Its age is unknown; but it comes from a very distant and hoar antiquity . . . It is like a piece of ancient armor; rusty and battered, and yet strong. —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow CHARACTER LIST Much of the early action takes place in Herot, a great mead hall, or banquet hall, where the wellloved and generous Danish king Hrothgar holds court. The following list includes the principal characters in Beowulf, some of whom appear in the genealogies on page 13.
Beowulf, an ideal warrior of the Geats and the hero of the poem Dragon, a fire-breathing, snakelike monster that terrorizes the Geats Grendel, a monster with human qualities that terrorizes Herot for twelve years Grendel’s mother, a monster that also terrorizes Herot Hrothgar, Danish king and builder of Herot Higlac, king of the Geats and uncle of Beowulf Shild, legendary king of the Danes and greatgrandfather of Hrothgar Unferth, a warrior in Hrothgar’s court who challenges Beowulf’s bravery Welthow, Hrothgar’s wife Wiglaf, a young warrior and relative of Beowulf
BACKGROUND It is a curious fact that some of the world’s greatest literature has come to us from an unknown hand. Beowulf, the first epic poem in the English language, ranks high among such literature. Scholars believe that this epic about a brave warrior who vanquishes evil monsters was composed between the mid-seventh century and the end of the tenth century. Some of the story materials the poet uses may have been passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next.
Beowulf was probably composed in writing by one man. Although no one knows the identity of the author, he lived in what is now England, probably somewhere north of the river Thames. Little more can be said about the author with certainty, except that he was highly skilled in poetic technique and was thoroughly familiar with the traditional themes and legends of early Germanic culture. What is it about Beowulf that moved the American poet Longfellow to compare it to “a piece of ancient armor; rusty and battered, and yet strong”?
Perhaps it is that the poet fused early Germanic history, legends, mythology, and ideals with Christian faith and values to create an enduring work of art that inspires as it entertains. Or perhaps it is that we still cherish many of the qualities that Beowulf embodies—among them courage, loyalty, and generosity. Early Denmark and Sweden During the Time of Beowulf Swedes Geats Jutes North Sea Danes Ba l ti c Se a THE TIME AND PLACE The poem is set mainly in Denmark and Geatland (now southern Sweden) during the sixth century. The map at right shows the locations of peoples mentioned in Beowulf.
The proximity of those peoples to one another, together with the warrior code they followed, made for frequent clashes. 14 Frisians Franks Beowulf Study Guide Did You Know? In 1939, excavations at Sutton Hoo (in Suffolk, England) uncovered a royal treasure-filled ship buried in the seventh century—perhaps not long before Beowulf was first composed. The ship is thought to be the burial site of an early Anglo-Saxon king or nobleman. The treasures found there were so much like those described in Beowulf that scholars suggest Beowulf may have been based, in part, on memories of the ancient burial.
Some have even speculated that the poem was composed as a tribute to the late king, but no solid evidence has been found to support this notion. CRITIC’S CORNER The account of the hero’s funeral with which the poem ends . . . [is] at once immemorial and oddly contemporary. The Geat woman who cries out in dread as the flames consume the body of her dead lord could come straight from a late-twentieth-century news report, from Rwanda or Kosovo; her [lament] is a nightmare glimpse into the minds of people who have survived traumatic, even monstrous events and who are now being exposed to a comfortless future.
We immediately recognize her predicament and the pitch of her grief and find ourselves the better for having them expressed with such adequacy and dignity and unforgiving truth. —Seamus Heaney, introduction to Beowulf: A New Verse Translation Beowulf Study Guide 15 Before You Read Beowulf Prologue–Part 18 FOCUS ACTIVITY Who are today’s heroes? What special qualities do these people possess? Share Ideas With a small group of classmates, brainstorm a list of people who are admired as heroes. Next to the name of each person on the list, jot down a few qualities that make this person a hero.
What does your list suggest about the qualities that people prize today? Setting a Purpose Read to discover the qualities that make Beowulf a hero. BACKGROUND Did You Know? Beowulf contains one of the earliest instances in English of a flyting—a dispute, or an exchange of personal abuse, in verse. In part 8, the Danish warrior Unferth calls Beowulf a “boastful fool” and taunts him for undertaking and losing a reckless swimming match. Beowulf responds by telling how the match really went, accusing Unferth of fratricide, and faulting him for lacking the heart to confront Grendel.
The Epithet An epithet is usually an adjective or a brief phrase used to characterize a person, place, or thing. For example, in Beowulf God is variously described as “the Lord of all Life,” “the Ruler of glory,” “the Lord of heaven and earth,” and “our eternal Lord. ” As you read Beowulf, pay attention to the epithets. Note how they provide a brief summary of major characters’ most essential qualities. VOCABULARY PREVIEW lair [lar] n. home or resting place, esp. of a wild animal (l. 125) ? lament [l? ment ] n. expression of sorrow or grief (l. 128) loathsome [loth s? m] adj. xtremely disgusting; repulsive; offensive (l. 985) ? purge [purj] v. to cleanse or rid of whatever is unclean or undesirable (l. 432) reparation [rep?? ra sh? n] n. act of giving satisfaction or making amends, as for a wrong or an injury ? (l. 158) reprisal [ri pr? z? l] n. retaliation against an enemy for injuries or losses suffered, with the intent of inflicting equal or greater injury (l. 597) solace [sol is] n. relief from sorrow or disappointment; comfort; consolation (l. 185)
16 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Active Reading
Beowulf Prologue–Part 18 Several key characters are introduced in the first section of the poem. Write a brief description of each character in the appropriate boxes below to help fix the character in your mind. Shild Beowulf Hrothgar Unferth
Welthow Grendel Beowulf Study Guide 17 Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Prologue–Part 18 Personal Response What are your first impressions of Beowulf? Analyzing Literature Recall and Interpret 1. Why does Hrothgar build Herot? Why doesn’t it collapse when Beowulf engages Grendel in combat?
What might its collapse have symbolized? 2. How did Hrothgar come to know Beowulf’s father? Do you think that Beowulf feels indebted to Hrothgar for his past kindnesses to the family? Explain. 3. Briefly describe Grendel. What might Grendel symbolize? 4. Contrast Beowulf and Unferth. What function does Unferth serve in the poem? 5. Based on Welthow’s actions in the poem, what role or roles do you think women played in Anglo-Saxon society? 18 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Prologue–Part 18 Analyzing Literature (continued)
Evaluate and Connect 6. In your opinion, would the story be better if it were written in prose rather than verse? Explain. 7. How might a contemporary of Beowulf’s answer the Focus Activity question on page 16? Literature and Writing Analyzing Purpose In a few paragraphs, analyze the purpose of the prologue, or introduction, to Beowulf. How does it set the stage for the action that follows? Extending Your Response Literature Groups Some readers view Beowulf as a boastful glory seeker. Other readers view Beowulf as a noble, selfless man. With a small group of classmates, discuss each point of view.
Try to come to a consensus on Beowulf’s character. Then share your opinion with the class, supporting it with evidence from the poem. Learning for Life Using the author’s descriptions of Grendel, develop a psychological profile. Describe the monster’s personality and possible motivations for his behavior. Save your work for your portfolio. Beowulf Study Guide 19 Before You Read Beowulf Parts 19–31 FOCUS ACTIVITY Recall a time when you stood up for a friend or family member. Why did you defend the person?
Journal In your journal, describe the situation and explain why you took a stand. Setting a Purpose Read to find out who stands up for Grendel and why. BACKGROUND Did You Know? During medieval times, nobles often chose marriage partners for their children. A princess of one people might be given in marriage to the ruler of another in order to create alliances between their two peoples. As you read Beowulf, note the marriages that are described and think about the alliances that they create. Foreshadowing in Beowulf Foreshadowing is the use of hints or clues to prepare readers for events to come.
As you read Beowulf, look for clues about how the tale will end. Pay close attention to speeches and descriptions that appear to suggest more than what they actually describe. VOCABULARY PREVIEW exulting [i zult in ] adj. rejoicing greatly (l. 1881) fetters [fet ? rz] n. anything that confines or restrains (l. 1609) host [ho st] n. large number; multitude (l. 1788) ? imperious [im per e ? s] adj. dictatorial; domineering; overbearing (l. 1932) ? ? niggardly [ ni ? rd le] adj. miserly; tight-fisted; penurious (l. 1929) ? surging [surj in ] adj. moving with a violent, heaving, swelling motion (l. 453) 20 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Active Reading Beowulf Parts 19–31 Many of the characters in Beowulf are motivated by vengeance. As you read the next section of Beowulf, use the chart below to note characters who seek revenge. To avenge the death of Hnaef, King Hengest kills Finn. To avenge Beowulf Study Guide 21 Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Parts 19–31 Personal Response What lines linger in your mind? Why? Analyzing Literature Recall and Interpret 1.
Grendel’s mother is a major figure, but nothing is known about Grendel’s father. In a poem in which ancestry is important, what does Grendel’s ancestry suggest about his character? 2. What is the mood at Herot at the beginning of Part 19? How does the mood change? Why? 3. What does Beowulf’s speech just before fighting Grendel’s mother suggest about his relationship to his men? To Higlac? 4. Contrast Beowulf and Hermod. How does the contrast help define Beowulf’s character? 5. What sword does Beowulf take into battle?
Who gave him the sword? What does the sword’s failure in battle suggest about its owner? 22 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Parts 19–31 Analyzing Literature (continued) Evaluate and Connect 6. The literary term deus ex machina refers to the improbable and unexpected introduction of a person or device to make things turn out right. In your opinion, does the term apply to Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother? Explain. 7. In Beowulf what are the consequences of seeking revenge? What other ways might problems be worked out? Literature and Writing
Recognizing Allusions Allusions are references in a work of literature to a well-known person, place, event, written work, or work of art. Beowulf contains numerous biblical allusions. For example, Grendel is described as an offspring of Cain. In a paragraph or two, explain what this allusion or any other allusion of your choice adds to the poem. Extending Your Response Literature Groups With a small group of classmates, discuss Beowulf ’s portrayal of women (including Grendel’s mother). Based on the portrayal of women in the poem, describe the “ideal” Anglo-Saxon woman.
How would she have behaved? What roles would she have played? Share your description with the class. Performing With a partner, discuss the tone of parts 20 and 21, in which Hrothgar laments the murder of his trusted counselor Esher and Beowulf responds. How do you think the king and Beowulf feel? How might these feelings be conveyed in their tones of voice and facial expressions? Choose roles and rehearse the scene; then perform it for your class. Save your work for your portfolio. Beowulf Study Guide 23 Before You Read Beowulf Parts 32–43 FOCUS ACTIVITY
Are some things worth sacrificing one’s life for? What might they be? Think-Pair-Share With a partner, talk about someone who risked his or her life to help someone else. What was the result? Setting a Purpose Read to discover how, out of selflessness, a man makes the ultimate sacrifice. BACKGROUND Did You Know? Old English poems rely heavily on alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words in close proximity. Note, for example, the alliteration in these lines from the prologue to Beowulf: “We’ve heard of Danish heroes / . . . and the glory they cut . . . winging mighty swords! / How Shild made slaves of soldiers from every / Land, crowds of captives he’d beaten. ” As you read the final section of Beowulf, look for instances of alliteration, and think about how they add to the music of the poem. The Kenning As a Literary Device Another device that often appears in Old English poetry is the kenning, a descriptive figure of speech that takes the place of a familiar noun. Beowulf contains numerous examples of this special use of words. For example, the route that Beowulf and his men sail is called a “sea-road,” and the waves are called “ocean furrows. As you continue to read, look for other examples of this literary device. VOCABULARY PREVIEW bolt [bolt] v. to break away from control; start and run off (l. 2888) ? hoary [hor e] adj. venerable; ancient (l. 2553) ? livid [liv id] adj. having a grayish-blue coloration from a bruise (l. 2724) reproach [ri proch ] n. act of reproaching; blame; reproof (l. 2331) ? skulk [skulk] v. to move in a furtive or stealthy manner (l. 2366) venomous [ ven ? m? s] adj. able to inflict a poisonous wound, esp. by biting or stinging; secreting and transmitting venom (l. 2838)
24 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Active Reading Beowulf Parts 32–43 Beowulf is a narrative poem that moves through a sequence of events. As you read Parts 32–43 of the poem, trace the events from the beginning of this section to the end by completing the boxes below. At the end, predict the fate of the Geats. A fugitive steals a cup from the dragon’s hoard. Beowulf prepares to fight the dragon alone. The dragon wounds Beowulf mortally. Beowulf is accorded a hero’s burial. Outcome for the Geats:
Beowulf Study Guide 25 Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Parts 32–43 Personal Response Were you surprised by the conclusion of Beowulf? How would you have ended the poem? Why? Analyzing Literature Recall and Interpret 1. What incident leads the dragon on the path to vengeance? 2. How does Beowulf become king of the Geats? Explain how his ascension to the throne reinforces the character traits he displays earlier in the poem. 3. In what way does Wiglaf resemble the younger Beowulf? What makes him a worthy successor to Beowulf? . Why is Beowulf’s death a turning point for the Geats? 5. What is usually done with treasures taken from a defeated enemy? Why is it significant that the treasure from the dragon’s den is buried with Beowulf? 26 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Responding Beowulf Parts 32–43 Analyzing Literature (continued) Evaluate and Connect 6. How might you account for the enduring popularity of Beowulf? Would you recommend it to a friend? Why or why not? 7. How do you think Wiglaf would answer the question in the Focus Activity on page 24? Why? Literature and Writing
Pretend that you are Beowulf writing a letter to Wiglaf, your successor. What advice would you give to him to lead the Geats? What mistakes might you warn him against making? What values would you suggest he hold dear? Draw upon details from Beowulf’s life that you think would be instructive to the young leader. Extending Your Response Literature Groups With a small group of students, discuss a theme, or main idea, developed in Beowulf. Together, write a sentence or two that sums up the theme. Then share your summary with the class, explaining how you arrived at it.
Learning for Life With a small group of students, write the script for a news broadcast on the death of Beowulf. Recap his illustrious career, the main events in his life, his rise to fame and eventual death. Include brief “man-on-the-street” interviews with Geats responding to the loss. Choose roles and rehearse the broadcast; then videotape the production and play it for your class or, if you prefer, do a live performance. Save your work for your portfolio. Beowulf Study Guide 27 Name Date Class The New Beowulf Online NewsHour with Seamus Heaney
Before You Read Focus Question What do people mean when they say that something is “lost in translation”? What does it take to create a good translation of a work? Background Rarely does poetry make the bestseller list. Yet Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf did just that. Heaney’s translation has been hailed as “both direct and sophisticated, making previous versions look slightly flowery and antique by comparison. ” In this interview, Heaney talks about the work. Responding to the Reading 1. What does Heaney mean when he says that the Beowulf poet “lived in two worlds”? 2.
What connection does Heaney make between the Old English in which Beowulf was originally written and the language spoken in the rural community where he grew up? 3. According to Heaney, in what ways are conflicts in Beowulf similar to the conflicts in contemporary Northern Ireland? How are they different? 4. What does Heaney mean when he says that “poetry has no tense”? Do you agree? Explain. 5. Making Connections In the interview, Heaney reads his translation of lines 86–96 of Beowulf. Compare with Heaney’s translation Burton Raffel’s translation in your text. Which translation do you prefer?
Why? Writing About Literature Heaney’s translation of Beowulf has been described as being more accessible than earlier versions of the poem. Get a copy of Heaney’s translation of Beowulf from your school or community library and compare it with the translation in your text. Then, in a few paragraphs, tell what you think makes it more accessible than Raffel’s version. Support your opinion by quoting passages from both translations. 28 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class John Gardner Before You Read from Grendel Focus Question Think of a time when you had to weigh two sides of a story before you could form an opinion.
How did the two points of view differ? How did you decide which one to believe? Background John Gardner taught creative writing and published poems, novels, short stories, criticism, and children’s books before his untimely death in 1982. This excerpt is from the last two chapters of his novel Grendel. It describes Grendel’s encounter with Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. Responding to the Reading 1. What is Grendel’s reaction to Beowulf’s seizing his arm? How does he explain it? 2. What does Grendel think of Beowulf? 3. What was the accident that, in Grendel’s mind, gave Beowulf the upper hand?
4. Does Grendel attribute Beowulf’s success to his prowess or to the accident? How do you know? 5. Making Connections How does the portrayal of the monster in Grendel differ from the portrayal in Beowulf? Creative Writing Using the excerpt from Grendel as a model, rewrite a folktale from the monster’s point of view. For example, you might retell “Little Red Riding Hood” from the wolf’s point of view or “Jack and the Beanstalk” from the giant’s point of view. Share your story with your class. Beowulf Study Guide 29 Name Date Class ranslated by Charles W. Kennedy Old English Riddles Before You Read Focus Question Why are riddles able to engage and hold our interest? Background The Exeter Book, a collection of Old English texts from which these riddles come, contains ninety-five such poems, suggesting the popularity of riddling in Anglo-Saxon society. Responding to the Reading 1. What is the solution to each riddle? Which words and phrases in the first riddle provide the best clues to the solution? 2. What paradox, or apparent contradiction, is set up in the first two half-lines of the second riddle? 3.
Why might the object in the third riddle be described as “smitten”? 4. In which riddle does the subject express itself with the greatest emotion? is the object given the most emotional content? In what terms does it describe itself? 5. Making Connections Choose a kenning from Beowulf and explain how it might be viewed as a riddle. Creative Writing Using these riddles as models, write a verse riddle of your own. Choose an everyday object and describe its most essential characteristics. Share your riddle with your classmates and see if they can solve it. 0 Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class Dino Buzzati The Slaying of the Dragon Before You Read Focus Question Monster movies continue to draw large audiences. Why do so many people enjoy stories about monsters? What is the appeal of movie monsters like Godzilla and King Kong? Background Italian author Dino Buzzati wrote several distinguished fantasy stories and novels. In his works, he often combined the real and the fantastic. Buzzati died in 1972. Responding to the Reading 1. What warning does Dr. Taddei give Andronico? Why doesn’t Andronico heed Dr. Taddei’s warnings? 2.
Briefly describe the dragon. In your opinion, is the portrayal of the dragon sympathetic? Explain why you feel as you do. 3. In your opinion, are the dragon slayers in this story heroes? Explain. 4. What might the dragon symbolize? 5. Making Connections Compare the dragon in “The Slaying” with the dragon in Beowulf. In what ways are the two monsters similar? different? Literature Groups With a group of classmates, discuss the techniques that Buzzati uses to make the story of the dragon plausible. Beowulf Study Guide 31 Name Date
Class Jane Cahill Before You Read Medusa’s Story Focus Question If someone could foretell your future, would you want the person to describe what will happen to you or would you rather not know? Why? Background If you believe that there are two sides to every story, then you will enjoy this retelling of the Medusa myth. “Medusa’s Story” recounts the events in the Greek myth from the monster’s point of view. Responding to the Reading 1. Why does Athena punish Medusa? In your opinion, does the punishment fit the crime? Explain. 2. How does Medusa feel about her impending death?
Why? 3. How might Medusa answer the Focus Question? How can you tell? 4. Does Medusa arouse your sympathy? Explain why or why not. 5. Making Connections Describe the role of fate in Beowulf and in “Medusa’s Story. ” How are Beowulf’s and Medusa’s responses to fate different? Listening and Speaking Use library resources or the Internet to find a copy of the Greek myth on which “Medusa’s Story” is based. Compare and contrast the portrayal of Medusa in the two works. Then share your findings in a brief oral report to your class. 32
Beowulf Study Guide Name Date Class edited by Minnie Postma The Woman with the Big Thumbnail from Tales of the Basotho Before You Read Focus Question Many folktales tell about monsters. What do the monsters in folktales have in common? Background Virtually all cultures have legends about man-eating monsters. This African folktale describes a legendary monster who has a unique way of killing people. The tale is an old one that has been handed down from one generation of Basotho to the next. Responding to the Reading 1. Why is Sechakatane so lonely? 2. How does Sechakatane meet Bulane?
3. How do Bulane and his men manage to kill Machakatane? 4. What evidence is there in the story that the tale has been conveyed orally from generation to generation? 5. Making Connections What similarities do you see in “The Woman with the Big Thumbnail” and Beowulf? Performing Practice reading “The Woman with the Big Thumbnail” aloud. Pay attention to the natural rhythms of speech it captures and vary the rate and pitch of your voice to express the varying tones of the story. Then read the story aloud to your class. Beowulf Study Guide Test 33