Beowulf as an epic

Beowulf as an epic analysis

Beowulf as an epic story

Beowulf as an epic summary analysis 

Introduction: Beowulf is the most important specimen of Old English Literature and the oldest surviving epic of the Teutonic people. It is the only extant epic of it's kind in ancient Germanic language. It consists of 3182 lines. Its manuscript was first found in Sir Robert Cotton's collection (now in the British Museum). It is very likely a collection of tales, sung by the bards, later strung together by one hand and written in the West-Saxon dialect. In the sixth century, Angles brought the story of Beowulf with them to England and it was written in the first half of the eighth century. In 1706, it was recorded as being in Sir Robert Cotton's library. 

Like all other pagan poems Beowulf was recorded by clerics of the monasteries and consequently the Christianate elements crept in it. This accounts for the intermingling of the pagan and Christian elements in the poem. 

Beowulf can not be called a true national epic of the English because neither its scenes nor its characters belong to the Anglo-Saxon of England. The scenes and the landscapes of Beowulf are mainly from Denmark and South Sweden and not from Great Britain, while the participating figures in the epic are mainly the Danes, Geatas, Franks. 

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●The Story of Beowulf

There are many episodes, digressions and reversions in the story of Beowulf. We are, however, putting down the story in the briefest manner.

Beowulf is the son of Ecgtheow, king of Geatas. He sails to Denmark with a band of fourteen heroes and rids the Danish king Hrothgar of a horrible man-eating mere-monster, called Grendel who had been ravaging in the king's hall, Heorot for the last twelve years. Beowulf kills him in a terrible hand to hand fight. Then Grendel's mother, Cain comes to avenge the death of her only son but she, too, meets the same fate at the hand of Beowulf in her own cave under the sea.

Beowulf is then duly feasted, honoured and highly rewarded by the king. Then he comes back home and becomes the king of Geatas after his uncle's death. He reigns gloriously for a long period (forty years). But during the last phase of his reign, he fights with a fierce Fire-Dragon to save his subjects from the later's attack. He kills the Dragon but he himself is mortally wounded by its poisonous fangs and gives away his life for the noble cause of his subjects. The epic ends with a sad description of the great heroic king's funeral and his mourning subjects. 

● Merits and Demerits of Beowulf as an epic

Beowulf, epic of growth is an epic in the making. In spite, of its various defects, it has many epically qualities which call for our notice. The manner of treatment in the poem is truly epical breadth, greatness of vision, vividness of detail, simplicity and directness of ideas and a faithful representation of the Teutonic national life and manners. Even the diffuseness of treatment and well-marked characterisation are definitely epic-traits. 

● Characterisation in Beowulf

Characterisation in Beowulf is broad and bold as it is found in all epics. Beowulf is a mighty hero who dedicated his life to the cause of his subject. His noble character is marked by fearlessness, dutyfullness, loyalty, love of glory and many other qualities. In Beowulf the national life of the Teutonic people has been presented in all its details. At the head, there is the king. He generally lives in fortified place. He has the courtiers, advisers, heralds, spokesmen ministers etc. War was frequent and during the war, he is generally assisted by his warriors. The king gives them rewards. They are generally loyal to the king. All people love honour and glory even at the cost of life. They love bravery and hate cowardice. But they are all fatalistic and melancholy. 

The women are given a high position and proper honour in the society. They participate in great occasions. For example, Hrothgar's wife and daughter serve gracefully the great hero Beowulf and his companions. 

● Lofty Moral Note in the epic

The triumph of virtue over vice, good over evil. This we notice in all the great epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Iliad and Odyssey. The same we notice in Beowulf too. Here the mighty hero Beowulf comes out victorious over all the malign forces. The epic sets up noble ideals before mankind. Against these merits, certain demerits may be mentioned. For instance, the subject matter of Beowulf is not of a truly epic character. It is more like a nursery tale than a heroic story. The first two adventures of Beowulf against Grendel and his mother form quite a united whole but the last adventure i.e Beowulf's fight against the fire -Dragon is rather losely tagged with the first part. As a result, the story is hardly provided with a continuous self-evaluation of the hero.

The epic technique too, suffers in comparison with that of the Homeric epics. The deficiency of culture and the lack of artistic splendour are also noticable in this epic. Yet with all its puerile Subject matter, the ancient poet of Beowulf has no doubt succeeded considerably in making it an epic of significant merit in that primitive age in which it was composed. 

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