition. In 1000 A.D. the epic poem was preserved by monastic copyists in a written manuscript. In addition, Beowulf reflects Anglo-Saxon poetic traits. The poetry is composed without rhyme, in a characteristic line, or verse, of four stressed syllables alternating with an indeterminate number of unstressed ones. This line strikes strangely on ears habituated to the usual modern pattern, in which the rhythmical unity, theoretically consists of a constant number of unaccented syllables that always precede or follow any stressed syllable. Another unfamiliar but equally striking feature in the formal character of Old English poetry is struct... ... middle of paper ... ...ure of pagan or idolatry worshipping and Christianity are evident in Beowulf. For example, Christianity is displayed in a paraphrase of Genesis in which "A skillful bard sang the ancient story/ Of man's creation" (lines 88-89). On the other hand, pagan beliefs are obvious in the description of the Geats as "Boar-heads glittered on glistening helmets" (line 298). Although the Anglo-Saxons were leaning toward Christianity, they still had skeletons in the closet. Beowulf functions as a historical document to depict a collage of Germanic societies. It represents a relatively advanced eighth-century Anglo-Saxon nation recently converted to Christianity that looks on its Scandinavian past with pride. Beowulf also reflects a society with an elevated understanding of the values of civilization.

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