Plot summary


In the sixth century, Hrothgar was the ruler of Denmark. For many years, a monster named Grendel was raiding Hrothgar’s royal hall at night. Grendel terrorized Hrothgar’s warriors (called thanes). News of the trouble came to Beowulf, who was of the tribe of the Geats in southern Sweden. Beowulf is a strong young man of great strength (“bee-wolf” à wolf that likes honey à bear). With 14 companions, B. sails to Denmark to offer help to H. B. kills Grendel and then his mother. Fifty years later, now-king B. fights with a fire-breathing dragon and dies.





Historical Background


Anglo-Saxons conquer (Angle-land = England) and begin to settle down into farming communities. Small kingdoms arise (Kent, Northumbria, etc.). Slaves and peasants do the farming, while men of the upper class – “thanes” or free warriors – were ruled by a king who was their ruler in battle. Many thanes were relatives or friends of the kind. They gather in his large assembly hall to advise him on important matters.


Life in the “mead hall” (mead=fermented liquor made from honey) was boisterous. Noisy disputes, even fights. These warlike people honored a fighter. It wasn’t bad manners to boast of great deeds or to be quarrelsome.


Flyting: traditional amusement; matching of wits between two warriors; try to belittle the opponent; crowd ‘votes’ on winner


In Enland, Christianity spreads slowly, as some kingdoms become Christianized; in Northumbia, where Bede lived and worked, great monestaries were founded


-         England officially” Christian by 700 A.D.

-         still, large pockets of paganism or Christian veneer

-         superstitions, charms, and legends of old heathen gods persist

-         monestaries founded and their influence spreads to the populace

o       monks start writing in Latin, but then begin writing in English





-         Values of Anglo-Saxon culture

-         Fate (wyrd) vs. faith

-         Christian scop?

-         The unpredictability of life

-         Need to live a life of integrity

o       Definition: a life based on past and future and resigned to endure predictability with dignity and honor

-         Christians have an important perspective that non-believers lack

o       Where the soul goes (2802-2808), etc.

o       Beowulf asks for pagan ceremonies

-         Four tones: heroic, elegiac (sorrowful), pensive/reflective, moral/didactic

-         What determines our destiny?

-         Author rraises Beowulf’s values without necessarily judging his religion (virtuous monotheists)

-         Visions of youth vs. visions of age

-         Why is Beowulf so eager for fame? Or is he?

-         Role of myth in our lives and culture

-         Others??