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Beowulf Epic History can be found through stories, books, poems and other literary works. Examples of the lifestyles, society, aesthetics, philosophical values, politics and economics can be found and are shown in all works and writings. Authors of all times reveal the attitudes around them every time they write. The Anglo-Saxon period dates back to 449 to 1066. Anglo Saxons frequently fought with one another, but they had a great deal in common.

Besides a common language base, they shared a heroic ideal and set of traditional heroes. They admired men of outstanding courage and loyalty. It didn’t matter what tribe they cam from, if these traits were shown in a person, they were received with grave courtesy. It wasn’t just the warriors and kings that were respected in this society but scops were too. Scops were professional poets and the historians of a tribe. It was he who remembered the important heroes, the kings, the important battles and the folklore of the tribe.

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Anglo-Saxon poetry was a oral art. It was rarely written down, but was recited as a song or riddle. One of the most renown stories of this time was Beowulf. It wasn’t written down until a couple centuries ago. The story of Beowulf has been passed through many generations, but the story has still withheld a brilliant illustration of the Anglo Saxon period and has remained a true typical epic of it’s time.

Almost all heroic epics have the same elements which makes this particular style of literature stand out from others. There is the “supernatural element,” the “quest element,” the “en medias res,” “grand speeches,” and “warriors and battles.” The supernatural element is the element in the story that is above mankind. It could be a human with super strength or anything extraterrestrial. The quest element in an epic is the journey one of the main characters take for revenge, to conquer, or to save. “En medias res” means the middle.

True heroic epics usually begin in the middle of a problem or conflict. Usually, there isn’t any introduction or background information on what is going on, or the problems the characters are having when the story begins. Most grand speeches are made at the climax or turn of the story. When there is a goal being set or the story is coming to a conclusion. There are often many warriors in heroic epics, both good and bad.

The battles they have can occur at any given moment in the story. There is always a final battle at the end. Beowulf is a traditional heroic epic. The five main elements in a heroic epic can be found in the story of Beowulf. The supernatural elements in the story are Beowulf and Grendel. Grendel is the evil infamous killer and Beowulf is the hero.

King Horthgar’s town is being terrified by Grendel and they are in desperate need. It never said in the story, whether Grendel was a human being or not, but like mentioned before, heroic epics often leave out background information. The story does mention that Grendel is the decedent of Cain, the first murderer. Grendel kills men and eats them. After many failing attempts by his army, King Hrothgar and his meade hall is saved by Beowulf to save him. The Dane meade hall, Herot, was the best around but still, it was under the surveillance Grendel. He killed whoever entered this zone at night. Beowulf was said to be the strongest man on earth and killed giants. Grendel was unfazed by human weapons.

His skin was unpiercable by them, and human would have to engage in hand to hand combat with this giant in order to defeat him. There was no one who could do this except for Beowulf. The quest element in the story of Beowulf was Beowulf’s trip from his homeland in King Higlac’s village of the Geats to the land of the Danes to defeat Grendel. In the days of the Anglo Saxon period, people had to really on face to face communication as a way of informing people. They had no telephones or televisions.

It took years for Beowulf to get the message from the scop of the Danes, Hrothgar, and took years for Beowulf to travel to Denmark, home of the Danes. In the Anglo Saxon Period, people traveled by horses, across land or by boat across the sea. Beowulf took 14 men with him to Denmark on a quest to save Herot. The story of Beowulf began “en medias res,” or the middle of a conflict. Grendel had been stalking the Danes before the story began. He was already known for killing men and eating them.

Everyone feared him. In the opening section of the story, Grendel was described in detail, but the actual story began with man singing in the Herot. Grendel gets mad with the men singing of God and the creation of the earth. The men were drinking and soon they were all sleep. Grendel kills them all and eats them, “delighted with the night’s slaughter.” It never said where the men were coming from or why they were celebrating.

There were two grand speeches in the story. Both were made by Beowulf. The first speech was made when he first arrived at Denmark. He spoke of who he was, where he was from and why he was there. Beowulf boasted about himself in this speech to Hrothgar, saying that he killed so many and was great warrior.

Everyone already knew about him, but he had the right to brag. He was there to serve and defeat Grendel for the king of Danes. The next speech was made by Beowulf also. This was made at the dinning table in Herot. In this speech, Beowulf spoke of his destiny and fate.

During this period, all true warriors believed in fate and felt that there destiny was already determined. Beowulf did not care whether he died in battle or not, it was all under God’s control. “And if death does take me, sent the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrethel and he from Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!” The warriors in the story was Beowulf himself and Beowulf’s army. In a way, you can say that Grendel was a warrior also in the way that he fought and destroyed his enemies for the common purpose of self satisfaction. Beowulf’s men all came to Herot to help Beowulf defeat Grendel. There were two main battles.

In the first, Grendel was uncontested and killed and ate 30 men. In the final battle Grendel was killed. No warriors in Beowulf’s army actually assisted Beowulf in destroying Grendel, but one was killed before he had a chance to fight for himself. Beowulf, the good warrior, and was victorious in the final battle between he and Grendel. Beowulf, with only his strong grip, ripped Grendel’s shoulder and arm from his socket.

Grendel escaped but died in his swamp like home. Grendel’s arm was mounted on the rafters of the meade hall, attached to his shoulder and claw for all to see. Like a heroic epic, there are a few characteristics that define Anglo-Saxon poetry. There are three characteristics in total. Anglo-Saxon poetry has no rhyme, strong rhythm, presence of alliteration and kennings.

The lines in Beowulf do not rhyme. On the hand, lines do have rhythm. Two examples of this are the 4 beats in each line and the caesuras present in the lines. A caesura is a strong pause in the middle of the line. Alliteration is repetition of constant sounds and Beowulf is full of them. One example of alliteration is in the phrase “..the proudly setting sun.” The sound made by the s and the following vowel in both words are both very similar.

Another example is in the phrase “So Hrothgar’s men lived happy in his hall.” The sound made by the h in this example and the following vowel is the same for the words happy and hall. The final example is “The seas, was told and swing in all.,” in which the sound made by the se and sw are similar. A kenning is a metaphorical phrase or compound. Three examples of a kenning are a “powerful monster,” “shepard of evil” and “guardian of crime,” all describing Grendel. Characteristics of true heroic epics and Anglo-Saxon poetry are all present in the story of Beowulf.

The society of this time is shown in this splendid piece of literature. Anglo-Saxon society was comparatively well developed, branching out from the family unit to the clan and tribe and then to the kingdom. While the Anglo-Saxons easily developed great loyalty to their chosen leaders, they had a natural tendency toward what we should call now a democratic habit of mind. That is, they liked to hold meetings in which people could openly express what they thought and felt. Tribes fought a lot, but they often helped each other out when in need.

Beowulf was the strongest warrior of the Geats and with him he brought 14 strong and brave men to Denmark. There was no formal agreement between Higlac, the king of Geats and Hrothgar, the king of Danes to allow Beowulf to leave his homeland and take 14 warriors. The warriors were from Higlac’s army and it wasn’t his war. Beowulf left to fight Hrothgar’s war. The Geats, in the story probably relied on Beowulf for protection, but this just shows the respect that the people of the Anglo-Saxon period had for each other.

Little things like these in the story of Beowulf prove this work of art true, as both a heroic epic and authentic Anglo-Saxon poetry. Outline “Beowulf” “The story of Beowulf has been passed through many generations, but the story has still withheld a brilliant illustration of the Anglo Saxon period and has remained a true typical epic of it’s time.” Bibliography I. Beowulf is a traditional heroic epic. A. Supernatural elements 1. Grendel a.

Powers: strength, couldn’t pierce skin b. Larger than normal appetite 2. Beowulf a. Strength: killed giants, ripped of Grendal’s arm. b. Reputation: strongest man in world B. Quest Elements 1.

Geats to Denmark a. Took years to travel 2. Went over seas 3. Traveled by boat 4. Beowulf’s army a. Took 14 men C.

“En Medias Res” 1. Epic began in the middles of things a. No background info. About prior events b. No knowledge of Grendel’s life or habitat c.

Epic beginning with Grendel’s anger with Hrothgar’s men for loud music. D. Grand Speeches 1. Beowulf’s grand speech a. In which he boasted 2.

Beowulf’s speech at table a. His destiny plan 3. Hrothgar a. Explanation b. Expressed need E. Warrior’s and battles 1.

Opening battle a. Grendel kills 30 men 1. Grendel the warrior 2. Final battle a. Beowulf kills Grendel 1.

Beowulf the warrior 2. Prestidges Beowulf II. Anglo Saxon Characteristics(Beowulf) A. No Rhyme B. Strong Rhythm 1.

4 beats per line 2. Each line has a caesura(strong pause) C. Presence of Alliteration(repetition of constant sounds) 1. “The proudly setting sun” 2. “So Hrothgar’s men lived happy in his hall” 3. “The seas, was told and swing in all.” D.

Presence of Kennings(metaphorical phrase or compound) 1. “Powerful monster” 2. “Shepard of evil” 3. “Guardian of crime” III. Conclusion Anglo-Saxon Heroic Epics “Beowulf” Aaron Hull Mrs. Savick.


Since the dawn of time, the forces of evil have always tried to gain an upper hand over the forces of good. The battles between these two forces have transcended time in both different forms and in different places. Every culture since the birth of man has background stories of creation and the battles that are waged between the two forces of light and dark. Leaving in the aftermath, stories and legends that are passed down from generation to generation through the vast cultures and civilizations. Beginning with the use of oral traditions that took these stories and the use of spoken word to both inform and entertain the people of a given society. These tales also had another purpose, which was to remind the people of the evils that were around them. Lurking in the shadows, waiting to claim another victim in the war of good and evil. Such stories fed on the fears of the people and the uncertainty of the world around them. Although the stories themselves may differ considerably from region to region, the basic underlying theme has always been identical. With the coming into being of written word, these stories could now be put down for people to read and serve as a reminder of their folklore. Not only to them, but to future people who come to read these documents. We have been lucky in the fact that over the last few hundred years, we have recovered many works from all over the world, dating back through years that had been long forgotten to many of us. In a great many of these works we have come into contact with many tales of heroism and the fight between good and evil. Just as the heroism in these stories may take on different faces, so does the evil present itself in many different guises.

This brings us to one work in specific, Beowulf, one of the earliest Old English poems that we have today. It is the embodiment of the struggle between good and evil. The poem begins with the funeral of Scyld, the mythical founder of the Danish Royal House. One of his descendants builds a great hall called Heorot, and it is here that the people gather to rejoice and sing the praises of G-d. This singing angers a vile fiend named Grendel, that inhabits the nearby bog. The poet describes Grendel in this way:
The grim demon was called Grendel, a notorious ranger
of the borderlands, who inhabited the fastness of moors
and fens. This unhappy being had long lived in the land of
monsters, because G-d had damned him along with the
children of Cain. (1.97-101)
This tells the story of when Cain murdered his brother Abel and was banished from humanity by G-d. It was said that from Cain was born the monsters that roamed the earth, perpetuating their hatred and evil to all around them. Grendel is one such monster, which is why the music and song about the Lord and of Creation enrages him so enormously. The daily celebrations caused Grendel to enter the hall at nightfall when everyone had fallen asleep, and slaughter the men in protest to the music and song that filled his ears during the day. Grendel hated all of mankind and the sounds that resonated from the great hall fueled his hatred even more.
Grendel held an inborn hatred for all of mankind. Nightly Grendel would make his trip into the hall and kill whomever was there. In speaking about the nightly raids that Grendel made, the poet writes:
Thus the malign outcast, like the enemy of man that he
was, made frequent attacks and produced unspeakable
havoc. In the darkness of night he occupied the rich hall of
Heorot; but he could not approach the treasure-throne be-
cause of the Lord, nor could Grendel know His love.

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With all of his hatred and because of the evil that dwelled in his heart, Grendel would never know what they love of G-d felt like. No amount of money, or treasure could ransom the lives of the people from Grendel’s wrath. Only the blood and fear of the people could satiate Grendel’s anger. For twelve years, Grendel invaded the hall nightly to punish anyone who would be there. This was indeed a dark time for all, the once glorious great hall that echoed with the sounds of happiness and beatitude had now fell silent. There were no more songs sung or music played, only the screams of terror that seeped from the walls at night. The people took to finding places to sleep further away from the hall. Eventually, no one dared stay at the Heorot when night came, for fear of being Grendels next victim. Fear had transformed these people’s noble and good nature into a deep seething feeling helplessness and impending doom.

At this time, word has gotten across the water to Beowulf, nephew of the king of the Geats, a tribe from Sweden. Beowulf, a mythical character in his own rite, decides to travel to the aid of the king and his people in these troubled times. Upon arriving, Beowulf and his men request an audience with the king, to explain that they have come to slay this creature. The king, knowing both Beowulf’s father and the reputation that proceeds Beowulf is very grateful for his coming. Beowulf and his band of fighters spend the night in the great hall waiting for Grendel to appear. Just as they had suspected, night came and so did Grendel. At once Grendel pounced on a sleeping soldier ripping into him and consuming him blood, bone and all. But this would be the last victim that Grendel would ever take, because next Grendel reached for the ready Beowulf. As Grendel reached for him, Beowulf took hold of the abomination with his mighty hand, grasping the monster so tightly that he could not get free. Bewildered, and frightened, Grendel tried to free himself from the death grip of Beowulf, but his attempts were in vain. Beowulf had no intention of letting the monster leave that night with his life. The two forces, good and evil clashed in a tempestuous battle, one that destroyed the inner contents of the great hall. Grendel feverishly tried escaping from Beowulf, but to no avail. Beowulf’s grip on the wretched pestilence was both tight and true. When the battle reached an end, Grendel defeated and mortally wounded, retreated to his murky lair which was to be tomb. Beowulf as he had promised, stood victorious before the Danes. In his hand he held the arm of Grendel that he torn off at the shoulder. All was right again, and good had once again triumphed over evil.

Following the victory of Beowulf, the king rewarded Beowulf with a treasure of fine metals, a jewel studded sword and a large banquet in celebration. Once more happiness had returned to the king and his people, they gave thanks to Beowulf and to the Lord for sending them a hero in their darkest hour. After the celebration, it was now time to rest and the hall was full once more with men asleep. Only the tranquillity was short lived, because that night as the men slept another of Hell’s creatures stormed into the hall. This time it was Grendel’s mother, an evil creature like her son, bent on avenging the death of her son. Once discovered she snatched up a man, the king’s most cherished counselor, and the bloodied talon of her son’s. The king’s heart was once again heavy with the news of the events that happened the past night, not only has another foul beast appeared but he lost a most loved comrade. Beowulf unaware of what had happened, remarked about how quiet the previous night was. Overcome by his sorrow, the king exclaimed that the hall was attacked by another creature and proclaimed that Beowulf go and dispose of this fiend. Beowulf, noble hero that he is, gives his reply:
She can go where she likes, but I promise you that
she shall find no cover from me, whether in the bowels of
the earth, in mountain thickets, or in the depths of the
ocean. Have patience in your grief today, as I know you

Beowulf and the men soon came to the murky water that housed the hellish she-beast below. Without hesitation, Beowulf plunged into the sanguine lake to confront Grendel’s mother. He swam down into the dark waters, until he was seized by the beast and dragged through the water. He found himself in an underground hall aglow with a roaring fire, standing before Grendel’s mother. Attempting to end his quest quickly, Beowulf swung his trusted sword at the head of the demon-woman. The blade struck without a scratch to the creature. Beowulf now found himself overtaken in the hands of Grendel’s mother. Furiously fighting her with all his strength, Beowulf sees a sword hanging on the wall. This was no ordinary sword, it was forged by the ancient titans. Beowulf was able to free himself from her and grab the sword. Swinging the sword with all his might Beowulf slashed off the head of his adversary. Taking only the head of the beast and the handle of the mystical sword, Beowulf swam back up the now clear water to the surface. With the beasts dead, and the evil purged, the once dark gloomy waters pure once more. They returned to the hall and brought the news of Beowulf’s victory over the evil that befell them. As before, they celebrated the bravery of Beowulf and gave praise to the Lord for this wondrous deliverance.

This poem illustrates the faces that evil takes on, and the way in which good conquers evil. Grendel was the embodiment of the fear of the dark, and the mysteries that the night holds. What lurks inside the shadows, behind corners, in the forest when the sun retreats and the minions of Hell come out into the moonlit night. How once the light of day is swallowed by twilight, blanketing everything with a cloak of darkness. Grendel’s hatred for the people of the great hall and their praises of the Lord are indicative of the opposition between the light and the dark; Grendel being the dark force and the songs and praises of the people representing the light of the Lord.
Grendel’s mother is a symbol of evil’s revenge upon man. She is a factor used to tip the scales in the ongoing conflict between the covenant of the Lord and the servants of the underworld. Beowulf is the hero, present to defend the realm of G-d, and to vanquish the evil. This timeless motif of the struggles between man’s faith and his fears is encapsulated in this poem, ultimately proving that whatever incarnation evil takes will be suppressed by the power of G-d.


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