Beowulf : notes by Elaine Strong Skill

By Elaine Strong Skill

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Sample text

As a Nordic­ Germanic hero, he believes in avenging the death of a friend or kinsman, and he especially believes in a lord's responsibility to reward his loyal thanes with gifts. " Beowulf exhibits altruism by fighting without a promise of reward; he does battle with Grendel without knowing Hrothgar's intention to reward him.  The poet mentions Beowulf's physical feats in war, and he also gives evidence of Beowulf's spiritual strength.  Beowulf demonstrates his future, kingly qualities, as well as the other noble characteristics which we saw in his early youth.

It was Wyrd which controlled the outcome of his battles.  He did not include dogma in his poem, but neither did he include the old gods in preference to the Christian God.  The early pagan was a mortal hemmed in by a hostile world — as was the early Christian.  As we can see, the fusion of pagan and Christian ideas is an important facet to understanding Beowulf.

Even place names in Medieval England point to a strong, widespread belief in the old folktales.  Obviously, folklore provides the main foes for Beowulf and for the background of the poem itself.  Anglo­Saxon poets were slow to give up the form, but with the conquest of England, French jongleurs, or minstrels came, and the Anglo­Saxon aristocracy were unable to patronize the poets since the transfer of power and money was held by the Normans.  Here, Beowulf's sword is called Page 51 Naegling, and Unferth's sword, which he gives to Beowulf, is called Hrunting.

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