57 terms


princes, blood - relatives of the king
ruling nobility, one level below Athelings
commoners, but with a social dignity only slightly less than that of the lower nobility (below the Eorldermen)
free farmers, of which there were three main classes
relatively well - to - do peasants who paid rent on their land (a main class of the Ceorls)
less well off than the geneatas, who worked out their rent by doing labor
least well off of the farming class, little different from the serfs of a different period
slaves or bondsmen
Around 420 - 430 AD
large numbers of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began settling in England
social organization of the period
purpose of tribal organization
enable the clan to hold its own land and conquer new territory
protection of the king
immediately surrounding the king was a body - guard of kinsmen and trusted thanes, who would protect him in battle - or die with him
"A warrior will sooner die than live a life of shame"
Wiglaf, in Beowulf, lines 2890 - 2891
"Think ye of the times when we oft spake at mead
When we on the benches did raise up our boast,
Henchmen in the hall - about hard strife,
Now may each one make trial of how bold he be.
Now will I tell my lineage to all
That I was in Mercia of a mighty kindred...
Nor shall the thanes mid the people reproach me,
That I would consent to flee from this fight,
My home to seek, now my lord lieth low,
Slain in the strife -"
boast uttered by Aelfwyn on August 10, 991 AD, after a small band of Anglo - Saxons withstood a Viking raid near Maldon, on the River Blackwater in Essex
northwestern European germanic tribes
included danes, frisians, wendels, wulfings, Heathobards, hetware, and franks
"Thought must be the harder , heart the keener
Spirit shall be more as our might lessens"
near the end of the battle at Maldon, Lord Byrthwold utters the most famous liens in all of Anglo - Saxon poetry to encourage the few remaining Essex men
formal boast
public commitment a man makes to do the right thing by his lord in return for gifts and protection. An entire people were disgraced if their lord were abandoned in battle
"It is always better
To avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
Means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
Win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
That will be his best and only bulwark."
first principle of the northern warrior's honor code, from Beowulf, spoken by Beowulf himself, in lines 1384-1389
Anglo - Saxon pagan cultural attitude
main Anglo - Saxon pagan concerns
brooding, disturbed by the transience of human life, poetry evokes a sense of impending doom, intermittent warfare, blood feud
blood feud
the death of a kinsman must be avenged. The only alternative was for his survivors to accept payment of wergild (lit. "man-money") as compensation
Anglo - Saxon pagan religion
stern and gloomy; wyrd ("Fate") was ultimately in control of a man's destiny
Anglo - Saxon literature
originally oral and formulaic
shaper of words, or the carrier of news and poetry
most common topic of Anglo - Saxon poetry
battle (The Fight at Finnsburg, Ravenswood, The Battle of Maldon) or grief and loss ("The Seafarer" or "The Wanderer")
"I'll not believe that the world's weal
Will stand. Always, ever will one
Of these three things ere a man's ending
Turn towards doubt: age of sickness
Or sword-hatred, tear the fragile heart from the fated..."
from "The Seafarer"
"A wise man must know the misery of that time
When the world's wealth shall all stand waste,
Just as in our own day all over middle - earth
Walls are standing wind - swept and wasted,
Downed by frost, and dwellings covered with snow.
The mead hall crumbles, its master lies dead,
Bereft of pleasures, all the warrior band perished
Boldly by the wall..."
from "The Wanderer"
600 AD
the conversion of the Anglo - Saxons to Christianity
great majority of Anglo - Saxon writing
preserved in the form of sermons, histories, and translations of portions of the Bible
most of Old English poetry, both Christian and pre - Christian
contained within four manuscripts
"Then this young man stripped himself - that was God Almighty.
Strong and courageous, he climbed up on the high gallows,
Brave in the sight of many, as he set out to redeem mankind."
In "The Dream of the Rood" (lines 39-41), Christ on the cross is portrayed as a warrior - hero
Anglo - Saxon alliterative meter
does not use rhyme (see line, or distich); instead, alliteration ties both sides of the line together - look for two or three alliterated words per line
line divided in two by a caesura (pause) with two stressed syllables in each half line
metaphorical epithet. Related to the word "ken", or one's range of knowledge.
two kinds of kennings
synecdoche and metonymy
a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole ("bone-cage" for body)
a figure of speech by which one word is used for another that suggests it ("ring - giver" for king)
how many remaining manuscripts of Beowulf
one damaged by fire
Anglo - Saxon poetic conventions
ironic understatement
"They decked his body no less bountifully
With offerings than those first ones did
Who cast him away when he was a child..."
Beowulf, lines 43-45. The point is that Scyld Scefying was a destitute orphan when he first came to the Danes - he had nothing. This is an example of litotes
"Losses I avenged
So no earthly offspring of Grendel
Need ever boast of that bout before dawn..."
Beowulf, lines 2005 - 2007. an example of litotes. "Bout" to describe the epic battle between Beowulf and Grendel
Setting of Beowulf
set in Denmark and southern Sweden
Characters of Beowulf
Danes and Geats (South Swedes), not Saxons or Anglo - Saxons
Beowulf and his men
Three major parts of Beowulf
fight with Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon
long - house or mead hall
central building in the wall - stead of a Danish king. The grander it was, the more powerful its lord appeared.
wonder of the world
southern Sweden
"The poet conjures up a work as remote as Shield's funeral boat borne towards the horizon, as commanding as the horn-pronged gables of King Hrothgar's hall, as solid and dazzling as Beowulf's funeral pyre that is set ablaze at the end. These opening and closing scenes retain a haunting presence in the mind; they are set pieces but they have the life-marking power of certain dreams. They are like the pillars of the gate of horn, through which the wise dreams of true art can still be said to pass.

What happens in between is what W.B. Yeats would have called a phantasmagoria. Three agons - three struggles in which the preternatural force-for-evil of the hero's enemies comes springing at him in demonic shapes; three encounters with what the critical literature and the textbook glossaries call 'the monsters' - in three archetypal sites of fear; the barricaded night-house, the infested underwater current and the reptile-haunted rocks of a wilderness."
Seamus Haney, from his introduction to Beowulf
monster confusingly described as being of the kin of Cain, a demon, and vaguely manlike in form; physical but has supernatural powers; shadowy presence, a dark, nightmarish threat; may be a symbol of a deadly aspect of Germanic culture
Grendel's Fen
ugly and fearsome place, where Grendel's mother lives
Major Themes in Beowulf
loyalty, reputation, generosity, and revenge - overarching all these themes is the question of what it means to be a good man
Important Question about the text
What does Grendel represent? What makes a man good or bad in Beowulf's world? What does a hero need besides superhuman strength and courage? What does Beowulf do? What does Hrothgar know? What does the fight with the dragon tell us about Beowulf? What does it tell us about how to be a good man? Who is Wiglaf, and why is He important?