The Anglo-Saxon or Old English period goes from the invasion of Celtic England by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the first half of the fifth century up till the conquest in 1066 by William of Normandy.
Many Anglo-Saxon poems, in the form they are extant, were not written down until perhaps two and one-half centuries after their compositions, since scribal effort had been spent on Latin, the new language of culture. This was possible thanks to the further development of the programs of King Alfred in the late tenth century and the Benedictine Revival of the early eleventh century. After their conversion to Christianity in the seventh century the Anglo-Saxons began to develop a written literature; before that period it had been oral. The Church and the Benedictine monastic foundations and their Latin culture played an important part in the development of Anglo-Saxon England cultural life, literacy and learning. No poetry surely pre-Christian in composition survives. The survival of poetry was due to the Church: it was the result of the tenth-century monastic revival. The Benedictine Revival was the crowning of a process that had begun in the sixth century and had produced a large body of English prose by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. Anglo-Saxon England is thought to have been rich in poetry, but very little of it survives. Most of the available corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature, little more than 30,000 lines in all, survives in just four manuscript books.
From the Anglo-Saxon period dates what is known as Old English literature, composed in the vernacular Anglo-Saxon. It includes early national poetry: Pagan Epic Poetry and Pagan Elegies,Old English Christian Poetry,Latin Writings and Old English Prose.

1. Pagan Epic Poetry.

BEOWULF is the chief Anglo-Saxon epic poem. It is wholly mysterious. No one knows who wrote it, or when, or where, or why. Beowulf is a narrative poem of 3,182 lines, transmitted in a manuscript written between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, but much older. To some it is the symbol of the antiquity and continuity of English poetry. But it never mentions people who are known to have lived in Britain. All its allusions are Continental or Scandinavian. Apart from Beowulf, the only surviving remains of early national epic poetry are a fragment, Deor's Lament, The Finnesburgh Fragment, (50 lines), and two short fragments (63 lines together) of Waldere, The Battle of Maldon, The Battle of Brunanburh.

2. Pagan Lyrical and Elegiac Poems.

There is little else surviving of Anglo-Saxon literature which makes direct contact with the older heroic view. Deor's Lament, an interesting poem of forty-two lines, is the complaint of a minstrel who,after years of service to his lord, has been supplanted by a rival, Heorrenda. He comfort himself by recounting the trials of Germanic heroes, all of which were eventually overcome. But the main interest of the poem lies in its combination of this kind of subject matter with a personal, elegiac note. Together with Deor's Lament, there are other Anglo-Saxon elegies: The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Ruin, The Wife's Lament, The Husband's Message,Wulf, and The Ruin
Elegies is no more than a label of convenience applied to a small group of poems not unlike each other in theme and tone. In Saxon poetry, the lyric mood is always the elegiac. The so-called elegies are poems where the topic itself is loss: loss of a lord, loss of a loved one, the loss of fine buildings fallen into decay.



The elegiac mood wells up, then, in a great number of Old English poems. But the six so-called Elegies are poems where the topic itself is loss - loss of a lord, loss of a loved one, the loss of fine buildings fallen into decay. They are all to be found in the Exeter Book, a manuscript now in Exeter Cathedral Library.
At the heart of Anglo-Saxon society lay two key relationships. The first was that between a lord and his retainers, one of the hallmarks of any heroic society, which guaranteed the lord military and agricultural service and guaranteed the retainer protection and land. The second was the relationship, as it is today, between any man and his loved one, and the family surrounding them. So one of the most unfortunate members of this world (as for any) was the exile, the man who because of his own weakness (cowardice, for example) or through no fault of his own, was sentenced to live out his days wandering from place to place, or anchored in some alien place, far from the comforts of home. This is the situation underlying four of the elegies.

(Taken from:Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World. An Anthology,Oxford University Press,1984.)


3. Old English Christian Poetry.

Religious poetry seems to have flourished in northern England-Northumbria-throughout the eighth century, though most of it has survived only in West Saxon transcriptions of the late tenth century. Monks produced not only manuscripts, masonry, sculpture and missionaries but also a lot of Christian poetry. Much of it consists of retellings of books and episodes from the Old Testament. Much of this religious poetry is anonymous, but the names of two poets are known: CAEDMON(d. c. 670), the first English poet known by name, and CYNEWULF(late eighth or early ninth century). They wrote on biblical and religious themes. According to Bede Caedmon became the founder of a school of Christian poetry and the he was the first to use the traditional metre diction for Christian religious poetry. This period of Old English poetry is called "Caedmonian". All the old religious poems that were not assigned to Caedmon were invariably given to Cynewulf, the poet of the second phase of Old English Christian poetry. With Cynewulf, Anglo-Saxon religious poetry moves beyond biblical paraphrase into the didactic, the devotional, and the mystical. The four Anglo-Saxon Christian poems which have the name of Cynewulf are Christ, Juliana, Elene, and The Fates of the Apostles. All these poems possess both a high degree of literary craftsmanship and a note of mystical contemplation which sometimes rises to a high level of religious passion. One of the most remarkable poems written under the influence of the school of Cynewulf is The Dream of the Rood,by some it is attributed to the same Cynewulf, Andreas, and The Phoenix. Another significant Anglo-Saxon religious poem is the fragmentary Judith. The final part of Guthlac, a poem of 1370 lies, is probably Cynewulf's.

4.Latin Writings: Bede and Alcuin.

The most important Anglo-Saxon Latinist Clerks were the Venerable Bede(673-735) and Alcuin (735-804); both came out of Northumbria. To them and to those like them English Literature owes the preservation of the traces of primitive poetry.
The Venerable Bede tells us that he was born in 673 and brought up in Wearmouth Abbey. A few years later he moved to the monastery of Jarrow where he spent his whole adult life. He was the most learned theologian and the best historian of Christianity of his time. He was a teacher and a scholar of Latin and Greek, and he had many pupils among the monks of Wearmouth and Jarrow. He wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum"(Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and finished in 731. By that year he had written nearly 40 works, mostly biblical commentaries. Bede died in 735.
Alcuin was Charlemagne's collaborator from 790 onwards. He was brought up in York Alcuin left his country when the earliest civilization of the Angles was about to be destroyed, because the Danish invasions, which ruined monasteries and centres of learning, were beginning. He wrote liturgical, grammatical, hagiographical, and philosophical works, as well as numerous letters and poems in Latin, including an elegy on the Destruction of Lindsfarne by the Danes.


Bede's History is the first account of Anglo-Saxon England ever written. Bede was a monk of Jarrow who worked on this book for several years before completing it in 731. Over the next fifty years it was copied in Northumbria and elsewhere, and it became widely diffused in Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. It was first printed in 1480. The History is readable and attractive. He writes of the geography of Britain, the coming of Augustine, the Northumbrian council concerned with the acceptance of Christianity or the achievements of Abbess Hilda and the poet Caedmon. The following extract tells the story of how Caedmon discovered he possessed God's gift for poetry. [A. D. 680].

In this monastery of Streanaeshalch lived a brother singularly gifted by God's grace. So skilful was he in composing religious and devotional songs that, when any passage of Scripture was explained to him by interpreters, he could quickly turn it into delightful and moving poetry in his own English tongue. These verses of his have stirred the hearts of many folk to despise the world and aspire to heavenly things. Others after him tried to compose religious poems in English, but none could compare with him; for he did not acquire the art of poetry from men or through any human teacher but received it as a free gift from God. For this reason he could never compose any frivolous or profane verses; but only such as had a religious theme fell fittingly from his devout lips. He had followed a secular occupation until well advanced in years without ever learning anything about poetry. Indeed it sometimes happened at a feast that all the guests in turn would be invited to sing and entertain the company; then, when he saw the harp coming his way, he would get up from table and go home.
On one such occasion he had left the house in which the entertainment was being held and went out to the stable where it was his duty that night to look after the beasts. There when the time came he settled down to sleep. Suddenly in a dream he saw a man standing beside him who called him by name. "Caedmon", he said, "sing me a song." "I don't know how to sing," he replied." "It is because I cannot sing that I left the feast and came here." "What should I sing about?" he replied. "Sing about the Creation of all things," the other answered. And Caedmon immediately began to sing verses in praise of God the Creator that he had never heard before[...] When Caedmon awoke, he remembered everything that he had sung in his dream, and soon added more verses in the same style to a song truly worthy of God.

(Taken from: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Chapter 24, Translated by Leo Sherley. Price, Penguin Books, 1990.


1. Read the extract from Bede's History and write a summary of the story of Caedmon. Paraphrase Caedmon's Dialogue with the man he saw in his vision and use reporting verbs in the past tenses.

5. Old English Prose: Alfred.

The glory of Alfred's reign is Alfred himself(849-901) writes George Simpson. It was under his influence that the earlier poetic works, which had almost all been written in the Northumbrian dialect, were transcribed into the language of the West saxons. King Alfred played an important role in this literary movement. He surrounded himself with scholars and learned men, learnt Latin after he was grown up, and began to translate the works which seemed to him most apt to civilize his people. In this way he became the father of English prose-writers. He himself is credited with a translation of the Universal History of Orosius. He translated (or ordered to translate) Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the Angles. Much more important, and among the best of Alfred's works, is the version of Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiae. The first great book in English prose is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, inspired though not written by Alfred. In some monasteries casual notes of important events had been made; but under Alfred's encouragement there is a systematic revision of the earlier records and a larger survey of West Saxon history. The great Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a series of annals which start with an outline of English history from Julius Caesar's invasion to the middle of the fifth century and continues to 1154.
Another important prose work and source of information about King Alfred's life is a short biographical work, the the Life of King Alfred,written in Latin and attributed to Asser (d. 910), Bishop of Sherborne (892-910), whom Alfred called from Wales to aid him in the re-establishing of learning. Asser also wrote a Chronicle of English History for the years 849 to 887.


Caedmon, (flourished 670), entered the monastery of Streaneshalch (Whitby) between 658 and 680, when he was an elderly man. According to Bede he was an unlearned herdsman who received suddenly, in a vision, the power of song, and later put into English verses passages translated to him from the Scriptures. Bede tells us that Caedmon turned into English the story of Genesis and Exodus. The name Caedmon has been conjectured to be Celtic. The poems assumed to be Caedmon poems Caedmon are: Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, and Christ and Satan. But critical research has proved the ascription to be impossible. Perhaps the Caedmon songs were used by later singers and left their spirit in the poems that remains; but of the originals described by Bede we have no trace. The only work which can be attributed to him is the short "Hymn of Creation," quoted by Bede himself. This is all we possess of the first known English poet. It survives in several manuscripts of Bede in various dialects.


Cynewulf (late 8th or 9th century) was identified, not certainly, but probably, with a Cynewulf who was Bishop of Lindisfarne and lived in the middle of the eighth century. He was a wandering singer or poet who lived a gay and secular life. The accuracy of some of his battle scenes and seascapes showed that he had fought on land and sailed the seas. Finally, after a dream in which he had a vision of the Holy Rood, he changed his life, became a religious poet, sang of Christ, the apostles, and the saints. His work represents an advance in culture upon the more primitive Caedmonian poems.The poems attributed to him are: Juliana, Elene, The Fates of the Apostles, and Christ II.


The following nine lines are all of what survives that can reasonably be attributed to him. Bede quotes them in Chapter 24 of his History. Bede adds that these lines are only the general sense, not the actual words that Caedmon sang in his dream. Caedmon's gift remained an oral one and was devoted to sacred subjects.

"Now must we praise"

Now must we praise of heaven's kingdom the Keeper
Of the Lord the power and his Wisdom
The work of the Glory-Father, as he of marvels each,
The eternal Lord, the beginning established.

He first created of earth for the sons 5
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.
Then the middle-enclosure of mankind the Protector
The eternal Lord, thereafter made
For men, earth the Lord almighty.



1. Read Caedmon's Hymn and say what the poet sings about.
2. Look up the word caesura in your glossary and give its definition .
3. Look at the layout of the poem and comment on the composition
of the lines.
4. Write a short summary of this modern translation of Caedmon's Hymn.



1. Germanic epic poetry

For didactics' sake we speak of Pagan and Christian literature written in the Anglo-Saxon period. Since they wrote nothing down until they had become Christianized, and since in many respects Christian ideals and heroic ideals are difficult to reconcile, it is natural that very little poetry has survived that is surely pre-Christian in composition. However Beowulf, the greatest Germanic epic poem, contains much evidently pre-Christian material, even though the author of the particular form of the poem that has come down to us was a Christian who refers to events of the Old (but not the New) Testament. Several other short pieces or fragments also seem to reflect the pagan period without Christian colouring. Yet the vast bulk of Old English poetry is specifically Christian, devoted to religious subjects.


2. Beowulf: A Literary Work.

Beowulf survives in only one version, in a manuscript now in the British Museum. It is not known when the poem was composed, or by whom. The dating of this copy of Beowulf 's manuscript is still a matter of controversy: some scholars put it as early as 700 others think it was probably made by scribes of about the year 1000, and the language is the "classical" late West-Saxon of the Wessex of Ethelred and Aelfric. We know that Beowulf was admired in the ninth century by King Alfred. The poem, first called Beowulf in 1805, was first printed in 1815. Burton Raffel's translation of Beowulf contains a prologue and 43 numbered sections; other translations do not divide the text into numbered sections. It is composed of 3,182 lines, which make it the longest Old English poem. Beowulf's literary composition is traditionally placed in the Northumbria of the age of Bede, who died in 735, though recently the less well documented Mercia of King Offa, who reigned from 757 to 796, has found its supporters.

3. The Plot of the Poem and its Structure.

The central hero of the poem is Beowulf, and its main stories are Beowulf's fights against two monsters, a male and a female, Grendel and Grendel's mother, and a dragon. The poet also introduces o lot of incidental stories and digressions. On the whole the poem tells two stories, the youth and old age of Beowulf, unified by the presence of Beowulf who is the hero of both. According to the major events in the life of Beowulf, the hero of the Geats, the poem can be divided into two parts.

First Part

In the first part Beowulf is in his youth and achieves glory in a foreign land by fighting and killing first Grendel, a monster who has been attacking Heorot, the hall of the Danish King Hrothgar, and then Grendel's mother, who comes the next night to avenge her son, in an underwater cave. The fight in the subterranean cave is fierce, both sides evenly matched in strength, until Beowulf sees a giant sword on the cave wall which he uses to kill the monster and cut off Grendel's head, after which the sword-blade melts. Beowulf returns triumphant with the sword-hilt and Grendel's head.

Second Part

In the second part, Beowulf is in his old age, having ruled his country well for fifty years, after the deaths of Hygelac and his son Heardred. Tragedy strikes again and Beowulf goes to fo fight a dragon who is destroying his people and his realm. The dragon has guarded an ancient warrior's treasure until a fugitive slave robbed the hoard in order to gain the favour of his lord. Beowulf decided to fight the dragon alone and has a fireproof iron shield made. At the end of the fight Beowulf, after being mortally wounded and helped by his kinsman Wiglaf, kills the dragon. The poem ends with Beowulf's funeral and a prophecy of disaster for his people, the Geats.

The fight against the dragons is not like the tribal feuds the warriors were involved in because, according to their social code, they had the special duty of vengeance; Grendel and Grendel's mother are not part of that social order: they represent fatal evil and Beowulf's unknown destiny. Fighting against Grendel Beowulf chooses the heroic way of life and tests Fate. Beowulf puts himself in a position from which he cannot withdraw. Doom ultimately claims him, but not until he has fulfilled to its limits the pagan ideal of a heroic life.

4. Features, Themes and Criticism

"Beowulf, - writes M. Alexander, - is a typical heroic poem not only in its central figure but also in its world and its values. The warriors are either feasting or fighting, they are devoted to glee and glory." However, the poem presents a variety of features and the student should focus his attention on some its most important aspects, such as:

1) Old English, the language used by the Beowulf-poet;
2) Nordic and Germanic Elements;
3) Heroic Legend;
4) Historical Elements;
5) Pagan and Christian Elements;
6) Allegorical Elements;
7) Beowulf as an epic.

5. Old English

Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, was used by the Beowulf-poet. The Old English Beowulf-poet enjoyed using poetic diction, often old-fashioned words, with frequent use of metonimy (when the part of an object stands for the whole), compound adjectives, compound-nouns, and the popular kenning, a condensed simile, usually in the form of a compound word. A large number of compound words are found in Old English verse, but many of these are originally coined by the Beowulf-poet. Old English vocabulary collects groups of meanings as the word is repeatedly heard in different context. Words like Wyrd, "Fate", "Providence", or dom, "glory", "reputation", have a lot of associations, pagan and Christian alike. The most common poetic device in Beowulf is variation, a word or expression is repeated, not identically, and each repetition adds a new quality to the concept. For example, King Hrothgar is called by Beowulf, "son of Healfdene", "guardian of the people", "glorious hero", "Shepherd of the Danes", and each title adds another quality to Hrothgar. The Old English poets also used the so called interlacing technique which allowed the poets to weave together simple statements to create a complex, poetic picture of the event they were narrating. Another expression to explain is the "word hoard" the Beowulf-poet talks about. The Old English poets refer to their "word-hoard", which indicates a stock of verse formulas, expressions, often half-lines, which would suit the particular matter on a particular occasion.

6. Nordic-Germanic Elements

The Beowulf-poet found most of his material in Nordic-Germanic folklore, heroic legends, historical traditions and biblical sources. Specific resemblances exist between Beowulf and certain Scandinavian sagas. The action of the poem, that is Beowulf's three struggles 1) with Grendel and 2) Grendel's mother in the first part, 3) and the dragon in the second part, has its source in folklore. Beowulf's youth is typical of the folklore hero. The poem contains two songs, "The Lay of Sigemund" and "The Lay of Finnsburg," that show a likeness and between these two stories and and the Middle High German epic poem The Nibelungenlied (written about A.D. 1200). In the Nibelungenlied there culminated a tradition of heroic poetry reaching back to the sixth or fifth century A.D. in the lands of the Germanic peoples. The allusive nature of the references in the Sigemund lay to the heroic exploits of Sigemund and to his victory over a dragon, indicate that the poet was able to assume acquaintance on the part of his readers with the primitive material from which the Volsungasaga, the dramatic northern legend to which the Nibelungenlied has relationship.
The alliterative verse form that the Beowulf- poet used is another indication of the Nordic-Germanic tradition.

7. Heroic Legends

The heroic legends dealt with in Beowulf are sometimes fused with historical elements and folklore. Sometimes a historical figure is disguised in legends which the Beowulf-poet uses to set off a character, such as the legend of Scyld himself, supposedly the founder of the Danish throne, a hero who established an example of strong king. His name is associated with the legend of a child arriving in a boat with a sheaf of corn.

8. Historical Elements

The youthful heroism and the last battle and death of Beowulf, even if rooted in the primitive material of folk-tale, is skilfully projected against a background of history and chronicle. The name of Hrothgar is recorded in the Danish Chronicles (written in Latin) and mentioned by other poets of later dates. The civil war alluded to by Beowulf, was well known to the Beowulf audience, who also knew about the attack on Heorot by the Heathobards under Ingeld. In general the allusions in Beowulf have to do with the civil dissensions, the tragic and bitter feuds, which characterize the chronicles of the Geats and the Danes. In this epic narrative the two principal figures are Beowulf and Hrothgar who were respectively of Geatish and Danish blood. The bishop Gregory of Tours (c.540-94), in his Historia Francorum, records Hygelac's obsessive raiding against the Franks. In about 516 Hygelac himself lost his life, when he embarked upon an expedition against the Franks. In the poem there are passages which deal with the chronicle of the Geats and their constant and bitter wars with the Swedes. Hystory also supports the Geats' fear of being annihilated by the fact that they seem to disappear from history during the sixth century. Onela is a historic figure whose authenticity has been proven by archeological finds.

9. Pagan and Christian Elements

Christian and biblical elements are evident in the poem. Some critics believe that Beowulf was composed by a pagan poet, and that the presence of the Christian material is to be explained by subsequent excision of pagan, and interpolation of Christian, passages. Others have argued that the Christian elements represent the work of a poet with vague and general knowledge of the faith, or merely nominal adherence to it. Most critics tend to think that the original Beowulf-poet was a Christian who included both Christian and pagan elements at the time of writing and that the Christian elements are not the work of a reviser or interpolator. The primitive material of Beowulf derived from pagan folk-tale, chronicle and legends emerged at last as a Christian poem, stresses M. Alexander. "This mutation, moreover is not a matter of altered phrases, or interpolated references to the Christina faith, but is a deeply pervasive infusion of Christian spirit coloring thought and judgment, governing motive and action, a continuous and active agent in the process of transformation." However there are pagan elements that resist change, or that are only partially subdued by the influence of the Christian spirit.
We know that the ideas of right living, of loyalty and good kingship were also deeply rooted in the early Germanic and pagan societies, so not a all of these ideas can be attributed to Christian ideals. Many ideas of rightliving, such as loyalty and generosity, were derived from the concept of "comitatus", and the relationship between lord and thane. When the Beowulf-poet speaks of praise, the word does not have the Christian connotation suggested by the concept of "heavenly praise". The Beowulf-poet speaks about the praise of one's peers, praise which the warrior must gain in order to be remembered by future generations. The concept of "hell" was known to the pagans, and the Beowulf-poet makes reference to "hell" as the destiny of Grendel.
Another important concept in Beowulf is "Fate", or "Wyrd". In the Anglo-Saxon world Christianity and paganism existed simultaneously but in the Old English vocabulary there were only pagan terms with which Anglo-Saxons would embody Christian concepts. It was an incomplete fusion of pagan and Christian, which is reflected in the parallelism of reference to the blind and inexorable power of "Wyrd", or Fate, and to the omnipotence of a divine Ruler who governs all things well. Sometimes "God and Wyrd are brought into juxtaposition in such manner as to imply control of Fate by the superior power of Christian divinity." However, even in survivals of pagan material the modifying influence of Christian thought is often evident.

10. Allegorical Elements

The presence of Christian elements in Beowulf has led many critics to view the poem as an allegory of salvation. Among the many examples the Allegorists illustrate there is the scene at Grendel's pool, when Beowulf prepares to descend into its watery depths. The pool is seen as hell (but in the dark and misty atmosphere, the pagan too would see the place as hell, for he too knew about hell). Allegorists point to Beowulf's preparation for descent as though he were preparing for death, forgiving his enemies before descending, and not mourning for life. The descent is very much like a military campaign against the Powers Below, and upon Beowulf's victory, a light penetrates the scene beneath the waters. Beowulf returns with his trophies, and the atmosphere signals the end of winter and the return of spring. Some critics interpret this episode as containing parallels to the death of Christ, his harrowing of hell, (Christ's delivery of the souls of patriarchs and prophets), and his resurrection.
The Christian story of salvation is the most common referent for the allegorists. Beowulf is seen as the saviour of the Danes, who are being afflicted and terrorized by Grendel. Like Satan, jealous of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Grendel is jealous of the joy and happiness in Heorot. Because Grendel is associated with the powers of darkness and evil and because Beowulf has many attributes of Christ, the allegorists see the hero of the poem as an allegorical Christ, bringing salvation to the world.
Grendel is also seen as a man-eating ogre having kinship with the devil, but he remains an ogre, since he is not a "soul-destroying monster." Others see Grendel strictly as a monster, he is simply a descendant of Cain, as the Beowulf-poet states.
According to allegorists, the salvation story is repeated three times: 1) after the fight with Grendel, 2) the second being Beowulf's descent into the pool, 3) and the third being Beowulf's struggle with the dragon. In his last struggle with the dragon, Beowulf gives his life for his people, just as Christ gave his life for humanity. The allegorical interpretation is an open question. Most readers and critics recognize the Beowulf-poet's references to the Old Testament, but few are able to find direct references to the New Testament.


Like most heroic poems of Western culture, the Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Song of Roland, the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf is about a past era. The Old English Beowulf has several claims on the attention of modern readers: it is a poem of barbaric splendour and artistry; an eloquent celebration of a heroic life and death; an "action" of epic sweep and scope. It is still capable of stirring the hearts of readers, and because of its excellence as well as its antiquity, the poem deserves the high position that it is generally assigned in the study of English poetry. Like the "winged words" of Homer, Beowulf was composed to be projected in public performance - to be sung or spoken aloud. It is written after the unmistakable style of oral poetry, a highly-developed medium evolved in and for oral composition and performance. The first songs of Beowulf were probably sung in the halls of kings and noblemen at great feasts. Beowulf himself tells his own Geatish King Hygelac of such feasts in King Hrothgar's hall:

There were songs, and the telling of tales. One ancient
Dane told of long-dead times,
And sometimes Hrothgar himself, with the harp
In his lap, (1) stroked (2) its silvery strings
And told wonderful stories, a brave (3) king
Reciting unhappy truths about good
And evil--and sometimes he wove (4) his stories
On the mournful thread of old age, remembering
Buried strength and the battles it had won.
He would weep, the old king, wise with many
Winters, remembering what he'd done, once,
What he'd seen, what he knew. And so we sat
The day away, feasting. ...

(Beowulf, Lines 2104-2117, Translated by Burton Raffel.)


1. lap: knees.
2. stroked: struck.
3. brave: courageous, daring.
4. wove: depicted.


Hrothgar is presented as holding a harp whose function was to accompany the performance of poetry with a melody. Beowulf is the first large poem in English to survive this transplanting from an oral to a literary mode: it is the beginning of English literature. Beowulf is the only long heroic poem to survive complete in Old English.
Beowulf is a heroic poem in the simple sense that it celebrates the actions of its protagonist. Beowulf, son of Edgetheow, is the very type of a hero in that it is his eagerness to seek out and meet every challenge alone and unarmed that makes him glorious in life and brings him to his tragic death. He also has a hero's delight in his own prowess and a hero's magnanimity to lesser men.
Beowulf is a typical heroic poem not only in its central figure but also in its world and its values. The warriors like the joys of the hall, where they celebrate their victories with food and drink, and fighting; they are devoted to merriment and pleasure in hall or glory in the battlefield. Their possessions are gold cups or gold armour, the outward and visible signs of that happiness and glory. Beowulf is not merely a poem about a hero but an epic. In the poem there are "the qualities of epic - inclusiveness of scope, objectivity of treatment, unity of ethos and an "action" of significance," which shows that that Beowulf is not merely a poem about a hero but an epic. There is a unity of consciousness, an ethos which arises from a primitive intuition of the cosmic solidarity, organic unity and continuity of life. Such a unity of consciousness, found in an oral, public poem, must come from the organic nature of the society that produced it.

Let's discuss some stylistic characteristics of Old English.

12. Language and Style: The Alliterative Metre. Old English Diction: Compound Nouns and Adjectives. Kennings.

Beowulf was written in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Parallelism, antithesis and variation are the characteristics of the verbal style of Beowulf. The denseness and allusiveness of Beowulf's style are chiefly created by diction. The nouns and adjectives which make up most of the epic formulae are highly poetical - not only imaginative and beautiful but far-fetched and peculiar to poetry. The Old English diction is special and archaic but not archaizing and the effect is of a strenuous and untiring eloquence rather than of a mellifluous rhetoric. The poetic vocabulary of the poem is remarkable for the large number of words it contains. Compound nouns and adjectives are also plentiful : rain-hard, shower-hard,enmity-hard,fire-hard, iron-hard, ring-bestower, battle-flasher( for sword) are examples. Still more characteristic and important are the condensed metaphors known as Kennings (an Old Norse word). KENNINGS are metaphorical circumlocutions, signifying a person or thing by a characteristic or quality, and they are characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry. In fact, some kennings in Beowulf are almost poetic stereotypes which recur throughout Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is possible that the Beowulf poet was source from whom all other poets copied, but in all likelihood a lot of the kennings in Beowulf were part of the literary vocabulary of the day - that is, poetic diction common to all poets. Some examples of kennings are banhus (body); literally, bone house), hronrade (sea; literally, whale-road), goldwine gumena (generous prince; literally, gold-friend of men), beaga brytta (lord; literally, ring-giver), and beadolena (sword; literally, flashing light).
The verse is alliterative and stressed, without rhyme; each line contains four stressed syllables and a varying number unstressed. There is a definite pause (caesura) between the two halves of each line, with two stresses in each half. "The verbal vigour of the epic cannot be separated from the movement of the verses. The key to Old English metre is the caesura in the middle of the line: the two halves of the line on either side of the break are felt to be equal in weight. Each half-line normally consists of a phrase containing two stressed and two or more unstressed syllables: (The basis of the metre is stress or accent, not the quantity nor the number of the syllables.) Each half-line, consisting normally of two stressed and two unstressed syllables, has an internal balance; and itself is balanced against the other half-line." Though to observe the strict rules of classical Old English alliterative verse is hardly possible in modern English, the following translation attempts to convey the terseness and strong beat of the alliterative measure.

Readthe following extract and pay attention to the alliterative metre.


This passage is taken from the second part of the poem. The second part begins with Beowulf as king. It tells the history of the dragon's hoard for which Beowulf, now an old king who has ruled the Geats for fifty years, sacrifices his life. Tragedy strikes in the shape of a dragon that ravages the kingdom. The dragon's anger is awakened by the theft of the treasure he had guarded for three hundred years. The treasure is the accumulated inheritance of a noble race of warriors, now extinct except for the last "shepherd of rings" ("hringa hyrde") who, himself at the point of death, carries it (the precious cups, the armour and the ancient swords) into a barrow, near the sea, below a cliff, and utters this speech on the transitoriness of all earthly things.

"Hold them now, Earth"

"Hold them now, Earth, now hand of man cannot,
A great tribe's treasures. Truly, from you
Brave men first got them; battle-death has taken,
Murderous fighting, the men, one and all,
Peers of my people: they have passed from this life,
Rest from hall-joys. None remains with me
To bear the sword, burnish (1) the rich goblet,(2)
Costly drinking cup; the company has gone elsewhere.
Now the hard helmet, hammered (3) with gold,
Must be stripped (4) of its plating;(5) the polishers sleep
Who once made bright those grim battle-masks;
Also the armor, which endured in battle,
Mid breaking of shields, the bite of swords,
Rots (6) with the warrior. The ringed-corslet(7)
May not wander far on the war-chief's path, 15
At the soldier's side. The harp is silent,
No glad music sounds, nor any good hawk (8)
Sweeps (9) through the hall, nor swift hoofbeats (10)
Drum (11) in the courtyard. Death-qualm (12) has sent
Full many a folk forth on their way."

(Beowulf, (lines 2247-2266).


1. burnish: polish, make bright by rubbing.
2. goblet: large drinking-cup.
3. hammered: fretted, embellished, decorated.
4. stripped: deprived.
5. plating: plate, shell, inlay.
6. Rots: decays.
7. corslet: woman's foundation garment combining corset and brassière.
8. hawk: falcon.
9. sweeps: swings, passes swiftly in flight.
10. hoofbeats: sounds of hoofs (feet of the horses).
11. drum: beat, stamp, tramp.
12. death-qualm: terrible death, terrible slaughter.

COMMENTARY: The Alliterative Measure

The Old English metre is often called "the alliterative measure". The alliteration, though a compulsory and distinctive feature, is less fundamental than the stress pattern which it serves to reinforce. The rule is that the first letter of the first stressed syllable in the second half-line must also begin one of the two stressed syllables in the first half-line. The other stressed syllable in the first half-line may alliterate; the last stressed syllable in the line must not. Thus , of the four stresses in the line, the first and/or the second must alliterate with the third, and the fourth must be different. Only the four fully-stressed syllables of the line enter into this calculation, and it is necessary to distinguish a fully-stressed from a half-stressed syllable. All vowels alliterate. The essence of the metre is the theoretical norm: "two is two as two is two", where the "twos" represent two syllables, one stressed, the other not. All the actual lines that occur are variations on this very symmetrical norm. The alliteration binds the half-lines together over the break and emphasizes this symmetry. The stressed syllables are also the most important syllables from the point of view of the sense.

(M. Alexander, "Introduction" to Beowulf, Penguin Books, 1973).


1. Read the extract "Hold them now, Earth" and find out the alliterated sounds in each line.

Alliterated Sounds


13. The Geats and the Swedes.

The poem itself is set in the southern Scandinavia of the fifth and sixth centuries, and contains no reference to the British Isles or to New Testament Christianity. The events narrated in the poem don not describe primitive English life, but primitive Scandinavian life. However, as a finished literary work it is almost universally held to be the product of a relatively sophisticated and Christian Anglian court - though one that had evidently not yet repudiated its ancestral links with the Germanic Peoples across the North Sea.
As it is, Beowulf is taken from the communal word-hoard of Continental chronicle and legend dealing with the northern Germanic peoples, and it is obvious that, among the Anglian settlers, the story of the poem, and the tales involved with it, must have circulated and developed orally for a long time before they were sorted out and set into their present arrangement and could receive their present focus and ultimate literary form. Names and incidents in the poem tell of the ruling House of the Danes and the disastrous expedition against the Franks of 516, in which Beowulf's uncle, Hygelac, was slain.
Beowulf is the Old English song of a hero who lived in Sweden. The last third of the poem is not only a lament for the death of the hero but also a prophetic elegy for the end of Beowulf's people as a separate nation. The English singer seems to have known that the Geats, whose name is preserved in the name of two great provinces of southern Sweden, Västergötland and Östergötland, were defeated, probably during the latter part of the sixth century, by their traditonal enemies, the Swedes from the district around Lake Mälar.

The beginnings of the the defeat of the Geats are told of in the following lines from which we learn that Beowulf's people certainly lived, as a powerful and independent tribe - at least during the reign of King Hygelac and before - in southern Sweden.

"Nor can we expect peace from the Swedes"

"Nor can we expect peace from the Swedes.
Everyone knows how their old king,
Ongentho, killed Hathcyn, caught him
Near a wood when our young lord went
To war too soon, dared (1) too much.
The wise old Swede, always terrible
In war, allowed the Geats to land
And begin to loot, (2) then broke them with a lightning (3).
Attack, taking back treasure and his kidnapped (4)
Queen, and taking our king's life.
To the sound of Higlac's horns and trumpets,
Light and that battle cry coming together
And turning sadhearted (5) Geats into soldiers.
Higlac had followed his people, and found them.
"Them blood was everywhere, two bands (6) of Geats
Falling on the Swedes, men fighting
On all sides, butchering (7) each other.
"These are the quarrels, the hatreds, (8) the feuds, (9)
That will bring us battles, force us into war 20
With the Swedes, as soon as they've learned how our lord
Is dead, know that the Geats are leaderless, (10)
Have lost the best of kings, Beowulf--
He who held our enemies away,
Kept land and treasure intact, who saved 25
Hrothgar and the Danes--he who lived
All his long life bravely." (11)[...]

(Beowulf, lines 2922-2931, 2941-2948, 2999-3007, NAL, Translated by Burton Raffel).


1. dared: was bold enough (to), ventured, challenged.
2. to loot: to steal, to plunder.
3. lightning: a flash of light in the sky, caused by electricity beings discharged from thunderclouds.
4. kidnapped: stolen for ransom.
5. sadhearted: with sorrowful heart, with the heart full of sorrow.
6. bands: groups.
7. butchering: murdering, killing.
8. hatred: hate.
9. feud: enmity, hostility, fight.
10. leaderless: without their leader.
11. bravely: heroically, courageously.


14. The arrival of Scyld.

The poem begins with the miraculous arrival of the hero Shild (Scyld) and the founding of the Scylding dynasty and of the Danish people. Shild Shefing became a glorious king, conquering all neighbouring lands, and his son, Beo, succeeded him with equal success. The poet moralises about the need for a young prince to be liberal with gifts, so that in later years old friends will serve and support him. King Shild's funeral is described: at his own request his body was placed in a ship loaded with treasure and armour in the same manner in which he had mysteriously arrived in Denmark, and the boat is launched, heading for its unknown destination: Slowly sliding to where neither rulers / Nor heroes nor anyone can say whose hands / Opened to take that motionless cargo.


1. Look again at the figure called "kenning" and say what it is;

2. Describe the burial of a hero in a pagan warrior society, with reference to any archaelogical discovery you may have read about, and the objects buried with the dead hero.


"Hear me! We've heard of Danish heroes"

Hear me! (2) We've heard of Danish heroes,
Ancient kings and the glory they cut
For themselves, swinging (2) mighty swords!
How Shild (3) made slaves of soldiers from every
Land, crowds of captives he'd beaten
Into terror; he'd traveled to Denmark alone,
An abandoned child, but changed his own fate,
Lived to be rich and much honored. He ruled
Lands on all sides: wherever the sea
Would take them his soldiers sailed, returned
With tribute and obedience. There was a brave
King! And he gave them more than his glory,
Conceived a son for the Danes, a new leader
Allowed them by the grace of God. They had lived,
Before his coming, kingless and miserable;
Now the Lord of all life, Ruler
Of glory, (4) blessed them with a prince, Beo, (5)
Whose power and fame soon spread through the world.
Shild's strong son was the glory of Denmark;
His father's warriors were wound round his heart
With golden rings, bound to their prince
By his father's treasure. So young men build
The future, wisely open-handed in peace,
Protected in war; so warriors earn
Their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword.
When his time was come the old king died,
Still strong but called to the Lord's hands.
His comrades carried him down to the shore,
Bore him as their leader had asked, their lord
And companion, while words could move on his tongue.
Shild's reign had been long; he'd ruled them well.
There in the harbor was a ring-prowed fighting
Ship, its timbers icy, waiting,
And there they brought the belovèd body
Of their ring-giving lord, (5) and laid him near
The mast. Next to that noble corpse
They heaped up treasures, jeweled helmets,
Hooked swords and coats of mail, armor
Carried from the ends of the earth: no ship
Had ever sailed so brightly fitted, 40
No king sent forth more deeply mourned.(6)
Forced to set him adrift, (7) floating
As far as the tide might run, they refused
To give him less from their hoards of gold (8)
Than those who'd shipped him away, an orphan.
And a beggar, to cross the waves alone.
High up over his head they flew
His shining banner, (9) then sadly let
The water pull at the ship, watched it
Slowly sliding to where neither rulers
Nor heroes nor anyone can say whose hands
Opened to take that motionless cargo.
Then Beo (10) was king in that Danish castle,
Shild's son ruling as long as his father
And as loved, a famous lord of men.
And he in turn gave his people a son,
The great Healfdane, a fierce fighter
Who led the Danes to the end of his long
Life and left them four children,
Three princes to guide them in battle, Hergar
And Hrothgar and Halga the Good, and one daughter,
Yrs, (11) who was given to Onela, king
Of the Swedes, and became his wife and their queen.

(Beowulf, ll. 1-63, NAL, Translated by Burton Raffel.)


1.Hear me!:(Lo! Attend! are other translations of Hear me !( Hwaet).This is the common opening in heroic poetry. The Anglo-Saxon poet calls for order and silence.
2.swinging: moving back and forth.
3.Shild: Scyld Shefing. According to the myth he is the founder of the Danish Scylding royal house. Scyld means "shield" and Shefing might imply "sheaf"(a bunch of grain), having fertility connotations. He is the mysterious saviour figure akin to King Arthur, whose departure resembles that of Scyld. The danes are Scyldings, (Scylding=Danish) men of the shield, sons of Scyld. Scyld is well known in Scandinavian tradition: the poet's account of how he came, young, weak, and friendless to the coast of Denmark and founded Dynasty of Hrothgar's mighty Danish royal house is, however, unique and makes Scyld into a folktale figure, the apparently poor foundling whose royalty is revealed by his later deeds.
4. the Lord of all Life, Ruler / Of glory: God.
5. Beo: Beowulf the Dane, the son of Scyld, not the poem's hero. This Beowulf is sometimes called Beow, the Dane, grandfather of the Danish King Hrothgar.
6. ring-giving lord: King.
7.They heaped up treasures...deeply mourned: Ship burials such as that of Scyld were common in the pre-Christian North, for example the mound excavated at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia and in the late Viking time Scandinavia. Swords, armour and costly jewelry would constitute the treasure.
8. adrift: drifting, at sea, at the mercy of wind and tide, unanchored, unfastened.
9. hoards of gold: treasures.
10. banner: flag, standard; figure frequent in folk tale.
11. Yrs: Yrse, daughter of Healfdane. Her name is not given in the manuscript.


Modern Spelling

1. The passage from Beowulf selected here is the vivid translation by Burton Raffel. He uses modern English, but some words are written according to the American English spelling. While reading identify the few words whose spelling is different from British English, and juxtapose them in the table below.


American English
British English

The Story

2. Read line 1 and say who the personal pronoun "me" refers to.

3. Who does the narrator address?

4. What is the Beowulf-poet going to narrate? Which lines anticipate the argument of the poem?

5. Who is the central hero whose story the poet begins to tell about?

6. How is Shild described in lines 6-7?

7. The "Prologue" illustrates through the figure of Shild and his warriors the central characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon world and the organization of their society. Revise the concepts of "Comitatus", "Lord" and "thanes" discussed in the "Historical and Social Background" sections of the Anglo-Saxon period in this anthology, then find in the text the words and expressions that describe the qualities of Shild as an Anglo-Saxon lord.

Definition of "Comitatus": ....................................................................................................................................
The Anglo-Saxon lord's qualities: .........................................................................................................................
The Anglo-Saxon thane 's qualities: .....................................................................................................................

1. Shild's qualities: (Quote from the text)

2. Shild's thanes' qualities: (Quote from the text)

8. The "Prologue" can be divided into three main parts. Read the whole text and identify the three parts and the groups of lines related to them.

9. What is the chief preoccupation of Shild's successors?

Language Practice.

10. Read lines 4-25 and complete the summary below:

- Shild was and abandoned child who ........................................................................................................................
- He had travelled ................................................................... .................................................................................
- He ruled over all his country, his warriors ..................................................................................................................
- Shild was a ................................................; he gave his ........................................... ..............................................
glory and ................................................................................ ...................................................................................
- Before his ................ they had lived .................................... .....................................................................................
and had been ............................. . Now the Ruler of the world ...................................................................................
- ............................................................................................ ...................................................................................
- Beo's ............ soon spread ................................................... ....................................................................................
- Shild's ........... ...................................................................................... became ........................................................



11. After reading the "Prologue" say what kind of society the poet describes.

12. List the words which reveal what those early medieval warriors used to wear and the weapons they may have carried, if specified in the text.

13. We know that the Vikings were skilled sailors and that the excellence of their ships made them victors and deadly enemies. What suggests the importance of the ship in the heroic society described in the poem? Quote the lines.

14. Read 1-25 again and identify the poet moralizing comment. What is its purpose?

15. What does the poet stress in his first comment?

16. Pagan and Christian tradition are present in Beowulf. Which expressions and elements reveal the two traditions? Consider the whole text again and complete the table below.

Pagan Elements
Christian Elements

Language and Style

17. Old English poetry frequently used compound nouns and adjectives. Are there any in Burton Raffel's translation in modern English? Quote examples from the text.


18. Alliterative verse was an essential feature of Germanic poetry. Nearly all Old English verse is heavily alliterative. Say what alliteration is, then find examples in the text translated by B. Raffel and quote the lines.

Alliteration: It is .... Examples:


19. Old English poetry frequently used "kennings". Write out the definition of this device of figurative language, then find examples in the text.

A "kenning" is ....

Historical Reference and Archaeology.

20. In the burial of King Shild (or "Scyld") there is much that can be paralleled from the archaelogical remains of the North. Abundant traces have been found of the burial of a chief within a ship. In 1939 a harp buried with other treasures and riches of a great king or noble warrior was found in the ship-grave in a barrow at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. These ancient riches had been left in the darkness of the grave for thirteen hundred years. Which line or lines of the prologue describe a burial like that revealed at Sutton Hoo? (Quote the lines).


21. Traces have also been found of the burnings of deadly wounded chiefs within a ship, surrounded by weapons and the bodies of the slain. The funeral pyre was then lighted on the vessel, and the ship sent blazing out to sea. Is Shild burial parallel to these? Substantiate.

22. Consider the beginning and the end of Shild's life and say what is there in common between the two events.

23. Is there any historical reference in the last line of the "Prologue" presented here?


15. Slaughter at Heorot

After Scyld's death, Beowulf the Dane, and Healfdane were his successors Danish Kings. Afterward, Hrothgar became King of the Danes because of his courage and success in battle. The number of his warriors increased and his reputation for success and fairness grew throughout the land. Eventually he gathered a formidable army. Hrothgar built Heorot, "whose word ruled a wide empire". Here he held great feasts and distributed his wealth among his people, and for many years there was much joy and gladness in the hall. Then one night without warning, Grendel, a gigantic man-eating monster, attacked the hall, killing thirty of Hrothgar's sleeping thanes before his thirst for blood was fully satisfied.


1. Look up the words "mead" and "mead-hall" in your monolingual dictionary and write out their definitions.

2. Do you think monsters exist? How do you figure them out?

"A powerful monster, living down"

A powerful monster, living down
In the darkness, growled (1) in pain, impatient
As day after day the music rang
Loud in that hall, the harp's (2) rejoicing
Call and the poet's clear songs, sung
Of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling
The Almighty making the earth, shaping
The beautiful plains marked off by oceans,
Then proudly setting the sun and moon
To glow across the land and light it;
The corners of the earth were made lovely with trees
And leaves, made quick with life, with each
Of the nations who now move on its face. An then
As now warriors sang of their pleasure:
So Hrothgar's men lived happy in his hall
Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend,
Grendel, who haunted (3) the moors, (4) the wild
Marshes (5) and made his home in a hell
Not hell but earth. He was spawned (6) in that slime, (7)
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel's death. The Almighty drove
Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,
Shut away from men; they split
Into a thousand forms of evil--spirits
And fiends,(8) goblins,(9) monsters, giants,
A brood (10) forever opposing the Lord's
Will, and again and again defeated.
Then, when darkness had dropped, Grendel
Went up to Herot, wondering what the warriors
Would do in that hall when their drinking was done.
He found them sprawled (11) in sleep, suspecting
Nothing, their dreams undisturbed. The monster's
Thoughts were as quick as his greed (12) or his claws: (13)
He slipped (14) through the door and there in the silence
Snatched up (15) thirty men, smashed (16) them
Unknowing in their beds and ran out with their bodies,
The blood dripping (17) behind him, back
To his lair, (18) delighted with his night's slaughter. (19)

(Beowulf, Lines 86-115, N.A.L., Translate by Burton Raffel.)


1. growled: snarled, groaned, uttered a deep rough sound in the throat expressive of hostility, pain, grief.
2. harp: a musical instrument comprising a set of strings placed over an open frame so that they can be plucked or swept with the fingers from both sides.
3. haunted: visited regularly.
4. moors: tracts of open uncultivated upland.
5. marshes: low land flooded in wet weather and usually watery at all times.
6. spawned: generated.
7. slime: thick slippery mud.
8. fiends: evil spirits, demons.
9. goblins: mischievous spirits, ugly dwarflike creatures.
10. brood: evil descendant, evil offspring, evil race.
11. sprawled: lying, stretched out.
12. greed: excessive desire, hunger, avidity.
13. claws: the hooked nail of an animal foot.
14. slipped: moved with a sliding motion, made his way quietly and quickly.
15. Snatched up: seized suddenly, plucked away quickly.
16. smashed: broke into pieces.
17. dripping: falling in drops.
18. lair: den, a wild animal's resting-place.
19. slaughter: the killing of many persons, carnage, massacre.


The themes dealt with in the poem are those typical of a warrior and heroic society with its ancient heroes, in which honour and heroism were very important virtues. In this passage heroic society and joys of the hall are contrasted with the menacing and evil presence of the monster, the haunting of Hrothgar's hall by the night-prowling monster, Grendel. The joy of the heroic pagan society is destroyed by a monster, a demon, a descendant of Cain. In this opposition we can see a religious Christian view at work within a pagan poem, where the ordered world of Heorot (ll. 3-14) is threatened by the night creature, Grendel (ll. 1-2, 15-40).

Heorot: An Ordered Society

The image of Heorot that emerges from various passages of the poem, is the image of an ordered society of brave warriors. Vengeance, the law of the feud, governs most of the stories behind the central action, and murder can often be heard. Heroic society is simple: a lord in peace and war is the "shepherd of his people". He gives them shelter, food and drink in his hall (ll. 3-15); he is their "ring-giver" lord and "gold-friend" in peace and their "shield" and "helmet" in war. The warriors "earn their mead" and their armour by their courage and loyalty in war. Ideally, there is complete solidarity between a king and his people. Lines 3-15 make it clear that Heorot is a human microcosm of the divinely created world. The Danes within Heorot continued to live their happy life in Hrothgar's hall until evil appeared; the evil and cruel spirit is given an origin in lines 16-29: evil has its origin in Cain's crime.

Grendel: Evil and Chaos

The poet does not give a clear picture of Grendel's physical appearance, but he is presented as a fiendish creature. Grendel is not only a monster in human-like shape; he is a descendant of Cain (ll. 21-22), and lives under an inherited curse; he is denied God's presence (ll. 21.25). He is said to be related to Cain who killed his brother Abel. Grendel's evil nature is continually stressed in the poem. The image of Grendel is that of a superhumanly strong monster, an excellent opponent for the heroes of Heorot. Grendel is a "death shadow", "bringer of chaos", "denier of life", "evil soul", "evil doer", "God's adversary", "damned", "heathen", "enemy in hell", "devil." Grendel is presented as the most evil of the monsters without a single redeeming feature, his nature being "of Cain's kin". Even if Grendel's physical appearance is not described in detail, he is portrayed as a terrifying creature wandering in the border region and an exile. The place where he lives, his cave, is reminiscent of hell; it is under or behind a lake, a treacherous, windy, dark, frost place yet with eerie fire on the water at night. The lake is infested with evil sea serpents and the water is fathomless and bloody. Grendel is not only an allusion to the devil and abstract concepts of evil and sin; he is a very tangible creature for the early medieval audience.


Reports of Grendel's bloodthirsty raids, the calamity that afflicted the King of the Danes and his peole, spread far and wide, reaching at last the land of the Geats in southern Sweden, where it came to the ears of Beowulf, King Hygelac of Geatland's nephew, a man renowned for his strength. Against the advice of his uncle, Hygelac, the young adventurer Beowfulf, eager for fame, set sail for Denmark. He picked a small band of followers, fourteen fully armoured good thanes, to match his courage and strength against the monsters, in the service of the friendly King Hrothgar, and set out immediately. They arrived in Denmark and gave thanks to God for their safe crossing. The coastguard watched Beowulf's arrival, rode to the shore where he greeted and challenged the warriors. He was surprised by the open nature of their arrival. He could immediately see that Beowulf had a heroic look, formidable and princely bearing. He demanded to know their names, lineage, and reason for coming.
The description of Beowul'f journey and arrival in Denmark is reminiscent of the arrival of Scyld Scefing, another saviour figure, presented in the "Prologue"


1. Look up the words "thane" and "comitatus" in your monolingual dictionary and write out what they were.

a) THANE: ........................................................................................................................................................................

b) COMITATUS: ...........................................................................................................................................................

"Then Tales of the terrible deeds of Grendel"

The Son of Healfdene (1) was heavy-hearted, (2)
Sorrowfully brooding (3) in sore distress,(4)
Finding no help in a hopeless strife; (5)
Too bitter the struggle that stunned (6) the people,
The long oppression, loathsome (7) and grim.(8) 5
Then tales of the terrible deeds (9) of Grendel
Reached Hygelac's thane (10) in his home with the Geats;
Of living strong men he was the strongest,
Fearless (11) and gallant (12) and great of heart.
He gave command for a goodly (13) vessel 10
Fitted and furnished; he fain (14) would sail
Over the swan-road (15) to seek the king
Who suffered so sorely for need of men.
And his bold retainers (16) found little to blame
In his daring venture, dear though he was; 15
They viewed the omens, (17) and urged him on.
Brave was the band he had gathered about him,
Fourteen stalwarts (18) seasoned (19) and bold, (20)
Seeking the shore where the ship lay waiting,
A sea-skilled mariner sighting the landmarks.(21) 20
Came the hour of boarding; the boat was riding
The waves of the harbor under the hill.
The eager (22) mariners mounted the prow;(23)
Billows (24) were breaking, sea against sand.
In the ship's hold snugly (25) they stowed (26) their trappings, (27) 25
Gleaming (28) armor and battle-gear; (29)
Launched the vessel, the well-braced (30) bark, (31)
Seaward (32) bound on a joyous journey.
Over breaking billows, with bellying (33) sail
And foamy (34) beak, like a flying bird 30
The ship sped on, till the next day's sun
Showed sea-cliffs shining, towering hills
And stretching headlands. The sea was crossed,
The voyage ended, the vessel moored.(35)
And the Weder people waded (37) ashore 35
With clatter (38) of trappings and coats of mail;(39)
Gave thanks to God that His grace had granted
Sea-paths safe for their ocean-journey.
Then the Scylding coast-guard watched from the sea-cliff
Warriors bearing their shining shields, 40
Their gleaming war-gear, ashore from the ship.
His mind was puzzled, (40) he wondered much
What men they were. On his good horse mounted,
Hrothgar's thane made haste (41) to the beach,
Boldly brandished his mighty spear 45
With manful (42) challenge: "What men are you,
Carrying weapons and clad (43) in steel,
Who thus come driving across the deep
On the ocean-lanes (44) in your lofty ship?
Long have I served as the Scylding outpost, (45) 50
Held watch and ward at the ocean's edge
Lest foreign foemen (46) with hostile fleet
Should come to harry (47) our Danish home,
And never more openly sailed to these shores
Men without password, (48) or leave to land. 55
I have never laid eyes upon earl (49) on earth
More stalwart and sturdy (50) than one of your troop,
A hero in armor; no hall-thane (51) he
Tricked out (52) with weapons, unless looks belie (53) him,
And noble bearing. (54) But now I must know 60
Your birth and breeding, (55) nor may you come
In cunning stealth (56) upon Danish soil.
You distant-dwellers, you far sea-farers,
Hearken, (57) and ponder (58) words that are plain:
'Tis (59) best you hasten to have me know
Who your kindred (60) and whence you come."

(Beowulf, (Lines 188-156) Translated by Charles W. Kennedy, Oxford, 1978.)


1. The Son of Healfdene: Hrothgar, King of the Danes.
2. heavy-hearted: weighed down with grief.
3. brooding: meditating silently.
4. sore distress: extreme pain, suffering.
5. strife: struggle, conflict, trouble.
6. stunned: knocked, shocked.
7. loathsome: arousing hatred or disgust, repulsive, detestable.
8. grim: harsh, sinister, ferocious, dismal.
9. deeds: acts, things done, actions, exploits.
10. Hygelac's thane: Beowulf, a Geat, the hero of the poem, who followed his King being one of his thanes. In Anglo-Saxon Society a "thane" was a warrior, or retainer, of a certain importance who followed his Lord, or King. Hygelac was the King of the Geats and uncle to Beowulf.
11. fearless: courageous, brave.
12. gallant: brave, chivalrous.
13. goodly: fine, excellent, ample, strong.
14. fain: (archaic) gladly,joyfully, happily.
15. swan-road: sea.
16. retainers: dependants or followers of a person of rank. A Thane was a warrior, or ratainer, who followed his lord.
17. omens: signs of prophetic significance of some future events, either good or evil.
18. stalwarts: strongly built, sturdy, courageous, resolute, determined.
19. seasoned: become mature, experienced.
20. bold: adventurous, courageous.
21. landmarks: guideposts, conspicuous objects on land marking a locality or serving as guide.
22. eager: longing to board and sail.
23. prow: the front part of a ship.
24. Billows: great waves.
25. snugly: in a well-ordered way, tidily, orderly.
26. stowed: placed, put.
27. trappings: ornamental accessories, especially ay as indication of status; adornments.
28. Gleaming: shining.
29. battle-gear: armour, war equipment.
30. well-braced: well-built, well made and steady against impact, strengthened, hard.
31. bark: ship.
32. Seaward: towards the sea.
33. bellying: swelling, inflating, because of the blowing of the strong sea winds.
34. foamy: spumous, foaming.
35. moored: made fast by an anchor (or by attaching a cable to a fixed object.)
36. the Weder people: the Geats.
37. waded: walked through water.
38. clatter: repeated rattling sound as of many hard objects struck together.
39. coats of mail: jackets of mail armour (armour made of rings, chains, or plates, joined together flexibly.).
40. puzzled: perplexed, bewildered.
41. made haste: hastened, hurried on.
42. manful: brave, resolute, bold, courageous.
43. clad: clothed.
44. ocean-lanes: sea-roads.
45. outpost: a post or station beyond the main body of the army; remote stronghold.
46. foemen:enemies in war.
47. harry: plunder, ravage, destroy.
48. password: a secret word by which a friend may pass or enter a camp, etc.
49. earl: (OE eorl) warrior.
50. sturdy: robust, stout, powerfully-built, herculean.
51. hall-thane: warrior.
52. tricked out: deceived, cheated.
53. belie: present falsely, misrepresent, be false to.
54. bearing: outward behaviour; heraldic device, coat of arms.
55. breeding: fathering, the names of your fathers.
56. In cunning stealth: deceitful and secret going or passage; astute, cunny furtiveness.
57. Hearken: (archaic or literary) hear attentively.
58. ponder: weigh in the mind, think over, consider.
59. 'Tis: it is.
60. kindred: relationship by blood, family, clan, relatives.


1. Read the whole passage and divide it into three parts, according to the three different characters the lines refer to. Quote the lines and substantiate your division.

First Part:
Second Part:
Third Part:

Lines 1-5

2. Read lines 1-5 in detail and say whom the poet speaks about. Quote from the text.

3. What does the poet exactly describe in the opening 5 lines? (Tick as appropriate)

[] Hrothgar's physical appearance
[] Hrothgar'sr's mood

4. Can you describe Hrothgar's mood paraphrasing lines 1-5?

Lines 6-66

5. In the introductory note to this extract, Beowulf's Arrival in Denmark, we have presented a summary of the main events occurring here. Match each group of lines given below with the matter they narrate.

1)Lines: 6-13 -............................................................................................................................
2)Lines: 14-20 -..........................................................................................................................
3)Lines: 21-36 -..........................................................................................................................
4)Lines: 36-38 -..........................................................................................................................
5)Lines: 39-41 -..........................................................................................................................
6)Lines: 42-46 -..........................................................................................................................
7)Lines: 46-66 -..........................................................................................................................

6. In the "Historical and Social background" sections of the Anglo-Saxon period dealt with in this anthology, the Germanic code of behaviour has been stressed, and in the "Before you read" questions above you have looked up the key words "thane" and "comitatus". Explain the concepts of "thane" and "comitatus" through the exemplification you can find in lines 6-20, and say how those medieval ideals are embodied in Beowulf.


Beowulf as a Thane
Beowulf as a Lord
Beowulf's Qualities (Thane and Lord)

7. How were Beowulf and his warriors dressed? What do we learn about the armour they were bearing?

8. We know that the Vikings were skilled sailors and that the excellence of their ships made them deadly enemies. What did Beowulf give command for, when he heard of the calamity that afflicted Hrothgar and Heorot? What kind of sailors were Beowulf's men?

9. How is the "vessel" described? Quote the words from the text.

10. Two important aspects are stressed in the description of the ship. Substantiate.

11. How was the journey?

12. How long did the journey last?

13. What did the warriors do when they walked to the land?

14. Who sighted Beowulf's band arriving from the sea?

15. What did the Danish coastward asked Beowulf and his thanes to do?

Language and Style

16. Old English poetry frequently used compound nouns and adjectives. Are there any in this translation in modern English? Quote examples from the text.


17. Beowulf is an Old English poem. Old English poetry frequently used "kennings". Write out the definition of this device of figurative language, then find examples in the text.

9. Beowulf's sailing ship is described by means of some figures of speech. Find examples and specify what figures of speech are they.

20. You may have looked at an illustrated picture of a long Viking ship. Why do you think Beowulf's ship is compared to a "flying bird" with a "foamy beak"?

21. Read the lines of this extract again and say if there is any rhyme scheme pattern.


17. The Joys of The Hall

Hrothgar welcomed Beowulf to Danemark and told him that many warriors promised during an night of mead-boasting to protect the mead hall against Grendel's violence, but in the morning, the blood-stained benches and the devoured bones of once-brave thanes were proof of Grendel's strength and his might over Hrothgar's beloved thanes. Before climbing to bed, Beowulf promised he would not use any weapons in his combat with Grendel, he would fight him in his own terms, without sword and armour.
Hrothgar's hall, Heorot, is the scene of the sharing out of food, drink and gold: it is the home of all that is stable and venerable in human life and society - order, custom, compliment, ceremony, feasting, poetry, laughter, and the giving and receiving of treasure and vows. The opening of the hall is celebrated by the song of a poet who tells of the Creation, ( See "Grendel, The Monster", ll. 3-15) while in the excerpt below Beowulf is gratefully welcomed and honoured by Hrothgar with the great celebrations and entertainment in his hall, at Heorot. During the banquet, Hrothgar tells Beowulf to sit and discuss the glory of victory, the ale cup is passed around, and the poet begins to sing (ll. 7-9). This short passage reveals that the whole poem shows the life-cycle of a hero in the character of Beowulf and of a people in the Danes and the Geats. It shows us human society at peace in Heorot and at war in Sweden and elsewhere.

"But to table, Beowulf, a banquet in your honor"

"But to table, Beowulf, a banquet in your honor:
Let us toast (1) your victories, and talk of the future."
Then Hrothgar's men gave places to the Geats,
Yielded (2) benches to the brave visitors
And let them to the feast. The keeper of the mead (3)
Came carrying out the carved (4) flasks,
And poured (5) that bright sweetness. A poet
Sang, from time to time, in a clear
Pure voice, Danes and visiting Geats
Celebrated as one, drank and rejoiced.

(Beowulf, Lines 489-498).


1. toast: to drink to the health or in honour of a person.
2. Yielded: gave benches, let them sit.
3. keeper of the mead: the thane who served the beer: "mead" was a drink similar to beer or ale, but made by fermenting honey, instead of grain.
4. carved: shaped by cutting.
5. poured: served.


Hrothgar gratefully welcomed Beowulf and his warriors to Denmark with royal entertainment in the hall; there was a merry feast at Heorot among Danes and Geats, until Hrothgar decided to go to bed. At nightfall Beowulf and his warriors took over the hall, sleeping with their weapons at hands. They had not long to wait. Out of the marsh Grendel came stealthily through the night, determined to kill more men. He burst open the hall door and was on the sleeping soldiers, but Beowulf kept watch from his bed and he carefully observed Grendel's method of attack. Grendel snatched one of Beowulf's thanes, tore his body apart and devoured it in great bites. He then turned to grab Beowulf, but Beowulf seized one of the monster's claws, gripping him with all his strength: it was a deadly clinch. Grendel immediately realised that he had never met such an adversary, someone stronger than himself, and tried to escape into darkness, but Beowulf tightened his hold on Grendel. A terrible battle ensued. Beowulf wrestled with Grendel until he was able to crack and wrench one of the monster's arms out the shoulder socket, ripping sinews and tearing muscles. The poet views the scene from outside Heorot where the listening Danes heard the great noise of fierce combat and the groans of Grendel. (ll. 69-81) Then Beowulf's men ran to his assistance with weapons which proved useless against Grendel whose arm was torn off by Beowulf's grip. Mortally wounded, Grendel escaped to his lair, the evil pool in the fen where he had his refuge, and sank to the depths "Only to die, to wait for the end/Of all his days" (ll. 94-95).

"Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty"

Out from the marsh, (1) from the foot of misty (2)
Hills and bogs, (3) bearing God's hatred,
Grendel came, hoping to kill
Anyone he could trap on his trip to high Herot.
He moved quickly through the cloudy night,
Up from his swampland, (4) sliding (5) silently
Toward that gold-shining hall. (6) He had visited Hrothgar's
Home before, knew the way--
But never, before nor after that night,
Found Herot defended so firmly, his reception
So harsh. He journeyed, (7) forever joyless,
Straight to the door, then snapped (8) it open,
Tore (9) its iron fasteners with a touch
And rushed (10) angrily over the threshold, (11)
He strode (12) quickly across the inlaid (13)
Floor, snarling (14) and fierce: his eyes
Gleamed (15) in the darkness, burned with a gruesome (16)
Light. Then he stopped, seeing the hall
Crowded with sleeping warriors, stuffed (17)
With rows of young soldiers resting together.
And his heart laughed, he relished (18) the sight,
Intended to tear the life from those bodies
By morning; the monster's mind was hot
With the thought of food and the feasting his belly (19)
Would soon know. But fate, (20) that night, intended
Grendel to gnaw (21) the broken bones
Of his last human supper. Human
Eyes were watching his evil steps,
Waiting to see his swift hard claws.(22)
Grendel snatched (23) at the first Geat
He came to, ripped him apart, (24) cut
His body to bits with powerful jaws, (25)
Drank the blood from his veins and bolted (26)
Him down, hands and feet; death
And Grendel's great teeth came together,
Snapping (27) life shut. (28) Then he stepped to another
Still body, clutched at Beowulf with his claws,
Grasped (29) at a strong-hearted wakeful sleeper
-- And was instantly seized himself, claws
Bent back as Beowulf leaned up on one arm.
That shepherd of evil, guardian of crime,
Knew at once that nowhere on earth
Had he met a man whose hands were harder;
His mind was flooded (30) with fear--but nothing
Could take his talons (31) and himself from that tight
Hard grip. Grendel's one thought was to run
From Beowulf, flee (32) back to his marsh and hide there:
This was a different Herot than the hall he had emptied.
But Higlac's follower (33) remembered his final
Boast (34) and, standing erect, stopped
The monster's flight, fastened those claws
In his fists till they cracked, clutched (35) Grendel
Closer. The infamous killer fought
For his freedom, wanting no flesh but retreat,
Desiring nothing but escape; his claws 55
Had been caught, he was trapped. That trip to Herot
Was a miserable journey for the writhing (36) monster!
The high hall rang, its roof boards swayed,(37)
And Danes shook (38) with terror. Down
The aisles (39) the battle swept, (40) angry
And wild. Herot trembled, wonderfully
Built to withstand (41) the blows, the struggling
Great bodies beating at its beautiful walls;
Shaped and fastened (42) with iron, inside
And out, artfully (43) worked, the building
Stood firm. Its benches rattled, (44) fell
To the floor, gold-covered boards grating (45)
As Grendel and Beowulf battled across them.
Hrothgar's wise men had fashioned (46) Herot
To stand forever; only fire,
They had planned, could shatter (47) what such skill had put
Together, swallow (48) in hot flames such splendor
Of ivory and iron and wood. Suddenly
The sounds changed, the Danes started (49)
In new terror, cowering (50) in their beds as the terrible
Screams of the Almighty's enemy sang (51)
In the darkness, the horrible shrieks (52) of pain
And defeat, the tears torn out of Grendel's
Taut (53) throat, hell's captive caught in the arms
Of him who of all the men on earth
Was the strongest.
Now he discovered--once the afflictor
Of men, tormentor of their days--what it meant
To feud (54) with Almighty God: Grendel
Saw that his strength was deserting (55) him, his claws
Bound (56) fast, Higlac's brave follower tearing at
His hands. The monster's hatred rose higher,
But his power had gone. He twisted in pain,
And the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder
Snapped, (57) muscle and bone split
And broke. The Battle was over, Beowulf
Had been granted new glory: Grendel escaped,
But wounded as he was could flee (58) to his den,
His miserable hole at the bottom of the marsh,
Only to die, to wait for the end
Of all his days. And after that bloody
Combat (59) the Danes laughed with delight.
He who had come to them from across the sea,
Bold (60) and strong-minded,(61) had driven affliction
Off, purged (62) Herot clean. He was happy,
Now with that night's fierce work; the Danes
Had been served as he'd boasted (63) he'd serve them; Beowulf
A prince of the Geats, had killed Grendel,
Ended the grief, (64) the sorrow, the suffering
Forced on Hrothgar's helpless people
By a bloodthirsty fiend. (65) No Dane doubted
The victory, for the proof, hanging high
From the rafters (66) where Beowulf had hung it, was the monster's
Arm, claw and shoulder and all.

(Beowulf, Lines 710-790, 809-836, N.A.L.,Translated by Burton Raffel.)


1. marsh: a tract of low land flooded in wet weather and usually watery at all times.
2. misty: covered with mist.
3. bog: wet spongy grounds; marshes.
4. swampland: a tract of wet, spongy land, a piece of low waterlogged ground: bog or marsh.
5. sliding: moving quietly.
6. gold-shining hall: Heorot.
7. journeyed: went.
8. snapped: broke suddenly.
9. tore: pulled apart violently.
10. rushed: he moved with great speed.
11. threshold: doorstep.
12. strode: walked with long firm steps.
13. inlaid: decorated, ornamented, chequered.
14. snarling: menacing, threatening, making angry growls with bared teeth.
15. gleamed: shone, emitted light.
16. gruesome: horrible, disgusting.
17. stuffed: filled.
18. relished: enjoyed greatly, got pleasure out of.
19. belly: the part of the human body below the chest, containing the stomach and bowels.
20. fate: inevitable destiny.
21. gnaw: bite, devour.
22. claws: feet armed with claws,i.e., toe hooked nails.
23. snatched: seized, clutched, grasped suddenly.
24. ripped him apart: tore him into pieces.
25. jaws: each of the upper and lower bony structures in vertebrates forming the framework of the mouth and containing the teeth.
26. bolted: swallowed hastily.
27. snapping: catching, clasping.
28. shut: closed-tight, fastened, firmly, tightly, securely, fixedly.
29. Grasped: endeavoured to seize; clasped, caught.
30. flooded: inundated, overwhelmed.
31. talons: hooked claws or fingers.
32. flee: run away.
33. Higlac's follower: Beowulf.
34. Boast: proud promise.
35. clutched: held firmly, seized, grasped.
36. writhing: contorting, twisting himself in agony.
37. swayed: were caused to incline, oscillate.
38. shook: were shocked, frightened, terrified, dismayed.
39. aisles: side divisions of a building, generally separated off by pillars; s; passages between rows of seats.
40. swept: passed over swiftly and violently.
41. withstand: resist.
42. fastened: fixed securely.
43. artfully: skilfully, masterly.
44. rattled: made a quick succession of short hard sounds.
45. grating: scraping, scratching or damaging by scraping.
46. fashioned: made, built.
47. shatter: break, brake into pieces, ruin, destroy, wreck.
48. swallow: devour, destroy.
49. started: were frightened.
50. cowering: trembling in fear.
51. sang: uttered.
52. shrieks: screams, high-pitched piercing cry.
53. Taut: tightly drawn, held, fastened.
54. feud: conduct war.
55. deserting: abandoning.
56. Bound: tied, fixed, fastened.
57. snapped: cracked, broke, disjointed.
58. flee: run away.
59. combat: fight.
60. Bold; daring, actively courageous.
61. strong-minded: determined.
62. purged: purified.
63. boasted: promised.
64. grief: affliction, sorrow.
65. fiend: devil eager for bloodshed.
66. rafters: the sloping beams forming the framework of a roof.


1. Read the whole passage and divide it into two parts. Quote the lines and justify your choice.

. Read lines 1-36 and identify the character being described by the poet.

3. Where did Grendel come out from?

4. Grendel is immediately described as an evil creature. Which lines stress his nature?

5. Consider lines five and six and say 1) how Grendel moved, 2) when he chose to move, 3) where he came out from.

1. how:
2. when:.
3. where:

6. What connotations are implied by the images contained in lines 5-6, positive or negative? Juxtapose the images with their connotations.


7. Are the connotations positive or negative?

8. Do lines 5-6 reinforce the evil nature of Grendel?

9. What is Grendel's "swampland" contrasted with?

10. Had Grendel visited Hrothgar's home before?

11. Was this visit the same as the previous time?

12. In lines 1-36 the poet gives a description of Grendel. List the words portraying his physical appearance and juxtapose them with the expressions describing his thoughts and perceptions.

Grendel's Physical Appearance
Grendel's Thoughts Mood and Perceptions

13. What is there in common between Grendel's physical appearance and thoughts and mood?

14. List the verbs describing Grendel's action in lines 1-36 and say if they are consistent with the evil nature of the monster.

Line 3:

15. Read the rest of the passage and identify the phrases defining Grendel.

16. Consider Grendel in the light of Christian religion and the phrases referring to him; what is he identified with?

17. Were Beowulf's thanes awake or asleep?

18. Who did Grendel attack and devour first?

Beowulf's Fight with Grendel (lines 36-109)

19. Who did Grendel attack then?

20. Was Beowulf awake or asleep? Why?

21. In the introductory note to this extract we have presented a summary of the main events occurring here. Match each group of lines given below with the matter they narrate within the second part (lines 36-109).


Mythology, Pagan and Christian Elements

21. In Beowulf historical and literary elements are associated with heroic legends, mythology and folklore. Which lines of this passage reveal a mythological world?

22. Pagan and Christian tradition are present in Beowulf. Which expressions and elements reveal the two traditions? Consider the whole text again and complete the table below.


Pagan Tradition
Christian Tradition

Language and Style

23. Beowulf is an Old English poem. Old English poetry frequently used "kennings". Write out the de definition of this device of figurative language, then find examples in the text.

- A "kenning" is:

- Some examples are:

24. Alliterative verse was an essential feature of Germanic poetry. Nearly all Old English verse is heavily alliterative. Say what alliteration is, then find examples in the text translated by B. Raffel and quote the lines.

- An alliteration is:

- Examples are:

25. Read aloud the lines of this extract and say if there is any rhyme scheme pattern.

26. Old English poetry frequently used compound nouns and adjectives. Are there any in this translation in modern English? Quote examples from the text.


27. Grendel is also described by means of metaphors in line 41. Write out what a metaphor is, then identify Grendel's metaphors and analyse them into tenor, vehicle, common ground.

- A metaphor is:

- Grendel is compared to a:

- Other metaphors are:

Tenor Vehicle Common ground


19. Grendel's Den and Hell.

Hearing that the Danes are at the mercy of that devilish son of Cain, Grendel, one of "A brood forever opposing the Lord's Will", the hero leaves his home in southwest Sweden and sails to the rescue. He wrestles with and defeats Grendel in the hall that becomes for that moment symbolic of the whole world. "He who had come to them from across the sea, / Bold and strong-minded, had driven affliction / Off, purged Heorot clean". Hrothgar summons Beowulf again to help his people and Heorot. Beowulf must still fight against evil; he descends into a terrible lake which Hrothgar so vividly describes in the extract below.

"They named the huge one Grendel"

"I've heard that my people, peasants working
In the fields, have seen a pair of such fiends
Wandering in the moors and marshes, giant
Monsters, living in those desert lands.
And they've said to my wise men that, as well as they could see,
One of the devils was a female creature.
The other, they say, walked through the wilderness
Like a man--but mightier than any man.
They were frightened, and they fled, hoping to find help
In Herot. They named (1) the huge one Grendel:
If he had a father no one knew him,
Or whether there'd been others before these two,
Hidden evil before hidden evil.
They live in secret places, windy
Cliffs, wolf-dens (2) where water pours
From the rocks, then runs underground, where mist
Steams (3) like black clouds, and the groves (4) of trees
Growing out over their lake are all covered
With frozen spray, and wind down (5) snakelike
Roots that reach as far as the water
And help keep it dark. At night that lake
Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom,
No wisdom reaches such depths. A deer,
Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds,
A stag (6) with great horns, though driven through the forest
From faraway places, prefers to die
On those shores, refuses to save its life
In that water. It isn't
A pleasant spot! When the wind stirs
And storms, waves splash toward the sky,
As dark as the air, as black as the rain
That the heavens weep. Our help,
Again, lies with you. Grendel's mother
Is hidden in her terrible home, in a place
You've not seen. Seek it, if you dare (8) ! Save us,
Once more, and again twisted gold,
Heaped-up ancient treasure, will reward you
For the battle you win.

(Beowulf, Lines 825-827, 1354-1376, N.A.L., Translated by Burton Raffel.)


1. named: called.
2. wolf-dens: lairs, places where wild animals live.
3. steams: expands like vapour.
4. groves: small woods or group of trees.
5. wind down: lower by going in a circular, spiral, curved or crooked course.
6. stag: an adult male deer, especially one with a set of branched horns.
7. dare: are courageous enough.


According to modern critics the poet who put the old materials into their present form of the poem Beowulf was a Christian; it is generally agreed that this poem reflects a Christian tradition. The conversion of the Germanic settlers in England had largely been completed during the centuries preceding the one in which the poet wrote. But there is little general agreement as to how clearly Beowulf reflects a Christian tradition or, conversely, the actual nature of the Christian tradition that it is held to reflect. The poet might have been a monk, versed in old native traditions but also in the culture and literature of the Latin Church. According to Robert. P. Creed's suggestion the tale of Beowulf was carried in the mind of a singer across the sea to Anglo-Saxon England some time after some of the events it deals with took place. The singer may have been a Dane or Geat. At some point after the arrival in England of the Christianizing mission of St. Augustine in 597 a traditional singer who was also a Christian told again of the noble hero. To this Christian singer the notion that this magnanimous warrior was not a Christian was unthinkable. Beowulf's conduct showed that he had been the willing servant of the true God. Another possibility might have been that the Saxon singer heard a crude song of Monster-wrestling and tribal warfare, and decided to make a better man out of the hero of these savage doings. God, the singer had learned, was the fountain of all virtue, and the noblest adventure of all was the imitation of Christ. His noble hero would in his fashion have to imitate Christ. That is, after all, what Beowulf does in the poem, but in the end Beowulf dies, and evil, or Satan, according to the allegorists, is victorious.
The Anglo-Saxon audiences would have recognized this evil as a type of hell. Gr Grendel's den, the landscape where it is set, is described as "wilderness" (l. 7) and it looks like a hell. The monsters are called "fiends / Wandering in the moors and marshes, giant/Monsters living in those desert lands", and "devils" "mightier than any man" (ll. 1-8). Once again Heorot becomes the symbol of order, happiness and safety, while Grendel's den is the place of "evil" (l. 13). Lines 14-23 describe the hellish and frightening lair of those evil creature, the pool where even the deer refuses to save his life (ll. 24-28). All the words describing the monsters' lake convey negative connotations: darkness and terrible fear.
The conclusion the reader must draw from the analysis of Pagan and Christian elements in the poem is that while Christian is a correct term for the religion of the poet and of his audience, it was a Christianity that had not yet by any means succeeded in sweeping away an older pagan tradition, which still called forth powerful responses from the hearts of men and women, despite the fact that many aspects of this tradition must be repulsive to a sophisticated Christian. The Christian poet often tries tho Christianize pagan virtues, but he remains true to the older tradition, and at the end of the poem we get the impression that Beowulf's main reward is pagan immortality: the memory will live in the minds of future generations of a hero's heroic deeds. The whole poem itself is a great expression of that immortality.
When this poet speaks of fate ("wyrd"), he has in mind not some archaic pagan force but the Christian idea of Providence. At the same time Grendel is not only a monster, a descendent of Cain the first murderer, ("Grendel, The Monster", ll. 20-21) but also an embodiment, an allegorical representative of that universal evil against which a Christian continuously fights. Grendel is referred to as "the guardian of crime" ("Beowulf's struggle with Grendel" l.41), he is a heathen, the physical image of a man estranged from God. His superhuman size and strength, "They named the huge one Grendel" (l. 1) and his hostility to man and his joys resemble the early descriptions of Satan. However, Grendel is not Satan, because he does not deceive man or destroy men's souls; basically he is a physical monster, a man-eating monster, who is hostile to humanity. He devours men and takes away their physical, temporal lives. But it seems likely that this terrible monster is the Devil. Grendel and his mother are descended from the first murderer - the first fratricide, to be precise - and are partly human. Grendel's hideous and repugnant body reflects the inner perversion of his spirit. He embodies evil and is an adversary of God and mankind; he destroys what he hates and envies. Grendel is a great challenge for the hero of the poem, Beowulf, who had already battled and killed the "nicors", the sea monsters.



Beowulf made a firm oath to kill the dragon that ravaged his realm. He went alone to the dragon's cave from where he saw fire issuing as he gave a challenging cry which enraged the dragon. In this terrible fight his shield and sword were not going to protect him. Beowulf struck with his sword but this did not kill the dragon who retaliated and Beowulf was wounded by the fire. Beowulf's men saw their leader's situation and fled to the woods, all except Wiglaf who remembered Beowulf's favours and came to his lord's assistance. Wiglaf rebuked his companions for cowardice before he joined Beowulf, whom he encouraged against the dragon. Beowulf made a second attack but his sword failed as "his hand was too strong". In return the dragon bit Beowulf's neck which bleeded badly. Then Wiglaf mortally wounded the dragon and Beowulf gave a final stab with a sword.

"I remember how we sat in the mead-hall"

His name was Wiglaf, he was Wextan's son
And a good soldier; his family had been Swedish,
Once. Watching Beowulf, he could see
How his king was suffering, burning. Remembering
Everything his lord and cousin had given him,
Armor and gold and the great estates
Wextan's family enjoyed, Wiglaf's
Mind was made up; (1) he raised his yellow
Shield and drew his sword--an ancient
Weapon that had once belonged to Onela's
Nephew, and that Wextan had won, killing
The prince when he fled from Sweden, sought safety
With Herdred, and found death. And Wiglaf's father
Had carried the dead man's armor, and his sword,
To Onela, and the king had said nothing, only
Given him armor and sword and all,
Everithing his rebel nephew had owned
And lost when he left this life. And Wextan
Had kept those shining gifts, held them
For years, waiting for his son to use them,
Wear them as honorably and well as once
His father had done; then Wextan died
And Wiglaf was his heir, inherited treasures
And weapons and land. He'd never worn
That armor, fought with that sword, until Beowulf
Called him to his side, led him into war.
But his soul did not melt, (2) his sword was strong;
The dragon discovered his courage, and his weapon,
When the rush (3) of battle brought them together.
And Wiglaf, his heart heavy, uttered
The kind of words his comrades deserved:
"I remember how we sat in the mead-hall, (4) drinking
And boasting (5) of how brave we'd be when Beowulf
Needed us, he who gave us these swords
And armor: all of us swore to repay him,
When the time came, kindness for kindness
--With our lives, if he needed them. He allowed us to join him,
Chose us from all his great army, thinking
Our boasting words had some weight, believing
Our promises, trusting our swords. He took us
For soldiers, for men. He meant to kill
This monster himself, our mighty king,
Fight this battle alone unaided,
As in the days when his strength and daring dazzled
Men's eyes. But those days are over and gone
And now our lord must lean on younger
Arms. And we must go to him, while angry
Flames burn at his flesh, help
Our glorious king! By almighty God,
I'd rather burn myself than see
Flames swirling around my lord.
And who are we to carry home
Our shields before we've slain his enemy
And ours, to run back to our homes with Beowulf
So hard-pressed here? I swear that nothing
He ever did deserved an end
Like this, dying miserably and alone,
Butchered (6) by this savage beast: we swore
That these swords and armor were each for us all!"
Then he ran to his king, crying encouragement
As he dove (7) through the dragon's deadly fumes:
"Belovèd Beowulf, remember how you boasted,
Once, that nothing in the world would ever
Destroy your fame: fight to keep it,
Now, be strong and brave, my noble
King, protecting life and fame
Together. My sword will fight at your side!"
The dragon heard him, the man-hating monster,
And was angry; shining with surging flames
It came for him, anxious to return his visit.
Waves of fire swept at his shield
And the edge began to burn. His mail shirt
Could not help him, but before his hands dropped
The blazing wood Wiglaf jumped
Behind Beowulf's shield; his own was burned
To ashes. Then the famous old hero, remembering
Days of glory, lifted what was left
Of Nagling, (8) his ancient sword, and swung (9) it
With all his strength, smashed (10) the gray
Blade into the beast's head. But then Nagling
Broke to pieces, as iron always
Had in Beowulf's hands. His arms
Were too strong, the hardest blade could not help him,
The most wonderfully worked. He carried them to war
But fate had decreed that the Geats' great king
Would be no better for any weapon.
Then the monster charged again, vomiting
Fire, wild with pain, rushed out
Fierce and dreadful, its fear forgotten.
Watching for its chance it drove its tusks (11)
Into Beowulf's neck; he staggered, (12) the blood
Came flooding forth, fell like rain.

(Beowulf, Lines 2602-2693, N. A. L., Translated by Burton Raffel)


1. made up: decided, resolved.
2. melt: dissolve.
3. rush: violent attack.
4. mead-hall: a large hall where the lord's thanes ate and slept. It was a place for gift-giving, entertainment, and royal festivals. Heorot was Hrothgar's mead-hall.
5. boasting: promising, declaring proudly their abilities.
6. butchered: killed.
7. dove: plunged.
8. Nagling: the name of Beowulf's sword.
9. swung: wove, moved to and fro.
10. smashed: struck, drove, dashed violently.
11. tusks: very long ng pointed teeth that com out beyond the mouth in certain animals.
12. staggered: almost fell.

Commentary and Activity

"Beowulf is a tale of the pagan past in which the endurance, the loyalty, the courage, and the strength of the heroic age are tempered by union with Christian virtues, graced with courtly manners and elevated in presentment to levels of epic dignity." However the ideals of right living and loyalty were also deeply rooted in the Anglo-Saxon and early Germanic and pagan societies in the concept of "comitatus". In "Wiglaf's speech" we find one of the most dramatic elements in the description of Beowulf's struggle with the dragon. Wiglaf's himself memorably embodies the spirit of the comitatus and its values. The youth of Wiglaf, his heroic courage, his contempt for the cowards who have deserted their lord, and his hero-worshipping devotion to Beowulf combine to suggest in striking manner the Germanic imperative of unconditional loyalty to the thanes' overlord and king.
In the warrior society, whose values the poem constantly invokes, the most important of human relationships was that which existed between the warrior--the thane--and his lord, a relationship based less on subordination of one man's will to another's than on mutual trust and respect. When a warrior vowed loyalty to his lord, he became not so much his servant as his voluntary companion, one who would take pride in defending him and fighting in his wars. In return, the lord was expected to affectionate care of his thanes and to reward them richly for their valour: a good king, one like Hrothgar or Beowulf, is referred to by such poetic epithets as "protector of warriors", "dispenser of treasure" or "ring-giver".

Read Wiglaf's speech and underline words or phrases which substantiate this statement.

1. Lines:


The poem ends with the death of the hero Beowulf and the imminent destruction of the Geatish people. In the last attack against the dragon, Beowulf received a deadly wound when the monster fastened his poisonous fangs in Beowulf's throat. Beowulf thanes had fled when they saw the dragon spouting streams of flame, despite young Wiglaf's plea for them to remain beside their king in his time of danger. Beowulf's neck began to bleed badly. Soon after Wiglaf and Beowulf mortally wounded the dragon: Wiglaf thrust a stout blow with his sword, and Beowulf, with declining strength, drew his dagger and cut the dragon in two.
Now Beowulf felt the poison of the dragon and realised that he was fatally wounded, and the end was near. Therefore the dying King asked Wiglaf to bring the treasure out of the cave so he could see it before he died. Wiglaf returned to Beowulf with the treasure and the King made his final speech. He gave thanks to God that he could acquire this treasure for his people, hands over responsibility to Wiglaf and requested a tomb to be built by the sea as a sign to his people and to seamen. He gave his collar, armour, rings and his authority to Wiglaf, and wished him well in terms which seem to imply his succession to rule over the Geats. His soul then left his body and flew to glory. Beowulf's death was a lonely one. He had no son to whom he could leave the succession, and only his loyal thane, Wiglaf, was with him when death came.

"For this, this gold, these jewels, I thank"

Then Wiglaf went back, anxious
To return while Beowulf was alive, to bring him
Treasure they'd won together. He ran,
Hoping his wounded king, weak
And dying, had not left the world too soon.(1)
Then he brought their treasure to Beowulf, and found
His famous king bloody, gasping (2)
For breath. But Wiglaf sprinkled (3) water
Over his lord, until the words
Deep in his breast broke through and were heard.
Beholding (4) the treasure he spoke, haltingly: (5)
"For this, this gold, these jewels, I thank
Our Father in Heaven, Ruler of the Earth--
For all of this, that His grace has given me,
Allowed me to bring to my people while breath
Still came to my lips. I sold my life
For this treasure, and I sold it well. Take
What I leave, Wiglaf, lead my people,
Help them; my time is gone. Have
The brave (6) Geats build me a tomb,
When the funeral flames have burned me, and build it
Here, at the water's edge, (7) high
On this spit (8) of land, so sailors can see
This tower, and remember my name, and call it
Beowulf's tower, and boats in the darkness
And mist, crossing the sea, will know it."(9)
"Then that brave king gave the golden
Necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf,
Gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings,
And his mail shirt, and ordered him to use them well:
"You're the last of all our far-flung (10) family.
Fate has swept our race away, (11)
Taken warriors in their strength and led them
To the death that was waiting. And now I follow them."
The old man's mouth was silent, spoke
No more, had said as much as it could;
He would sleep in the fire, (12) soon. His soul
Left his flesh, flew to glory.

(Beowulf, Lines 2783-2820), N. A. L., Translated by Burton Raffel


1. had not left: had not died.
2. gasping/ For breath: breathing with difficulty.
3. sprinkled: scattered drops of water.
4. Beholding: looking at, seeing.
5. haltingly: brokenly.
6. brave: courageous.
7. edge: border.
8. spit: this amount of earth, headland.
9. The tomb Beowulf has in mind is a burial mound on a headland that will be seen far out at sea. Such mounds on high places were not uncommon.
10. far-flung: long line, large, widespread.
11. swept our race away: sent our kinsmen to their final doom.
12. fire: the flames of the funeral blaze, on the pyre.


Christian and Pagan Elements.

1. Read the passage Beowulf's Death and point out any Christian and Pagan elements you can find out.(Quote lines from the text)

Christian Elements
Pagan Elements


Language Practice.

2. Complete the summary below.

Beowulf's final speech

Wiglaf returned to Beowulf with the 1. ............... and saw that his King and 2. ................... was 3. ............ . Wiglaf bathed Beowulf's fatal 4. ............... , and the dying King made his final 5. .............. . He gave 6. ............. to God that he could
acquire that 7. .............. for his people. Beowulf had no son to 8. ........... whom he could give his inheritance, so he handed over 9. .............. to Wiglaf and ordered him to 10. .......... after the 11. ..........., his 12. ................ , and to build a high 13. ........... by the 14. .............'s 15. ........ as a sign to his people and to 16. .............. and to call it 17. .............'s 18............ " . It 19. ............ be a reminder of 20. ...............'s fearless courage, an inspiration for future 21. ................ as they set out across the misty 22. .............. . Then he removed a golden 23. .............. from his 24. .......... and handed it together with his golden 25. ............. and 26. .............., and his authority and 27. ................ him to use them right. This meant that Wiglaf was now the 28. .............. of the Geats. Wiglaf was the last of the 29. ................. . Then Beowulf's speech 30. ............ and his 31. ............ took flight to seek the 32. ............ 33. .............. .


In the passage below the poet narrates Beowulf's funeral. He gives it great significance. Beowulf himself receives two ceremonies: a definitely pagan cremation, and a burial in grave mound that is ambiguously Christian or pagan. The lament is common in both pagan and Christian funerals.
Wiglaf's called for pyre wood to be brought to Beowulf's final resting place, pointing out that Beowulf, who often endured iron showers of enemy arrows, should now be endured by fire. Wiglaf chose seven thanes to accompany him inside the cavern, where they appropriated the unguarded treasure, dragged the fire dragon out, and pushed his dead body over a cliff into the sea.
Beowulf's body was loaded on a wagon and transported to the Whale's Headland. On the brow of the cliff the Geats built a splendid pyre, hung with helmets and shields, and as Beowulf requested, they laid their lord's body on the pyre. They ignited the greatest of funeral fires, wood smoke mounted up darkly above the flames, and soon the body of Beowulf was burned, even the heart. Round the pyre rode Beowulf's thanes mourning their fallen lord; they chanted their dirges and proclaimed the King's virtue and fame. There was much wailing and mourning and singing of sad songs. A Geatish woman with braided hair lamented the loss of her King. A great and noble King had fallen.

"A huge heap of wood was ready"

A huge heap of wood was ready,
Hung around with helmets, and battle
Shields, and shining mail shirts, all
As Beowulf had asked. The bearers brought
Their belovèd lord, their glorious king,
And weeping laid him high on the wood.
Then the warriors began to kindle (1) that greatest
Of funeral fires; smoke rose
Above the flames, black and thick, (2)
And while the wind blew and the fire
Roared they wept, and Beowulf's body
Crumbled (3) and was gone. The Geats stayed,
Moaning their sorrow, lamenting their lord:
A gnarled old (4) woman, hair wound
Tight and gray on her head, groaned (5)
A song of misery, of infinite sadness
And days of mourning, of fear and sorrow
To come, slaughter (6) and terror and captivity.
And Heaven swallowed (7) the billowing (8) smoke.
Then the Geats built the tower,(9) as Beowulf
Had asked, strong and tall, so sailors
Could find it from far and wide; working
For ten long days they made his monument,
Sealed his ashes in walls as straight
And high as wise and willing hands
Could raise them. And the riches he and Wiglaf
Had won from the dragon, rings, necklaces,
Ancient, hammered (10) armor--all
The treasures they'd taken were left there, too,
Silver and Jewels buried in the sandy
Ground, back in the earth, again
Abd forever hidden and useless to men.
And then twelve of the bravest Geats
Rode their horses around the tower,
Telling their sorrow, telling stories 3
Of their dead king and his greatness, his glory,
Praising him for heroic deeds, for a life
As noble as his name. So should all men
Raise up words for their lords, warm
With love, when their shield and protector leaves 4
His body behind, sends his soul
On high. And so Beowulf's followers
Rode, mourning their belovèd leader,
Crying that no better king had ever
Lived, no prince so mild, no man
So open to his people, so deserving of praise.

(Beowulf,Lines 3137-3182, N. A. L., Translated by Burton Raffel.)


1. kindle: set fire to, kindle.
2. thick: dense.
3. crumbled: broke into small pieces.
4. gnarled: aged, curved.
5. groaned: moaned, sighed.
6. slaughter: massacre.
7. swallowed: ate.
8. billowing: building up, rising in waves.
9. tower: tower-barrow; a mound of earth constructed to cover a burial.
10. hammered: fashioned, modelled, shaped with a hammer.


According to the code of Beowulf's historical era and society, a faithful retainer received many generous gifts as a reward for his loyalty and courage. Consequently, if a thane's king were killed, the thane was duty-bound to avenge the murder. Likewise, a relative was expected to avenge the murder of a kinsman by killing a member of the tribe or family of the murderer. With the introduction of wergild,each man had a price placed on him in accordance with his position. The higher the price, the less chance of his being murdered. By the same token, paying a price after a person's death often put an end to a feud, particularly since the kinsman of the murdered man wouldn't lose face by accepting the appropriate wergild. Thus wergild was a sum of "worth money"- the "price" of a man - based on the concept of recirpocity.


The stress alliterative verse of Anglo-Saxon poetry is clearly the product of an oral court minstrelsy; it was intended to be recited by the scop (in Old English: "jester, one who scoffs"), a professional entertainer (poet and singer) also known as a gleeman. Many Scandinavian folktales became a part of the well organized Anglo-Saxon world and body of folklore and legend, and it was not long until "warrior-kings" had a "singer", or scop who lived attached to their courts and recited and sang a body of oral literature, particularly about the warrior-king's glorious deeds. The scop was an itinerant minstrel who frequented the halls of kings and chiefs and sometimes found continuous service with one master. The scopas were the conservers of the Old English oral tradition and they were makers of poetry as well as reciters. A number of them were members of royal households, like the skalds (Scandinavian bards or court singers). Few are known by name. One of the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon poems, Widsith ( far traveller), is the autobiographical record of such a scop, who travels from court to court reciting his lays. The Beowulf-poet gives a valuable portrait of the scop in Hrothgar's court, as we have already seen. Hrothgar's scop was able to sing Beowulf's praises the day following his defeat of Grendel. The scop's purpose was to honour his noble patron or others who performed great deeds and to give praise and blame where applicable. He was expected to remember stories from the past and be able to sing them at any time. His job was to mentally and musically recall and perform these stories because the pride of the tribe depended upon a long genealogy of heroes. Moreover, by singing about heroes and about those who acted in non-heroic ways, the scop defined the moral values of his society, and his songs endorsed models of behaviour. The scop defined his society's code of heroic behaviour: he praised those who lived according to accepted social codes and criticized those who failed to perform according to the expectations of the group they belonged to.

Read the poem below which deals with the lament of a bard.


Deor's Lament is an Old English poem from the ninth or tenth century and it is contained in the Exeter Book . It is composed of 40 lines divided into seven unequal sections and containing a refrain repeated six times: That evil ended. So also may this!. We do not know who was the poet that wrote Deor's Lament and when. Nothing is known of the bard who names himself Deor (line 35).This poet is mentioned nowhere else and nothing is known of him except for the poem's implication that he was an exile.

Deor seems to be a minstrel who has fallen out of the favour and consoles himself by considering the past misfortunes of others such as Wayland the Smith, Theodoric, and Hermanric. It is one of the group of poems in the Exeter Book referred to as "elegies", short poems whose theme is usually the transience and unreliability of the World, sometimes ending, though not in Deor's Lament with a Christian consolation.

"Weland knew fully affliction and woe"

Weland (1) knew fully(2) affliction and woe
Hero unflinching(3) enduring distress;(4)
Had for companionship heart-break and longing,(5)
Wintry exile and anguish of soul,
When Nithad bound him, the better man, 5
Constrained him with sinewy bonds.(6)

That evil ended.(7) So also may this!

Nor was brother's death to Beadohild
A sorrow as deep as her own sad plight,(8)
When she knew the weight of the child in her womb, 10
But little could know what her lot might be.

That evil ended.(9) So also may this!

Many have heard of the rape (10) of Hild,(11)
Of her father's affection and infinite love,
Whose nights were sleepless with sorrow and grief. 15

That evil ended. So also may this!

For thirty winters Theodoric (12) held,
As many have known, the Maering's stronghold.

That evil ended. So also may this!

We have heard of Eormanric's(13) wolf-like ways, 20
Widely ruling the realm of the Goths;(14)
Grim was his menace, and many a man,
Weighted with sorrow and presage of woe,
Wished that the end of his kingdom were come.

That evil ended. So also may this! 25

He who knows sorrow, despoiled of joys,
Sits heavy of mood; to his heart it seemeth (15)
His measure of misery meeteth (16) no end.
Yet well may he think how oft (17) in this world
The wise Lord varies His ways to men, 30
Granting wealth and honor (18) to many an eorl, (19)
To others awarding a burden (20) of woe.(21)

And so I can sing of my own sad plight (22)
Who long stood high as the Heodenings'(23) bard,
Deor my name, dear to my lord. 35

Mild was my service for many a winter,
Kindly my king till Heorrenda (24) came
Skillful in song and usurping the land-right (25)
Which once my gracious lord granted to me.

That evil ended. So also may this! 40

(Late 9th century. Translated by C. W. Kennedy, An Anthology of Old English Poetry, 1960)


1.Weland: (Wayland or Welund): the name means "maker" or "workman," the smith of Germanic legend, a supernatural being corresponding to the Vulcan of classical mythology. He had been captured by Nithhad, set to work, and made lame to prevent his
escape. Nevertheless he managed to escape, killed two sons of Nithhad and raped his daughter Beadohild.
2. fully: completely.
3. unflinching: constant.
4. distress: sadness,sorrow,dejection.
5 .longing: wish, nostalgia, yearning.
6. sinewy bonds: bonds imposed by cutting the sinews(sinew: ligament,tendon) .
7. That evil ended: Weland escaped ( by flying, in one form of the story).
8. plight: condition, predicament.
9. That evil ended: The poet refers this consideration to Beadohild.In fact, as a result of the rape, Beadohild bore the hero
Widia. The poet considers that to be the mother of a hero is sufficient compensation for her.
10. rape: sexual seduction,abuse.
11.Hild: Beadohild.
12. Theodoric: (probably) Theodoric the Great, 454-526, king of the Ostrogoths, lord of Italy, or Theodoric the Frank, who also suffered exile and defeat. The poet narrates he spent thirty years in exile.
13. Eormanric: He is the historical Eormanric, or Ermanric, king of the Ostrogoths, who died about 375, having made himself ruler from the Baltic to the Black Sea; later legend made hoim a cruel tyrant.
14. Goths: The Ostrogoths, who originated in southern Russia and held Italy during the late fifth and early sixth century.
15. seemeth: (archaic) seems.
16. meeteth: (archaic) meets.
17. oft: (archaic) often.
18. honor: honour.
19. eorl: it means either a nobleman, man of the upper class(as it does her), or a warrior.
20. burden: a heavy load.
21. woe: (archaic) affliction, bitter grief, distress.
22. plight: an unfortunate condition or state.
23. Heodenings: ruling family, descended from Heoden.
24. Heorrenda: a bard we know nothing of.
25. land-right: estate granted to Deor as a reward for his poetry.


1. This poem, almost unique in Anglo-Saxon poetry, uses a stanza division. How many stanzas is it divided into? (Quote the lines)

2. Are the stanzas of the same length?

3. Each stanza is divided by a repeated line. How many times is it repeated?

4. What is the term that define a phrase, a line or lines repeated at intervals during a poem and especially at the end of a stanza?
5. What is the genre used by the poet in this poem?

6. Look up the term elegy in your glossary and see if this poetic form matches Deor's Lament. (Substantiate your answer).

- An Elegy is:

7. Quote the phrases that describe Weland's condition.
8. Which line reveals Beadohild's brother murder?
9. How do we know that Beadohild was raped? Quote the lines and paraphrase them.
10. Looking up the word "elegy" you have seen that the mood of "Deor's Lament" is elegiac. Its genre is usually said to be that of a "consolatio", used both by ancient and pagan writers (which go back at least as far as Homer, Horace), and by Christian writers, (Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae, was translated into English in 890s by King Alfred the Great). Can you substantiate the above statement?
11. Consider the general mood of Deor's Lament and say if its a pagan or Christian poem. Substantiate your answer.
12. Consider the refrain and say what it function is.
13. Where does the poet draw his examples of misfortune from? Who are the characters he speaks of?


The Wanderer's lament is another excellent example of the elegiac mood so common in Old English poetry. The poem deals with the loss of a lord, of companions in arms, of mead-hall, in which, as we have already seen in Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon life realized itself to the full. These are themes that enhance the melancholy tone of Deor's Lament and of Bewoulf, as they are the emotional basis for such poems as The Wanderer itself. What is more poignantly expressed in The Wanderer is the loneliness of the exile in search of a new lord and hall: to the wretched seeker all weather is wintry, for nature seems to conspire to match a man's mood as he moves over the water from one land to another, yearning for a home and kin to replace those vanished ones that still fill his thoughts. The Wanderer tells of the tribulations of the man who must seek a new lord and new comrades, and the desolation he endures when, frozen and weary upon a freezing sea, he falls asleep, to dream of the warmth and happiness of companionship and feasting, only to wake and find it all a dream ( ll. 8-53). The Wanderer's opening lines are a statement of his faith that, after all the weariness and bitter cold of his life on earth, he will at last find comfort (ll. 1-7); this is taken up again to round off the poem (ll.103-108).

" Oft to the Wanderer, weary of exile"

Oft to the Wanderer, weary of exile,
Cometh God's pity, compassionate love,
Though woefully toiling on wintry seas
With churning oar in the icy wave,
Homeless and helpless he fled from Fate.
Thus saith the Wanderer mindful of misery,
Grievous disasters, and death of kin:
"Oft when the day broke, oft at the dawning,
Lonely and wretched I wailed my woe.
No man is living, no comrade left,
To whom I dare fully unlock my heart.
I have learned truly the mark of a man
Is keeping his counsel and locking his lips,
Let him think what he will! For, woe of heart
Withstandeth not Fate; a failing spirit
Earneth no help. Men eager for honor
Bury their sorrow deep in the breast.
"So have I also, often in wretchedness
Fettered my feelings, far from my kin,
Homeless and hapeless, since days of old,
When the dark earth covered my dear lord's face,
And I sailed away with sorrowful heart,
Over wintry seas, seeking a gold-lord,
If far or near lived one to befriend me
With gift in the mead-hall and comfort for grief.
"Who bears it, knows what a bitter companion,
Shoulder to shoulder, sorrow can be,
When friends are no more. His fortune is exile,
No gifts of fine gold; a heart that is frozen,
Earth's winsomeness dead. And he dreams of the hall-men,
The dealing of treasure, the days of his youth,
When his lord bade welcome to wassail and feast.
But gone is that gladness, and never again
Shall come the loved counsel of comrade and king.
"Even in slumber his sorrow assaileth,
and, dreaming he claspeth his dear lord again,
Head on knee, hand on knee, loyally laying,
Pledging his liege as in days long past.
Then from his slumber he starts lonely-hearted,
Beholding gray stretches of tossing sea,
Sea-birds bathing, with wings outspread,
While hailstorms darken, and driving snow.
Bitterer then is the bane of his wretchedness,
The longing for loved one: his grief is renewed.
The forms of his kinsmen take the shape in the silence;
In rapture he greets them; in gladness he scans
Old comrades remembered. But they melt into air
With no word of greeting to gladden his heart.
Then again surges his sorrow upon him;
And grimly he spurs his weary soul
Once more to the toil of the tossing sea.
"No wonder therefore, in all the world,
If a shadow darkens upon my spirit
When I reflect on the fates of men--
How we by one proud warriors vanish
From the halls that knew them, and day by day
All this earth ages and droops unto death.
No man may know wisdom till many a winter
Has been his portion. A wise man is patient,
No swift to anger, nor hasty of speech,
Neither too weak, nor too reckless, in war,
Neither fearful nor fain, nor too wishful of wealth,
Nor too eager in vow -- ere he know the event.
A brave man must bide when he speaketh his boast
Until he know surely the goal of his spirit.
"A wise man will ponder how dread is that doom
When all this world's wealth shall be scattered and waste
As now, over all, through the regions of earth,
Walls stand rime-covered and swept by the winds.
The battlements crumble, the wine-halls decay;
Joyless and silent the heroes are sleeping
Where the proud host fell by the wall they defended.
Some battle launched on their long, last journey;
One a bird bore o'er the billowing sea
One the gray wolf slew; one grieving eorl
Sadly gave to the grave's embrace.
The Warden of men hath wasted this world
Till the sound of music and revel is stilled,
And these giant-built structures stand empty of life.
"He who shall muse on these mouldering ruins,
And deeply ponder this darkling life,
Must brood on old legends of battle and bloodshed,
And heavy the mood that troubles his heart:
"Where now is the warrior? Where is the war horse?
Bestowal of treasure, and sharing of feast?
Alas! the bright ale-cup, the byrny-clad warrior,
The prince in his splendor --those days are long sped
In the night of the past, as if they never had been!"
And now remains only, for warriors' memorial.
A wall wondrous high with serpent shapes carved.
Storms of ash-spears have smitten the eorls,
Carnage of weapon, and conquering Fate.
"Storms now batter these ramparts of stone;
Blowing snow and the blast of winter
Enfold the earth; night-shadows fall
Darkly lowering, from the north driving
Raging hail in wrath upon men.
Wretchedness fills the realm of earth,
And Fate's decrees transform the world.
Here wealth is fleeting, friends are fleeting. 100
Man is fleeting, maid is fleeting;
All the foundation of earth shall fail!"
Thus spake the sage in solitude pondering.
Good man is he who guardeth his faith.
He must never too quickly unburden his breast 105
Of its sorrow, but eagerly strive for redress;
And happy the man who seeketh for mercy
From his heavenly Father, our Fortress and Strength.

(? 10th century)


1. Cometh: (archaic) comes (3rd person singular, simple present tense).
2. death: death by violence.
3. kin: a relative or kinsman.
4. gold-lord: a generous giver of gold and gifts, who would take him into his household.
5. Pledging his liege: making his profession of allegiance.
6. weak: unreliable.
7. fain: servile.
8. vow: boastful promise.
9. bird: perhaps it is the eagle or the raven, feeding on corpses.
10.eorl: warrior.
11.splendor: i.e. as the centre of the heroic community.


1. The poem can be divided into two parts. Substantiate quoting the lines.

First part: ll. ................................................................................... .
Second part: ll. .............................................................................. .



Sir, - It would be unreasonable in me to speak strongly in favour of compulsory Anglo-Saxon, since the fact that a course in Anglo-Saxon verse, is, of all the courses which I teach at the University of Sussex, the one I and, I believe, the students who take it most enjoy, and the one which most regularly produces first-class dissertations, is partly the result of its being wholly optional. It is, besides, a peculiar course in that its students are never required to translate the Anglo-Saxon text without the aid of the parallel texts in Hamer's admirable Choice of Anglo Saxon Verse and Swanton's equally admirable Beowulf.
But I can offer reasons for choosing Anglo-Saxon as an integral part of English Literature:
1) To know Anglo-Saxon is to have as part of one's conscious-ness the semantic richness of a large part of the language we speak (words like mood, weary, summer, weather, heart, or even rather, will, shall) and consequently both to read modern English with a special depth and sensitivity, and to realize how much the poetic use of language depends on semantic growth, change and variety.
2) It is also to understand the difficulty and fascination of some problems about language crucial to studying literature - for example, the real relation between diachrony and synchrony, and the relation between responding to a poem in one's own language and to a poem in a language one has learnt, with the realization that the boundary between the one and the other is both very important and very blurred.
3) The general truth of these two sets of claims is supported by the great number of those later poets who have been most sensitive to the subtler powers of language who have also studied Anglo-Saxon, whether it be Gray, Tennyson, Milton, or the moderns. Even reading the first movement of The Dry Salvages is enriched by noticing that it supports its evocation of primitive feeling by using the modes of Anglo-Saxon verse.
3) That man is little be envied who does not feel that "The Wanderer", "The Seafarer", "The Dream of the Rood", parts of the "Battle of Maldon" and Beowulf, are profound poetry, or who does not, reading the kennings and riddles of lesser Anglo-Saxon verse, experience a deep excitement and illumination, in the sense of feeling with the awareness and senses of another age.
5) The whole history of the society, landscape, customs, place-names and sensibility, in which directly or indirectly readers of English literature live, is understood by knowing Anglo-Saxon as in no other way. Even reading First World War poetry is sharpened by knowing that odd tension of the King's England and the village you were born in, which recurs throughout it, first appears in "Maldon" - and that "Maldon" inherits the traditions of another kind of war poetry before it.
6) There is a wide variety of advantages in studying Anglo-Saxon, which may be better gained by mastering Classical Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew. But I have not observed that those advantages are most easily gained by studying Anglo-Saxon, just be- cause it is a form of the English by means of which the majority of students of English literature learnt to speak, to think and to feel. It takes real determination in an English-speaker not to feel that after a little study one reads Anglo-Saxon from within, as only after a very great deal of study one reads any other language whatsoever.

(by Stephen Medcalf, University of Sussex, TLS, September 13, 1991.)


1. Discuss the advantages of studying Anglo-Saxon as an integral part of English Literature. Do you agree with Stephen Medcalf?
2. Can we transfer Stephen Medcalf's point of view to the study of Latin? What is your opinion about this argument?


1. Write a short essay explaining the Germanic ideals underlying the concept of "Comitatus". Substantiate by quoting from the passages you have studied.
2. Discuss the pagan and Christian aspects present in Beowulf.
3. Write a short essay on Beowulf as an epic poem.
4. After reading the chapter devoted to Beowulf discuss the elements of Christianity in the poem in a short written essay.
5. The monsters in Beowulf are symbols of evil. Discuss the problem of evil in the poem in a brief written essay.
6. German and Pagan society in Beowulf. Discuss this theme in a written essay.
7. Discuss the figure of the "scop" in the Anglo-Saxon world.