The Saga of Beowulf (Complete Edition)
Painful, too, is the desertion of his retainers except for his young kinsman Wiglaf. Beowulf kills the dragon but is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral rites and a lament. Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically, and thematically to a heroic tradition grounded in Germanic religion and mythology.
JRR Tolkien's translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters | Books | The Guardian
It is also part of the broader tradition of heroic poetry. The ethical values are manifestly the Germanic code of loyalty to chief and tribe and vengeance to enemies. Yet the poem is so infused with a Christian spirit that it lacks the grim fatality of many of the Eddaic lays or the sagas of Icelandic literature. Beowulf himself seems more altruistic than other Germanic heroes or the ancient Greek heroes of the Iliad. It is significant that his three battles are not against men, which would entail the retaliation of the blood feud , but against evil monsters, enemies of the whole community and of civilization itself.
Many critics have seen the poem as a Christian allegory , with Beowulf the champion of goodness and light against the forces of evil and darkness. That is not to say that Beowulf is an optimistic poem. The English critic J. Tolkien suggests that its total effect is more like a long, lyrical elegy than an epic.
Even the earlier, happier section in Denmark is filled with ominous allusions that were well understood by contemporary audiences. Beowulf has often been translated into modern English; renderings by Seamus Heaney and Tolkien completed ; published became best sellers. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Start your free trial today for unlimited access to Britannica. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.
Beowulf , considered the greatest Old English poem, is sometimes assigned to this age, but the dating is uncertain. Art flourished, with a combination of native elements and influences from Ireland and the Mediterranean. However, the poem itself may be much older. Arguments have been made for as early as the 7th century CE and as late as the 11th century CE.
The poem was composed in England , though exactly where is uncertain. The East Anglian royal house, the Wuffingas, seem to have had close ties to Sweden. This is evidenced by the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Beowulf begins with a description of the life of Scyld Scefing Old Norse Skjold , the legendary ancestor of the Scyldings or Danish royal family. The narrator then lists several descendants of Scyld before coming to Hrothgar, who rules from the hall of Heorot. Beowulf and his thegns retainers or soldiers arrive at Heorot to assist Hrothgar against the monster Grendel.
JRR Tolkien's translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters
Grendel is described as a descendant of the biblical Cain and is an outsider among men. The narrator explains that the sounds of celebration and joy coming from Heorot actually agonize Grendel. In off the moors, down through the mist bands God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping. The bane of the race of men roamed forth, hunting for prey in the high hall. Beowulf hears about the plight of Hrothgar while at home in Geatland.
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He receives the permission of the Geatish king to travel with his warriors to Denmark and fight Grendel. Beowulf and his followers are welcomed by Hrothgar and his wife Wealtheow. The following night, Heorot is again attacked. The warrior Unferth presents Beowulf with his sword Hrunting and Beowulf makes preparations with Hrothgar should he be killed in the coming fight.
Beowulf then plunges into the water and discovers a cave where Grendel and his mother have been living. Beowulf: It is better for us all to avenge our friends, not mourn them forever. Each of us will come to the end of this life on earth. He who can earn it should fight for the glory of his name. Fame after death is the noblest of goals. Arise, guardian of this kingdom, let us go, as quickly as we can and have a look at this lady monster. Beowulf , In turn, Beowulf is protected against her attacks by his armor.
The blade of his new sword is dissolved by the apparently toxic blood of the two monsters. He then takes their heads back to Hrothgar. In reward, Hrothgar showers Beowulf in gifts, including his ancestral sword Naegling.
The Saga of Beowulf
What follows is a lengthy speech by Hrothgar, urging Beowulf to remain humble and to be generous to his thegns. In essence, Hrothgar is espousing the proper behavior of a successful king and warlord. This would have reflected the values of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy as well as their counterparts in the other early Germanic kingdoms.
Following this victory, Beowulf and his followers return to Geatland, where he becomes King of the Geats and rules for roughly 50 years. At the end of this period, an elderly Beowulf is forced to confront a rampaging dragon. This prompts the furious beast to leave its lair and attack the countryside. The image of the dragon hoarding its treasure can be contrasted with generous kings and lords who properly reward their warriors and thegns for faithful military service.
Beowulf and his soldiers arrive to fight the dragon but Beowulf demands to fight it alone and proceeds to battle with the monster. The dragon overpowers Beowulf and his men flee in terror. Only Wiglaf, described as a kinsman of Beowulf, remains to aid Beowulf.
Together, Wiglaf and Beowulf kill the dragon, but Beowulf soon dies of his wounds. Wiglaf: By almighty God, I'd rather burn than see flames swirling around my lord I swear that nothing he ever did deserved an end like this, dying miserably and alone, butchered by this savage beast. Beowulf , , Beowulf himself is burned on a funeral pyre and then buried in a barrow overlooking the sea. For ten long days they made his monument, sealed his ashes in walls as straight and high as wise and willing hands could raise them And the treasures they'd taken were left there too Ground back in the earth.
While the poem has a Christian veneer, the world of Beowulf and his contemporaries is decidedly pagan. The events of the poem take place long before the conversion of Scandinavia. The story takes place within the milieu of a decidedly Pre-Christian, Germanic warrior culture.
Lords like Hrothgar and Beowulf hold lavish feasts, lead their respective warbands into battle, and reward their followers with treasure and gifts. These were the values of the ancient peoples of Scandinavia described in the poem, but they were also the values of the Anglo-Saxon nobility long after the arrival of Christianity. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication. We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Become a Member. Fiorentino, W.
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Ancient History Encyclopedia. Fiorentino, Wesley. Last modified April 28, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Apr This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.