History of the Epic: Beowulf

The EPIC poem, Beowulf, is one of the oldest existing poems written during the Anglo-Saxon period: "Its author may have been a native of what was then Mercia, the Midlands of England today, although the late tenth-century manuscript, which alone preserves the poem, originated in the south in the kingdom of the West Saxons." (The Norton Anthology 21) It was written in the early eleventh century AD and is preserved in one text in the Cottonian collection of manuscripts. Unfortunately, the Beowulf manuscript was damaged in a great fire in 1731, especially the outer edges. As a result, a number of lines and words have been lost from the poem. Luckily, transcripts were made by the Danish scholar G.J. Thorkelin at the end of the eighteenth century. He helped to preserve many hundreds of words from the original manuscript. Unfortunately, this doesn't change the fact that there are large gaps in the text as we know it. Even if the manuscript had never been damaged, it would still be difficult to understand. Yet it still captures the hearts of the readers, "and because of its excellence as well as its antiquity, the poem merits the high position that it is generally assigned in the study of English poetry."(The Norton Anthology 22)

Beowulf has great value as a representation of ideas of Germanic culture. It gives descripition of "cultural assumptions about kingship, social hierarchy, the place of women in the poem's society, and the proper personal qualities for th members of the upper social ranks." (link) The poem, tells the deeds of the superhero, Beowulf, who is king of the Geats; the poem talks about his battles with an evil spirit, Grendel and his mother, and it ends with his great fight with a fiery dragon, who threatens the kingdom of the Geats.

An Excerpt from the Passage

Themes of the Passage

Summary of the passage