BEOWULF – AN ENGLISH LITERATURE CLASSIC -SCANDANAVIA BEFORE CHRISTIANIZATION – DURING CHRISTIANIZATED ENGLAND – INCLUDING ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATION IN SWEDEN

First “Kennings” – ”
Kennings are also a significant technique in Beowulf. They are evocative poetic descriptions of everyday things, often created to fill the alliterative requirements of the metre. For example, a poet might call the sea the “swan-road” or the “whale-road”; a king might be called a “ring-giver.” There are many kennings in Beowulf, and the device is typical of much of classic poetry in Old English, which is heavily formulaic. The poem also makes extensive use of elided metaphors.[64]
J. R. R. Tolkien argued that the poem is an elegy.[4]
Interpretation and criticism[edit]
The history of modern Beowulf criticism is often said to begin with J.R.R. Tolkien,[65] author and Merton professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, who in his 1936 lecture to the British Academy criticised his contemporaries’ excessive interest in its historical implications.[66] He noted in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics that as a result the poem’s literary value had been largely overlooked and argued that the poem “is in fact so interesting as poetry, in places poetry so powerful, that this quite overshadows the historical content…”[4]
In historical terms, the poem’s characters would have been Norse pagans (the historical events of the poem took place before the Christianisation of Scandinavia), yet the poem was recorded by Christian Anglo-Saxons who had largely converted from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism around the 7th century – both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism share a common origin as both are forms of Germanic paganism. Beowulf thus depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of paramount importance.[67]
Stanley B. Greenfield (professor of English, University of Oregon) has suggested that references to the human body throughout Beowulf emphasise the relative position of thanes to their lord. He argues that the term “shoulder-companion” could refer to both a physical arm as well as a thane (Aeschere) who was very valuable to his lord (Hrothgar). With Aeschere’s death, Hrothgar turns to Beowulf as his new “arm.”[68] In addition, Greenfield argues the foot is used for the opposite effect, only appearing four times in the poem. It is used in conjunction with Unferth (a man described by Beowulf as weak, traitorous, and cowardly). Greenfield notes that Unferth is described as “at the king’s feet” (line 499). Unferth is also a member of the foot troops, who, throughout the story, do nothing and “generally serve as backdrops for more heroic action.”[69]
At the same time, Richard North (professor of English, University College London) argues that the Beowulf poet interpreted “Danish myths in Christian form” (as the poem would have served as a form of entertainment for a Christian audience), and states: “As yet we are no closer to finding out why the first audience of Beowulf liked to hear stories about people routinely classified as damned. This question is pressing, given […] that Anglo-Saxons saw the Danes as ‘heathens’ rather than as foreigners.”[70] Grendel’s mother and Grendel are described as descendants of Cain, a fact which some scholars link to The Cain Tradition.[71]
Other scholars disagree, however, as to the meaning and nature of the poem: is it a Christian work set in a Germanic pagan context? The question suggests that the conversion from the Germanic pagan beliefs to Christian ones was a very slow and gradual process over several centuries, and it remains unclear the ultimate nature of the poem’s message in respect to religious belief at the time it was written. Robert F. Yeager (Professor of literature, University of North Carolina at Asheville) notes the facts that form the basis for these questions:
That the scribes of Cotton Vitellius A.XV were Christian is beyond doubt; and it is equally certain that Beowulf was composed in a Christianised England, since conversion took place in the sixth and seventh centuries. Yet the only Biblical references in Beowulf are to the Old Testament, and Christ is never mentioned. The poem is set in pagan times, and none of the characters is demonstrably Christian. In fact, when we are told what anyone in the poem believes, we learn that they are pagans. Beowulf’s own beliefs are not expressed explicitly. He offers eloquent prayers to a higher power, addressing himself to the “Father Almighty” or the “Wielder of All.” Were those the prayers of a pagan who used phrases the Christians subsequently appropriated? Or, did the poem’s author intend to see Beowulf as a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues?[72]
Writer E. Talbot Donaldson seemed extremely certain in his criticism of the poem, focusing on the exact age and locational elements that surrounded the poem itself. He claimed that it was probably composed more than twelve hundred years ago during the first half of the eighth century. Donaldson also believes the writer to be a native of what was then West Mercia, located in the Western Midlands of England. However, the late tenth-century manuscript “which alone preserves the poem” originated in the kingdom of the West Saxons – as it is more commonly known.[73][page needed] As a result of the 1731 fire that seriously damaged the manuscript, Donaldson claims that several lines and words have been lost from the poem.
Concerning language, Donaldson argues that the reason as to why Beowulf is difficult to connect with is because there have been numerous transcriptions starting from the poem’s composition up until it was copied into manuscript form. Even though there have been many debates about whether there are Christian entities present within the poem,
Donaldson is certain that “the poet who put the materials into their present form was a Christian and… poem reflects a Christian tradition”.[73][page needed]
HE POINTS OUT THE USE OF GOD AND HIS RECOGNISED WILL AS WELL AS THE DESCRIPTION OF GRENDEL AS A DESCENDANT OF CAIN.
HE ALSO MENTIONS THE INCLUSION OF HEAVEN AND HELL IN THE POEM AS THE DEAD AWAIT GOD’S JUDGEMENT WHILE THE DAMNED SUCH AS GRENDEL AND HIS MOTHER ARE TO BE THRUST INTO THE FLAMES OF HELL.
Artistic adaptations[edit]
========

The events described in the poem take place in the late 5th century, AFTER THE ANGLES AND SAXONS HAD BEGUN THEIR MIGRATION TO ENGLAND,
AND BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE 7TH CENTURY, A TIME
WHEN THE ANGLO-SAXON PEOPLE WERE EITHER
NEWLY ARRIVED
OR STILL IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH THEIR
GERMANIC KINSMEN
IN NORTHERN GERMANY
AND SCANDINAVIA AND POSSIBLY ENGLAND.
The poem may have been
BROUGHT TO ENGLAND BY PEOPLE OF GEATISH ORIGINS.[8] It has been suggested that Beowulf was first composed in the
EAST ANGLIA – ENGLAND – 7TH CENTURY A.D.
7th century at Rendlesham in East Anglia, as the Sutton Hoo ship-burial also shows close connections with Scandinavia, and also that the
East Anglian royal dynasty, the Wuffings, were descendants of the Geatish Wulfings.[9][10]
11TH CENTURY A.D. – KING ALFRED OR KING CANUTE:
Others have associated this poem with the court of King Alfred, or with the court of King Canute.[11]

Ohthere’s mound
The poem deals with legends, was composed for entertainment, and does not separate between fictional elements and
REAL HISTORIC EVENTS, SUCH AS THE RAID BY KING HYGELAC INTO FRISIA.
SCANDINAVIA:
SCHOLARS GENERALLY AGREE THAT MANY OF THE PERSONALITIES OF BEOWULF ALSO APPEAR IN SCANDINAVIAN SOURCES (SPECIFIC WORKS DESIGNATED IN THE FOLLOWING SECTION).[12] This does not only concern people (e.g., Healfdene, Hroðgar, Halga, Hroðulf, Eadgils and Ohthere), but also clans (e.g., Scyldings, Scylfings and Wulfings) and some of the events (e.g., the Battle on the Ice of Lake Vänern).
ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS – SWEDEN:
The dating of the events in the poem has been confirmed by archaeological excavations of the barrows indicated by Snorri Sturluson and by Swedish tradition
as the graves of Ohthere (DATED TO C. 530 A.D.)
and his son Eadgils (DATED TO C. 575 A.D.) IN UPPLAND, SWEDEN.[13][14][15]
DENMARK:
In Denmark,
recent archaeological excavations at Lejre, where Scandinavian tradition located the seat of the Scyldings, i.e.,
Heorot, have revealed
THAT A HALL WAS BUILT IN THE MID-6TH CENTURY A.D., EXACTLY THE TIME PERIOD OF BEOWULF.[16] Three halls, each about 50 metres (164 feet) long, were found during the excavation.[16]

Finds from EADGILS’ MOUND, left, excavated in 1874
AT UPPSALA, SWEDEN, SUPPORT BEOWULF
and the sagas. Ongenþeow’s barrow, right, has not been excavated.[13][14]

SCANDINAVIA:
Artistic adaptations[edit]
Kennings are also a significant technique in Beowulf. They are evocative poetic descriptions of everyday things, often created to fill the alliterative requirements of the metre. For example, A POET MIGHT CALL THE SEA THE “SWAN-ROAD” OR THE “WHALE-ROAD”; A KING MIGHT BE CALLED A “RING-GIVER.” There are many kennings in Beowulf, and the device is typical of much of classic poetry in Old English, which is heavily formulaic. The poem also makes extensive use of elided metaphors.[64]
J. R. R. Tolkien argued that the poem is an elegy.[4]
Interpretation and criticism[edit]
The history of modern Beowulf criticism is often said to begin with J.R.R. Tolkien,[65] author and Merton professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, who in his 1936 lecture to the British Academy criticised his contemporaries’ excessive interest in its historical implications.[66] He noted in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics that as a result the poem’s literary value had been largely overlooked and argued that the poem “is in fact so interesting as poetry, in places poetry so powerful, that this quite overshadows the historical content…”[4]
In historical terms, the poem’s characters would have been Norse pagans
(the historical events of the poem took place before the Christianisation of Scandinavia),
YET THE POEM WAS RECORDED BY CHRISTIAN ANGLO-SAXONS WHO HAD LARGELY CONVERTED FROM THEIR NATIVE ANGLO-SAXON PAGANISM AROUND THE 7TH CENTURY –
both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism share a common origin as both are forms of Germanic paganism. Beowulf thus depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of paramount importance.[67]
Stanley B. Greenfield (professor of English, University of Oregon) has suggested that references to the human body throughout Beowulf emphasise the relative position of thanes to their lord. He argues that the term “shoulder-companion” could refer to both a physical arm as well as a thane (Aeschere) who was very valuable to his lord (Hrothgar). With Aeschere’s death, Hrothgar turns to Beowulf as his new “arm.”[68] In addition, Greenfield argues the foot is used for the opposite effect, only appearing four times in the poem. It is used in conjunction with Unferth (a man described by Beowulf as weak, traitorous, and cowardly). Greenfield notes that Unferth is described as “at the king’s feet” (line 499). Unferth is also a member of the foot troops, who, throughout the story, do nothing and “generally serve as backdrops for more heroic action.”[69]
At the same time, Richard North (professor of English, University College London) ARGUES THAT THE BEOWULF POET INTERPRETED “DANISH MYTHS IN CHRISTIAN FORM” (AS THE POEM WOULD HAVE SERVED AS A FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT FOR A CHRISTIAN AUDIENCE), and states: “As yet we are no closer to finding out why the first audience of Beowulf liked to hear stories about people routinely classified as damned. This question is pressing, given […]
HEBREW ORIGIN OF BEOWULF:
THAT ANGLO-SAXONS SAW THE DANES AS ‘HEATHENS’ RATHER THAN AS FOREIGNERS.”[70] GRENDEL’S MOTHER AND GRENDEL ARE DESCRIBED AS DESCENDANTS OF CAIN, A FACT WHICH SOME SCHOLARS LINK TO THE CAIN TRADITION.[71]
Other scholars disagree, however, as to the meaning and nature of the poem: is it a Christian work set in a Germanic pagan context? The question suggests that the conversion from the Germanic pagan beliefs to Christian ones was a very slow and gradual process over several centuries, and it remains unclear the ultimate nature of the poem’s message in respect to religious belief at the time it was written. Robert F. Yeager (Professor of literature, University of North Carolina at Asheville) notes the facts that form the basis for these questions:
That the scribes of Cotton Vitellius A.XV were Christian is beyond doubt; and IT IS EQUALLY CERTAIN THAT BEOWULF WAS COMPOSED IN A CHRISTIANISED ENGLAND, SINCE CONVERSION TOOK PLACE IN THE SIXTH AND SEVENTH CENTURIES. YET THE ONLY BIBLICAL REFERENCES IN BEOWULF ARE TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, AND CHRIST IS NEVER MENTIONED. THE POEM IS SET IN PAGAN TIMES, AND NONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS DEMONSTRABLY CHRISTIAN. In fact, when we are told what anyone in the poem believes, we learn that they are pagans. Beowulf’s own beliefs are not expressed explicitly.
HE OFFERS ELOQUENT PRAYERS TO A HIGHER POWER, ADDRESSING HIMSELF TO THE “FATHER ALMIGHTY” OR THE “WIELDER OF ALL.” Were those the prayers of a pagan who used phrases the Christians subsequently appropriated? Or, did the poem’s author intend to see Beowulf as a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues?[72] – Beowulf
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This article is about the epic poem. For the character, see Beowulf (hero). For other uses, see Beowulf (disambiguation).
Beowulf

Beowulf Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f. 132r.jpg
First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv
Full title
Unknown

Author(s)
Unknown

Language
West Saxon dialect of Old English

Date
c. 700–1000 (date of poem), c. 975–1025 (date of manuscript)

State of existence
Manuscript suffered damage from fire in 1731

Manuscript(s)
Cotton Vitellius A. xv

First printed edition
Thorkelin (1815)

Genre
epic heroic poetry

Verse form
Alliterative verse

Length
c. 3182 lines

Subject
The battles of Beowulf, the Geatish hero, in youth and old age

Personages
Beowulf, Hygelac, Hrothgar, Wealhþeow, Hrothulf, Æschere, Unferth, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, Wiglaf, Hildeburh.

Beowulf (/ˈbeɪ.ɵwʊlf/; in Old English [ˈbeːo̯ˌwulf]) is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative lines. It is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature.[1] It was written in England some time between the 8th[2][3] and the early 11th century.[4] The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the “Beowulf poet”.[5]

The poem is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel’s mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland (Götaland in modern Sweden) and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is fatally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf

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About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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