Beowulf

Fact of Fiction

Historical Context

Originally two different culture groups, the Angles and the Saxons eventually combined to become the Anglo-Saxons, a unique, and later culturally significant group. (Neil, 80)


The Angles and the Saxons carried with them a common, Germanic language. This made it possible for communication among the people of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. (Neil, 80)


Anglo-Saxon morals differed from that of today. They showed appreciation for personal valor, fine ornaments, glory, fame, and showed admiration to those of higher status.


When the story of Beowulf was printed in Old English, many more people gained access to the story because Old English was the language spoken in most homes during that time period. This was significant in that now, even the average person could have access to the epic poem.


Alfred the Great, was King of Wessex and was a very influential and important king during the Anglo-Saxon time period. He is most credited for creating a system of roads and heading a resistance against the Vikings. He defeated the Danes in the Battle of Edington. Alfred also established a legal code that has features still seen in the laws of today. (Neil, 83-85)

Background of Beowulf

Beowulf is an epic poem (3000 lines long), written in Old English, during the Anglo-Saxon time period. Although it is a pagan story, there is a lot of Christian influence because the story was written down by the clergy long after the story began in the oral tradition.(Shmoop)


Although it is debatable, many scholars believe that Beowulf is the oldest, surviving piece of literature in English. (Shmoop)


Beowulf is royalty, his father was royalty, and his uncle is a king. During this era, it was important that the hero be of royalty because those were the people of power. (Gang, 53)


Beowulf is from Geatland, (modern day Sweden) but travels to Denmark to help the people from an attacking monster. Beowulf had a democratic mindset, meaning that if he felt he had the power to help, he felt that he was obligated to do so.


Beowulf is the original hero, making him the archetype for many heroes that came after. Because of his heroic traits (bravery, courage, intelligence, etc.) Beowulf has become the mold for many of the heroes in literature and film.

Archeological Finds

The first excavation took place in 1939 and uncovered a 90-foot long ship. The dig was completed under the direction of Charles Phillips and, upon completion, was given to the British Museum for conservation. (Sutton Hoo Society)


The same mound where the ship had been found was re-excavated in 1965 and 1967, revealing even more parts of the ship. (Sutton Hoo Society)


Between 1983 and 1992, even more mounds were excavated, revealing more about royal ship burials. In Mound 17, the remains of the "Sutton Hoo prince" were found; along with the remains of his shield, source, horse, and gilt-bronze ornaments. (Sutton Hoo Society)


In 2000, the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service excavated an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. A high proportion of 'warrior' status burials made this find stand out as one of the most important archaeological finds of the Anglo-Saxon culture. (Sutton Hoo Society)

Factual Connections

In the epic poem, Beowulf seeks glory and fame, and every thing he does is a step towards gaining more glory for himself and his king. He is seeking glory when he fights all three of the monsters in the story. In lines 245-255 Beowulf states that he will fight Grendel with his bare hands because Grendel does not use weapons. He does this because he wants the glory and fame for his king.


Their are Christian influences in Beowulf, like Grendel not attacking Hrothgar because "his throne was protected by God"(Beowulf, 84) and Grendel being a "decedent of Cain" (Beowulf, 20). The heavy Christian influence found in Beowulf is a result of the story being written down by the clergy long after it had been told originally.

Opinions

Based on the research, I have found that Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon culture fit together seamlessly. With Anglo-Saxon culture having such admiration for people of royalty, those who could protect themselves and others, and those who seek glory, it is no wonder that Beowulf was an important story for the culture. The story has become a representation of the time period and shows many of the important morals, ideals, and cultural norms of the time.

Works Cited

Gang, WANG “The isolated hero: Beowulf” Sino-US English Teaching 4.3 (October 2007): 52-55. Web.

Heaney, Seamus “Beowulf: A New Verse Translation” New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. Web.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Beowulf." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.

"The Sutton Hoo Society" The Sutton Hoo Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014 <http://www.suttonhoo.org/archeology.asp>