Beowulf is considered to be the longest and greatest poem extant in Old English. It has recently been made famous by the Beowulf movie, Beowulf game, Beowulf 3d, and the Beowulf trailer. Totalling 3,182 lines, Beowulf was written sometime between 720 - 796 a.d. It has been preserved in the Cotton Vitellius A XV manuscript, in the British Museum, which was written about the year 1000. There is no specific literary source for the Beowulf epic. Many of its characters and digressions belong to the Germanic tradition preserved through the oral traditions of the minstrels. We know nothing, however, of Beowulf's author.
The structure of Beowulf is both tripartite and bipartite. Any point in the story, therefore, may be seen as either part of the decline and self-destruction of the steadfast hero and heroic ideal, or as a moment in life to which there exists a parallel yet contrasting moment in the other half of the poem.
The story of Beowulf opens by recounting the career of Scyld Scefing, a king sent by God to the Danes. After Scyld's death the Danes prosper under his descendants. One of those descendants, Hrothgar, builds the Danes a great hall called Heorot. Heorot is soon invaded by Grendel, a half-human monster who is hated by God. The Danes are helpless against these attacks until the hero Beowulf arrives to aid them. He battles Grendel in hand to hand combat in Heorot and kills the monster by tearing off its arm. Grendel's mother then comes to avenge her son. Beowulf and Hrothgar follow her to her lair in a disgusting lake, where Beowulf fights Grendel's mother in her hall at the bottom of the lake. Beowulf almost loses, but with the aid of God is eventually victorious. He is lavishly rewarded and returns to his own land where he tells his adventures to his uncle, King Hygelac. The poem then jumps fifty years into the future when Beowulf is in old age and king of the Geats. He then fights his last battle agains a dragon that is guardian of a cursed treasure. He tries to fight the dragon alone, but can only defeat it with the aid of a younger relative, Wiglaf. The dragon is killed, but mortally wounds Beowulf in the battle, and the old king passes away while gazing on the cursed treasure. The death of Beowulf marks the decline of the Geats, who are now surrounded by enemies made in previous campaigns. Consequently, the poem ends in mourning for both Beowulf and his nation.
There have been many different versions of the Beowulf story with each different Beowulf movie. The Beowulf movie is fun to watch, but to really appreciate the Beowulf story and understand the Beowulf movie, one should read the original Beowulf poem.
Prelude Of The Founder Of
The Danish House
Beowulf on Steorarume (Beowulf in Cyberspace)
Readings from Beowulf
Beowulf in Old English: ASPR Edition
Beowulf: Gummere Translation
Beowulf in Old English: Klaeber edition
Beowulf: Interlinear Translation
Resources for the Study of Beowulf
Beowulf in Hypertext
Beowulf Study Guide
Beowulf: Child Translation
The Adventures of Beowulf
Beowulf Online Translations
Beowulf Translated by Francis B. Gummere, 1910
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