Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxons

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Last updated: November 26, 2019

500/700/1000AD
Events of Beowulf occurred in 500 AD, Beowulf composed (told) in about 700 AD, it was finally written down in 1000 AD

Alliteration
The repetition of beginning consonant sounds in words that are close to one another. (window wiper, Mighty Mouse) Sometimes consonants within words do this also, as in “baby blue”. It is a common feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry; in most lines, two or three of the four stressed syllables perform this sound.

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Angles, Saxons, and Jutes
Northern European tribes who invaded Britain in 449.

Anglo-Saxon Period
(449-1066) the period where England isn’t unified. Ended with Norman invasion in 1066.

Beowulf
the first great literary work of England; the greatest warrior and hero of the Geats, with the strength of 30 men. He later becomes their king.

Beowulf has three fights: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon.

Boast
a vow made publicly by Anglo-Saxon warriors before the lord in a mead-hall the night before a military engagement,

Brecca
Beowulf loses a swimming competition to this childhood friend…because he had to stop and fight sea-monsters

Britons
original inhabitants before the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded England

Caesura
a break in the middle of a line of Old English poetry; it divides the four-beat line in half

Celts
The first settlers of Briton

Christianity
Beowulf tells of pagan ancestors though it is being told from a Christian perspective. It mentions God, Cain (Grendel is descended from Cain) and other Christian elements.

Comitatus
-loyalty to king, vow to protect the king at all costs!

Denmark
setting of Beowulf/ Hrothgar is king, where Heorot (mead-hall) is

Danes
the people who live in Denmark

Dragon
An ancient, powerful serpent that guards treasures in a hill. Beowulf’s final battle is against him after the dragon becomes enraged that a cup is stolen from him.

Epic
-long narrative poem focusing on an epic hero and reflecting the values of that society.

They have a serious tone and grand language.

Epic Hero
The central figure in a long narrative who possess larger -than-life qualities such as bravery, loyalty, physical strength and heroism. Different from Byronic and romantic heroes!

Geats
a Scandinavian people who lived to the north of the Danes. Beowulf is a Geat.

Grendel
a demon descended from Cain who wreaks havoc on Hrothgar’s kingdom, terrorizes the mead-hall (Heorot) for 12 years and then fights Beowulf.

Grendel’s mother
seeks revenge against Beowulf for killing her son, lives in a cave at the bottom of a lake, Beowulf fights her underwater and returns with her head

Heorot
Hrothgar’s mead-hall

hoard
a secret store of valuables or money

Hrothgar
King of the Danes and builder of Heorot, whose kingdom is terrorized by Grendel

Hyperbole
Extreme exaggeration

kenning
a 2-word phrase or compound word used to name a person, place, thing or event indirectly by referring to their qualities or actions (bone-house=body; whale-road = sea; ring-giver = king; flashing-light = sword).

Used in Anglo-Saxon poetry to help with memorization and alliteration as well as the hard-count.

mead
a fermented beverage made from grain, honey, malt, and yeast

Mead-hall
An Anglo-Saxon place of ritual, boasting, drinking, exchange of treasure/gifts (called Heorot)

Metaphor
comparison of two unlike things not using like or as

Narrative
a poem which tells a story

Old English
Germanic language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. A precursor to modern English, although very few words would be recognizable.

Pagan
Portions of Beowulf that reflect beliefs and rites older than Christianity, such as sea monsters, dragons, burial on ship

“Ring-giver”
A common kenning that stands for king/lord, because the king often presented his best warriors with gold arm bands or rings

Scop
An Old-English bard or storyteller; also known as a shaper. Scops were part of oral tradition, ensuring that the deeds of ancestors and heroes were passed down to future generations

Shield Sheafson
The ideal Danish King and first in the royal line, ancestor of Hrothgar, possessed all the traits of a good king, given a burial at sea with his treasure

Thane
a warrior who has sworn his loyalty to a lord in Anglo-Saxon society

Unferth
Danish warrior who taunts Beowulf but later gives him a gift in thanks

Weaponless
-how Beowulf was going to fight Grendel, demonstrated fairness

Wyrd
Anglo-Saxon term for “fate” or Destiny. They believed everything was already pre-ordained.

England
The largest country in the British Isles. It gets its name from early invaders: Angle-land.

Romans
the first conquerors of Britain, in 43 AD

What did the Romans bring?
walls, roads, baths, Christianity

Why did the Roman invaders leave?
They were being attacked at home. They left to defend their empire.

What is found in every line of Old English poetry?
Caesura – a stop or break.

Why were kennings used?
To give alliteration and help the poet remember.

How long is Beowulf?
Over 3000 lines long – and for hundreds of years it was TOLD, not written down.

Germanic
The origin language for English.

Other languages influenced it later.

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