Essay Example - The Myth of Beowulf

Published: 2023-03-14
Essay Example - The Myth of Beowulf
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Poem Character analysis Beowulf
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1862 words
16 min read

The Myth of Beowulf is a heroic, epic poem that is found in ancient English literature. The myth is composed somewhere between 700 and 950, even though it was set around the 6th century or before in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Sweden. The poem was named after the lead character; a warrior who takes part in all the major battles: "Through the ages death, mortality, and dying have been the official subjects of religions great and small. Almost by definition, death was then a blank spot on the map of human identities. In ancient and traditional times, the good death, usually in battle, was a semiotic limit on mortality as the eraser of individual human worth. Heroes, knights, and a few heroines might die, such as Beowulf or Gilgamesh, in a cosmic struggle with the evil ones, thus to be remembered forever in an accretion of fiction that over centuries would attach to whatever kernel of feet remained in the cumulated legends that in time became the truth of the matter. A myth exceeds a legend, as a symbol outruns a sign, by virtue of being elevated to a transcendental status beyond the logic and proofs and that came to certify alleged facts as true accounts of some reality. Yet, even with all the powers of myth and legend, we know from the close historical record that from prehistorical times down to modern death and dying, as deep considerations of the meaning of human life, have undergone a good number of transformations. Perhaps none were more perplexing than those that arose, roughly in the middle centuries of the modern age, from Hobbes and Descartes through Kant and Hegel; then William James and Freud brought down to the present time, nearly simultaneously, and anti-religious skepticism that has waxed and waned, nearly along the same aberrant curve as the concept of self-identity has slowly, but incompletely, wrenched itself away from the religious and cultural myths of the eternal soul. There is no real evidence to suggest the existence of Beowulf; the manuscript was referred to as a myth made to represent the culture and the Nordic Christian way of life that was on the rise at the time.

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The poem narrates the barbaric culture of the ancient Germanic tribes, where war and chaos were customary activities. There were warriors who were under the commands of their kings, swearing their loyalty in exchange of nourishment, land, and security. The first part of this sequel talks about Hrothgar, a king in Denmark who is under siege from a terrible monster named Grendel and his mother, who attack the King's assembly hall, Heorot. A fierce warrior called Beowulf, from the land of the Geats in Sweden, gets word of his old father's friend's tribulations and decides to scramble his boldest men and sail off to help.

The entourage arrives in Denmark, and Beowulf manages to slay both Grendel and his mother. Beowulf goes back home a hero and becomes their King, ushering in a period of plenty and happiness. The second part begins fifty years later, when a treasure-protecting, winged dragon attacks Beowulf's prospering nation, and even though the king is old, he slays the dragon with his warrior's help but is also wounded and later succumbs to his fatal wounds. This story emphasizes loyalty and friendship in conquering adversity.

Use of Symbolism in the Myth of Beowulf

Symbolism refers to letting an object stand in place of specific ideas and concepts. The writer of this poem describes Heorot as a place where the king offers gratitude to his warriors for victories in war and houses them. It, however, symbolizes the advanced nature of civilization present during the time. Heorot represents king Hrothgar's influence, might as well as the seat of power: "The only full-length study of the influence of Old Norse myth throughout English literary history Wide chronological scope Includes a succinct survey of what we mean by Old Norse myth, and an account of the literary tradition by which it was transmitted Explores issues of political and religious concern: national myths of origin; racial supremacy; attitudes to the cultural heritage of the pagan North English Poetry and Old Norse Myth: A History traces the influence of Old Norse myth - stories and poems about the familiar gods and goddesses of the pagan North, such as Odin, Thor, Baldr and Freyja - on poetry in English from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. Especial care is taken to determine the precise form in which these poets encountered the mythic material, so that the book traces a parallel history of the gradual dissemination of Old Norse mythic texts. Very many major poets were inspired by Old Norse myth. Some, for instance the Anglo-Saxon poet of Beowulf, or much later, Sir Walter Scott, used Old Norse mythic references to lend dramatic colour and apparent authenticity to their presentation of a distant Northern past. Others, like Thomas Gray, or Matthew Arnold, adapted Old Norse mythological poems and stories in ways which both responded to and helped to form the literary tastes of their own times. Still others, such as William Blake, or David Jones, reworked and incorporated celebrated elements of Norse myth - valkyries weaving the fates of men, or the great World Tree Yggdrasill on which Odin sacrificed himself - as personal symbols in their own poetry. This book also considers less familiar literary figures, showing how a surprisingly large number of poets in English engaged in individual ways with Old Norse myth. English Poetry and Old Norse Myth: A History demonstrates how attitudes towards the pagan mythology of the north change over time, but reveals that poets have always recognized Old Norse myth as a vital part of the literary, political and historical legacy of the English-speaking world. Readership: Students and scholars of Old Norse literature; students and scholars with an interest in English poetry. Heather O'Donoghue is Vigfusson Rausing reader in Old Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at the University of Oxford, and a Professorial Fellow of Linacre College. Introduction Prologue: Earliest Contacts: Medieval poetry and Old Norse myth 1: Antiquarians and Poets: seventeenth and eighteenth-century discoveries of Old Norse m...",. The king's hall sharply contrasts with the dark cave that houses the two monsters, which symbolizes evil and decay. The assembly also represents the setting where Beowulf defeated the enemy, coming as the savior who cleanses the decadence brought by the monsters. This battleground represents a precious ground that is worth brave warriors laying down their lives for its ultimate defense.

The battle between Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel's mother ends with the amputation of the Grendel's arm and head. Beowulf's victory with the first monster was symbolized by the gun that was left behind and was placed at a strategic point in the assembly for all to witness. To the bereaved mother, the missing arm represented her fury over humans, mocking her loss. The second battle ensued, and after Beowulf slew the monster, he cut off Grendel's head to further symbolize the magnitude of the warrior's victory. It indeed symbolized victory for the civilization of the nation of Denmark against a dreadful adversary.

Fifty years later, the winged fire dragon has his ancient treasure hoarded up and that he is protecting. This accumulation of vast wealth symbolizes the existence where many human beings had no way of assessing much-required wealth. It represents the ideal life that human beings want to have against the stark odds involved in attaining this wealth. The guarded treasure was of no use to the dragon as well, and even after his death, the people could not benefit from the richness as it was buried with their king.

Notable Characters in the Myth of Beowulf

Beowulf is the main protagonist in this epic poem, a warrior and hero from the Geats tribe in Sweden, who has slain many monsters in his wake. He fights and kills two more monsters and a fire-breathing dragon in the sequel. Beowulf shows extreme courage, continually putting himself before the rest of his team to face the enemy in difficult circumstances. He often commandeered these dangerous missions and got injured many times, but his resilience always led to the successful defeat of the enemy. He is also described as a wise and efficient leader who responds to the distress of his neighbor on more than one occasion. This great warrior goes ahead to become king in his home nation of Sweden and leads them in prosperity for fifty years.

King Hrothgar of the Danes is an influential and renowned leader who has been victorious in numerous battles and has conquered many lands. As a reward to his soldiers, he has them built a king's assembly hall, where he hosts them and serves to display his might. When this fortress is attacked, and the king remains powerless, he reaches out for help, and that is when the hero Beowulf heeds his calls. King Hrothgar had once helped Beowulf's father in the war and had known Beowulf ever since he was a little boy.

Grendel is the monster that attacks the king's fortress, killing many warriors over several nights of terror and dread. Beowulf assisted in getting rid of Grendel after unsuccessful attempts by the Danish king in the first battle of the poem. After his death, happiness and peace once again flowed over Denmark, only for Grendel's mother to attack the assembly, once more leading to death. However, after another fierce battle, Beowulf managed to slay this monster, too, and for the next fifty years, the people of both nations lived in great peace. This was not until a winged dragon was provoked by a treasure thief to attack Beowulf's own country, killing scores and torching villages.

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