Beowulf is one of the most significant relics of British ancient literature. Essays on Beowulf are the part of, maybe, every school. In order to write a good Beowulf epic hero essay, one should know its specifics, origins and features of the time when it was written. Beowulf summary essay may be quite easy, but Beowulf analysis essay demands from writer understanding of these aspects and ability to study historical and linguistic situation represented in the poem. On our site you will know about different features of the poem that will help you to write a great essay on Beowulf.
The Origins of Beowulf
This epic poem appeared on the basis of ancient Germanic legends, which refer to pagan times. It is the only one literary monument of Anglo-Saxon epos that is still remaining. The majority of scientists agree that it was created at the end of 8th century A.D. by English monk. The sole manuscript we know is a part of Cotton Vitellius A.xv and Novell Codex. They are stored in the British museum. The text was saved thanks to good fortune. Christianization of British Isles consisted of two directions: northern (held by Irish Christians) and southern (Pope’s Gregory mission). Southern mission was mostly catholic, and they would not waste paper for pagan poems. On the contrary, Irish Christianity represented a mixture of Christian and pagan cultures, so it was more tolerant to Saxon script and literature.
The first publisher of the poem was Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin, who firstly made two handwritten copies in 1787 when he was in England. Then he published the poem in 1815. Since that time “Beowulf” has been published about 20 times, as much as it has been translated into English. Thorkelin just translated the whole text into Latin. That’s why it was translated literally with trying to convert original atmosphere, rhythm, iambic pentameter, size of ballads, “nibelungs” strophe and free style, with or without anachronisms, with or without alliteration. That’s why even prose translations of the poem differ with each other very much. By the way, in this post you can know about origins of another ancient poem “Odysseus”.
Structure of The Poem
The exact converting of poetic features of “Beowulf” would contradict modern rules. One of the main features is alliteration. Every hemistich included at least one word beginning with the same consonant the last word ended with. Moreover, all vowels were in alliteration with each other. In Old English and Old Icelandic languages the first syllable of root was stressed so a hemistich got two stresses syllables. Rhythm of “Beowulf” is based on alternation of long and short syllables, but depends on their quantity. There were a number of metrical versifications which were used by author of “Beowulf” with great skill. For him alliteration was no more than minor adornment of the text, as the rhyme was for Old English poets. From the other side, the poets of that time had never considered alliteration as a poetic approach. Only in a few cases we can consider 2 long lines having same alliteration as a special method, but not negligence. “Beowulf” has got other methods like this one: assonances and puns. Grim play on words passes through the whole description of Grendel: in Old English language words “ghost” and “guest” sounded very similar and Grendel was called an evil and cursed ghost, but at the same time he was an uninvited guest. Translators of “Beowulf” tried to save alliteration (yet not always on the first syllable), but they could not save its old function. Modern reader would vainly try to find usual approaches: the poem has got few similes, epithets are rather relative, and there are no metaphors at all. From the very beginning we should pay attention to great number non-practical poetic words and synonyms, especially connected with princes, sailing and war. In Anglo-Saxon there are no usual principles of designation of simultaneity of events. Main plot is always interrupted with digressions. These digressions, on their part, compose another plot that has own plan and system, yet they are not noticeable during first reading. Both plots cooperate with each other with obeying special rules. Many events are not running, from time to time we can see hints about people and battles that are not remembered for at least one thousand years. It is also interesting to know about other poetic approaches of ancient times.
Study of “Beowulf”
Researchers of Beowulf, that are linguists, archeologists, historians interpreted difficult parts of the poem, described its rhythm, revealed origins of Anglo-Saxon epics, their connections with myths, legends and history, its relationship with Bible, Scandinavian and Icelandic traditions. They found out influence of Homer, Latin authors and “fathers of church”. ”Beowulf” was a source of knowledge about way of life, religion, and ethics of ancient Germans. And relatively not long ago the poem was revealed as source of good verse. Then first works about its poetic structure and artistic influence appeared. After the theory of two American folklorists (М. Parry, А. В. Lord) was found, many researches started searching basis and framework of the poem, i.e. already made parts that singer used. М. Parry specialized on ancient Greek epics and was studying epics on Balkans. He drew a conclusion that text of heroic epics was not learned by heart, but improvised, but improvised according to strict rules. A singer combined word formulas and always used traditional topics, i.e. habitual to this sort of genre (arrival of hero, departure of hero, arrival of ambassador etc.). This theory was applied during studying of “Beowulf”. The aim of the research was ascertainment of the fact if the poem was a product of improvisation or a product which was written as a regular poem. There was another school that was in opposition to Parry-Lord school and affirmed that poem got one strict author, who knew Latin verses and pagan stories. The interest was focused on the personality of the author, was he half-educated tailor or a monk? There are so many works on Beowulf that every line can become a subject of discussion. For example, in the publication of Fr. Klaeber («Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg». Edited, with introduction, bibliography, notes, glossary and appendices by Fr. Klaeber. Third edition with first and second supplements. D. C. Heath and Company. Lexington, Massachusetts, 1950) text of Beowulf occupies about 120 pages and preface and comments – about 300 pages.
Summing up, we can say, that “Beowulf” is a difficult and many-sided poem and source of knowledge. Summarizing the poem is the first step to a good essay on Beowulf. A good essay on Beowulf should have something in common with the studies held: be rather deep and take into account historical, cultural and ethical features of that epoch. There are many articles about writing essays on ancient poems and epics. However, if you still hesitate and do not know how to write an essay on Beowulf, visit our Services page and order a great text for yourself.