The Role of a Lost Language in Beowulf Essay

The Role of a Lost Language in Beowulf Essay

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The epic Beowulf is one of the earliest known works in the English vernacular. The protagonist, Beowulf, is a hero with superhuman powers who fears nothing and no one. The poem follows his journey through life and specifically his defeat of the three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon, who brings about Beowulf’s downfall. The chosen passage details the horrors of Grendel’s attack on Heorot, the domain of Hrothgar, King of the Danes and comes before Beowulf is introduced.

There are some problems in studying a text such as Beowulf. It must be read in translation to be easily accessible for the reader. This means the subtle nuances of the original language will be lost. The other major problem is that Beowulf had a long oral tradition before being written down by monks or clerics after the Norman conquest of England, resulting in an added layer of Christian thought on top of the original pagan ideologies in the poem.

The affixed Christian ideologies are evident in the passage. There are two main sections which demonstrate them. The first passage, lines 93-98, is an auxiliary in the narrative but it nevertheless demonstrates a belief in “the Almighty.” However, there is a slight discrepancy between the creation story presented in Beowulf and the original Genesis one. “He set the sun and the moon to be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men” (11.94-95) implies that men existed before the sun and the moon which contradicts the Genesis story in which the sun was created first. This would suggest that the scribe has merely used the original ideologies in the poem and placed God in their midst.
The second passage, lines 106-114, is further evidence of intertextuality which, like the first section, appears as an ov...


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...del makes Beowulf seem even greater in comparison. Hrothgar, too, is a foil to Beowulf. When first introduced he is a mighty warrior who commanded a large army but he is diminished to “stricken and helpless, humiliated” (1. 130-131). That Beowulf manages to defeat Grendel and not be overcome like the king purports that he is, indeed, “the mightiest man on earth” (1.197).
The language of Beowulf, although in translation, nevertheless manages to convey, in this particular passage, the horror that is Grendel and the atrocities he commits at Heorot. It is easy to appreciate that Grendel is enormously evil, but less easy to perceive there is also method behind the madness. Beowulf will always be important in our understanding of, not only, Anglo-Saxon English language, culture and life but it also makes relevant points about our society and the idea of ostracization.

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