Beowulf is a truly epic poem that has survive through the centuries and is the only surviving example of Anglo Saxon heroic poetry.
Despite it's subject matter being mainly Scandinavian it has risen to become an national English epic.
The only surviving manuscript is untitled but it has been known as Beowulf since the 19th Century and consists of no less than 3,183 lines.
The events described in the poem take place in the 5th or 6th Century and this is confirmed by some of the historical events that take place in the poem and can be dated back to this period.
Many scholars who have the manuscript agree that many of the events and personalities in the poem are historically accurate and also appear in many Scandinavian sagas.
It is thought that Beowulf was first composed in the 7th Century, probably in East Anglia. Although it deals with mainly heroic matters there are also some Christian viewpoints expressed in the poem, but it is also thought that these may have been inserted at a latter date.
Although the author is unknown it is thought the the poem was formed through oral tradition and passed down by scops, tale singers. The author is considered to have been imaginative by combining pagan elements with traditional accounts of heroic and historical events with his own imagination.
The only surviving manuscript is the work of two scribes who transcribed the poem from another earlier manuscript and now resides in the British Library.
The story of Beowulf is the story of a hero of the Geats who battles three antagonists:
Grendel, who is attacking and destroying the inhabitants of Heorot in Denmark, Grendel's mother and later a dragon.
The first of these battles occurs when Beowulf and his men spend a night in Heorot. After they have all fallen asleep Grendel enters the hall and attacks, devouring one of Beowulfs men. Beowulf feigns sleep and as Grendel approaches he leaps up grabbing Grendel's arm in a wrestling hold.
A battle ensues and Beowulf's men draw their swords and rush to his aid but their swords shatter and break on his thorny spikes and iron tough skin.
Finally, in a battle that threatens to bring down the hall, Beowulf tears Grendel's arm from it's socket and he runs off into the marshes to die in his home.
The next night, after celebrating Grendel's death, Hroogar and his men sleep in the great hall but Grendel's mother attacks, seeking revenge for the death of her son and she kills Hroogar's trusted friend and warrior.
Beowulf, Hroogar and his men track down Grendel's mother to her lair under an eerie lake. Unfero, a warrior, presents Beowulf with Hrunting, a sword, as he prepares for battle. Beowulf then dives into the lake in search of Grendel's mother.
Grendel's mother is quickly alerted to Beowulf's presence and attacks him but unable to harm him through his armour she drags to the bottom of the lake.
Surrounded by the remains of the many men they have killed the two engage in a fierce battle.
At first Grendel's mother gains the upper hand as Beowulf's sword Hrunting is unable to inflict any harm on her and so he throws it to one side protect only by his armour from her attack.
In desperation he reaches out and grabs a sword from Grendel's mother's armoury and hefting it fiercely over his head he brings it down swiftly beheading her. Venturing further into their lair he finds Grendel's body which he also beheads and the returns to the surface where his men await him.
Beowulf returns home after his adventures and many years later after he has become the king of his people a slave by the name of Earnaness steals a golden goblet from a dragon's lair.
On awakening and finding the golden goblet missing the dragon leaves it's cave bellowing in rage and burning everything in its path.
Beowulf and his warriors approach to fight the dragon but all, except for a young man named Wiglaf, are too afraid. And so Wiglaf and Beowulf fight the dragon alone eventually killing him, but Beowulf is badly wounded and dies.
Beowulf is cremated and his ashes are buried high on a cliff overlooking the sea where his barrow, burial mound, can be seen by sailors.
Beowulf's people also decide to bury the dragon's treasure along with him instead of sharing it because of the curse said to be associated with it.
There are many different adaptions of Beowulf including books plays and film.
The latest is a new film due to be released November 2007 which although remains partly faithful to the original poem most of the plot elements are not.
Beowulf Movie Info
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