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Beowulf is the single greatest story of Old English literature and one of the greatest epics of all time. Ironically, no one can lay claim to being the author of this amazing example of literature. The creator of this poem was said to be alive around 600 A.D. and the story was, since then, been passed down orally from generation to generation. When the first English monks heard the story, they took it upon themselves to write it down and add a bit of their own thoughts. Thus, a great epic and the beginning to English literature was born.
To be considered and epic, a piece of literature must exhibit quite a few specific, literary techniques. Some of the main criteria points include being a long, narrative poem, having an epic hero, and containing rhythm, alliteration, and imagery. Beowulf can be considered an epic because it contains all of this criteria.
Beowulf, first and foremost, is a long narrative poem. It contains 3,182 lines and has been divided into forty-three sections. It has been written in a way that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience and arranged so that the language stimulates an emotional response, the basis of why a piece of writing would be considered a poem.
Beowulf also contains an epic hero. The title of the poem has been named after our epic hero, Beowulf. In definition, an epic hero is someone that does larger than life deeds and is stronger and smarter than any normal man; and Beowulf fits this description as if the mold were made for him. He has the strength of thirty men and uses it as a major weapon against evil. This can be seen through Beowulf’s battles with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon.
Beowulf’s first accomplishment as an epic hero was his battle with Grendel. Grendel was a huge beast, a descendent of Cain, who ruthlessly murdered innocent Danes because he felt pity for himself. Upon hearing of the Dane’s problem, Beowulf set off to help the Danish without having been called upon. Even though Beowulf had men backing him, He drew battle with Grendel alone and without armor or weapons. Yet, Beowulf emerged victorious with the arm of Grendel as his trophy. Beowulf then went on to kill Grendel’s vengeful mother and a huge fire-breathing dragon who thought it had been done wrong by the Geats. Alas, the killing of the dragon would be Beowulf’s last great battle for the dragon took Beowulf’s life in the struggle for his own.
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The rhythm used in Beowulf was a tool used by many scops in that era to help them remember all of the words of the epic and to set a constant beat so that more could be easily added on to the story. The rhythm of an epic was best utilized when a musical instrument, such as a small harp, would accompany the scop as he recited his tale. Sadly, most of the original rhythm in this particular epic was lost in translation into American English. Not only was most of the rhythm lost, but so was most of the alliteration. Alliteration was also used as a tool by the scop in the same fashion as rhythm. It was used to help remember all of the words in the epic.
Imagery is the most important literary technique used in an epic. It is used to immerse the audience in the scene; the audience should feel every sense as if the actions were happening in real life. A good example of this can be found in section twenty-two, lines 1492-1496. “As his words ended He leaped into the lake, would not wait for anyone’s Answer; The heaving water covered him Over. For hours he sank through the waves; At last he saw the mud of the bottom.”
By using the literary techniques outlined and explained in this paper, there’s no reason for anyone to not believe that Beowulf is not an epic. Beowulf exemplifies the criteria for an epic beautifully and should be considered one of the greatest epics of all time.