Beowulf is an epic poem. Why? Because (1) it is a long narrative work that relates the adventures of a great hero and (2) it reflects the values of the Anglo-Saxon society in which it was written prior to 1000AD.
This Old English poem in unrhymed, four-beat alliterative style narrates, through the course of about 3200 verses, the bold killing of two monsters, Grendel and his Mother, and a fire-dragon, as well as numerous other brave deeds in lesser detail, by Beowulf, “the strongest of men alive in that day, mighty and noble,” “the good Geat.” Roberta Frank in “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History” sees the hero as “the synthesis of religious and heroic idealism” (Frank 59). Professor Tolkien in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics states: “But in the centre we have an heroic figure of enlarged proportions” (Tolkien 38). “That crafty sailor” led his warriors “on the waves” to Hrothgar’s Danish kingdom where the first two adventures took place (“Herot, the bright ring-hall, is purged.”), earning the hero the greatest respect of the king (“You have by your deeds, achieved fame forever.”) and queen and people. More than “fifty winters” later the third great feat occurred in the Geat homeland where Beowulf was reigning as king. This adventure of armed combat against a fire dragon resulted not only in the dragon’s death but also in that of the Scandinavian hero. Numerous other adventures of the hero are presented in lesser detail: “With my sword I slew nine sea monsters,” “he had survived many battles,” “he avenged Heardred’s death,” “He deprived King Onela of life,” “I repaid Hygelac … with my bright sword,” “I was the killer of Daghrefin,” etc. The poem rightfully claims that Beowulf “performed the most famous de...
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...the ten who deserted their chief, said, “At the ale-bench he often gave you … helmets and armor.”
From the above it’s obvious that abundant evidence amply demonstrates that Beowulf truly reflects the first millenial Anglo-Saxon culture in the poem’s lengthy narration of the adventures of a great hero.
Clark, George. Beowulf. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Cramp, Rosemary. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited byDonald K. fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Frank, Roberta. “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf :The Monsters and the Critics.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited byDonald K. fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
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