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Flashcards in Beowulf Deck (24):
1

Who is Unferth?

Helps to reveal some of the subtleties of the heroic code that the warriors must follow. A lesser man, a foil for Beowulf. Makes fun of swimming match with Breca: jealousy, and shame for not being able to protect Heorot.

2

Who is Wyglaff?

One of Beowulf’s kinsmen and thanes, is the only warrior brave enough to help fight dragon. Wiglaf conforms perfectly to the heroic code in that he is willing to die attempting to defeat the opponent and, more importantly, to save his lord. In this regard, Wiglaf appears as a reflection of the young Beowulf in the first part of the story—a warrior who is strong, fearless, valiant, and loyal. He embodies Beowulf’s statement from the early scenes of the poem that it is always better to act than to grieve. Wiglaf thus represents the next generation of heroism and the future of the kingdom. His bravery and solid bearing provide the single glint of optimism in the final part of the story, which, for the most part, is dominated by a tone of despair at what the future holds

3

Beowulf: history, memory, commemoration, tone, loss, fire, trauma, nostalgia, folklore

Retelling, commemoration & losses on losses: critics transcribing monks transcribing something

4

Beowulf: centres, community, identity, stability, margins, strength, fear, safety, threat

Monsters and mead halls

5

Beowulf: women in Beowulf

Grendel's mother and her just claim

6

Beowulf: genre

Epic with qualificiations; performance

7

Beowulf: formal features

Oral tradition w/ phrases; kennings (whale road); alliterative; four-stress

8

Beowulf: manuscript history

Orality makes scholarly search for origins tough--we think 750-1000. Nowell Codex 1000-1010; fire damage in 1731 in Ashburnham House; British Library

9

Beowulf: viking raids

Start late 8th century and continue until Alfred restores peace in 890's. Hard to imagine praising Danes after this--yet, the virtuous pagan was perhaps a rebuke to wicked Kings who should know better

10

Beowulf: Hygelac

Beowulf’s king and uncle, is mentioned in the annals of Gregory of Tours (with reference to a raid into Frisia, which the poet says led to Hygelac’s death). Hygealc died in the early 6th c. So the setting of the poem Beowulf is around this time.

11

Beowulf: when is the story *set*?

Keyword: Hygelac. Beowulf’s king and uncle, is mentioned in the annals of Gregory of Tours (with reference to a raid into Frisia, which the poet says led to Hygelac’s death). Hygealc died in the early 6th c. So the setting of the poem Beowulf is around this time.

12

Beowulf: when is it written (use Offa)

- The figure of Offa is mentioned ll. 1950 ff. This has been read as reference to Offa of Angel (continental king). Some think this indicates that the poem can be dated to sometime during the reign of Offa of Mercia (r. 757 – 796; who claims ancestry from and that he was named after this other Offa). I mention this also because Elaine spent part of the summer teaching abroad in England, and her class saw Offa’s Dyke (that is, Offa of Mercia).

13

Beowulf & the Bible

- There are references to Old Testament/Hebrew Bible figures (Cain, the Flood, mainly), but no obvious reference to New Testament/Christian Bible figures. Some say this is an intentional representation of Hrothgar’s Danes/Beowulf’s Geats as pre-Christian societies (they are referred to as heathens within the poem). But the scribe at least if not the composer was working within a Christian context. So ponder upon what this means for the poem as well: is this poem praising or condemning of the actions of Beowulf, etc.?

14

Who is Modthyrth?

Modthryth, Thryth ('strength'), and Fremu are reconstructed names for a character who figures as the queen of King Offa in Beowulf.

15

From very nearly the beginning of Beowulf, we get the sense of a fated doom. What is this?

Heorot "awaited hostile fires, / the surges of war." This looks ahead to a battle between Hrothgar and his son-in-law Ingeld the Heathobard. The battle itself happens outside the action of the poem.

16

"____ often spares / an undoomed man, when his courage endures!"

"Wyrd"; like fate. This is from Beowulf.

17

What theme does Unferth bring into Hrothgar's hall? How does this theme get developed in the backstory of Grendel?

Kin-slaying. Grendel is descended from Cain.

18

In reality, in might not be unthinkable for kinsmen (like Unferth and his brother) to be on opposite sides of a battle. Why?

Loyalty to one's lord was supposed to outweigh the claims of blood-relation.

19

After killing Grendel, Geowulf is praised indirectly by being compared to __________, another famous monster-slayer. He is then contrasted to _________, an earlier king of the Danes who descended into tyranny.

Sigemund; Heremod

20

Directly after the scop's song about Hildeburh, Hengest, and Finn, who enters the hall? Why is this significant?

The Mead Hall at this moment provides a wonderful contrast to the story just sung: "Wealhtheow came forth / in her golden crown to where the good two / sat, nephew and uncle; their peace was still whole then, / each true to the other. Likewise Unferth, spokesman, sat at the foot of the Scylding lord; everyone trusted his spirit..."

21

Analyze: "Wealhtheow came forth / in her golden crown to where the good two / sat, nephew and uncle; their peace was still whole then, / each true to the other. Likewise Unferth, spokesman, sat at the foot of the Scylding lord; everyone trusted his spirit..."

The scop has just finished the story of Hildeburh, Hengest, and Finn, and this scene shows the contrast.

22

What is written on the hilt of the sword Beowulf finds in Grendel's mother's lair?

"The origin / of ancient strife, when the flood slew, / rushing seas, the race of giants-- / they suffered awfully.

23

*How do the framed stories and the speeches in Beowulf operate within the larger story?

They seem to not only provide commentary on past events but also prefigure upcoming challenges. The story of Hildeburh, Hengest, and Finn could be seen as an ominous warning to let losses be losses--disobeyed both by Grendel's mother and (far more so) by Beowulf and the Danes in pursuing Grendel's mother. Hrothgar's speech about Heremod after the defeat of Grendel's mother, in turn, warns of the evils of a selfish tyrant (cf. the dragon).

24

What advice does Hrothgar give Beowulf after he has defeated Grendel's mother?

To "hold [your glory] with patient care, / and temper strength with wisdom." He uses the example of Heremod to warn Beowulf to be slow to control himself and be generous and a friend to heroes.