Beowulf: Epic or Elegy?

March 29, 2017 History

Writing Lab III beowulf: Epic or Elegy? Beowulf is a poem written in manuscript form created in England sometime between the years 700 and 1000AD. The author is unknown to this day. Is Beowulf an epic poem or an elegy? An epic is “a long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race” (Harmon and Holman 188). An elegy is “a sustained and formal poem setting forth meditations on death or another solemn theme” (Harmon and Holman 178).

Beowulf has been considered to be both an epic and an elegy; an epic by some, and elegy by others. A great epic commits to these things: a hero that is a figure of great or national importance, settings that change several times, deeds of valor or extraordinary courage, and man against a supernatural being. I believe Beowulf is an epic poem telling of Beowulf’s deeds. Epic poems consist of heroes that are figures of great or national importance. That hero is Beowulf. So every elder and experienced councilman among my people supported my resolve to come here to you, King Hrothgar, because all knew of my awesome strength.

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They had seen me boltered in the blood of the enemies when I battled and bound five beasts, raided a troll-next and in the night-sea slaughtered sea-brutes. I have suffered extremes and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it upon themselves, I devastated them). Now I mean to be a match for Grendel, settle the outcome in single combat. (Beowulf 415-426) Beowulf is stronger than any other man – he ripped off the arm of Grendel with his hands. Beowulf is braver than any other man, prideful, and is the best warrior around. He encounters monsters and beasts but never fears the possibility of dying.

Beowulf is also an epic hero because he puts the welfare of others before himself. For example, he defeats Grendel to protect the Danes from harm. In an epic poem the setting changes several times. The many adventures take place in Denmark and Geatland. Beowulf first fights Grendel in Denmark unarmed and defeats him. While still in Denmark, Beowulf goes underwater to Grendel’s mother’s lair to defeat her. In Geatland, Beowulf encounters the dragon for a fight to the finish. Although he was victorious, he paid the ultimate price, that price being his life. Moments after being bitten on the neck by the dragon, he succumbed to death.

Epic poems consist of heroes who complete deeds of valor or extraordinary courage. “The captain of evil discovered himself in a handgrip harder than anything he had ever encountered in any man on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape” (Beowulf 749-753). This quote shows that Beowulf’s strength is so great that even a monster cannot escape from it. As I have said before, Beowulf is not afraid to die. He faces death fearless and bold and prepares himself for battle. Beowulf got ready, donned his war-gear, indifferent to death; his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail ould soon meet with the menace underwater… (Beowulf 1442-1445). In this quote, Beowulf is getting ready to meet Grendel’s mother in her underwater lair. Beowulf is ready and does not fear death. He would rather fight until he dies instead of giving up a fight. No other human being would even think to try to defeat Grendel, or even think about trying to defeat Grendel’s mother. In an epic poem, a hero is against a supernatural being. In Beowulf, he is against several supernatural beings. First he is opposed to Grendel, which is a monster. Then, after Grendel, he defeats Grendel’s mother – also a monster.

After slaying Grendel’s mother, Beowulf kills the dragon, which bites Beowulf in the neck, killing Beowulf afterwards. A great epic commits to these things: a hero that is a figure of great or national importance, settings that change several times, deeds of valor or extraordinary courage, and man against a supernatural being. Beowulf portrays these characteristics, meaning Beowulf can be classified as an epic poem. Works Cited Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 7th ed. , Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996. Print. Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.


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