Skip to main content
Select Source:

Beowulf

Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon poem. This anonymous epic of 3,182 lines is preserved in BL Cotton Vitellius A. XV, written c.1000. Provenance, date, and genesis are uncertain: Northumbria or Mercia in the 8th cent. have long been favoured, although some recent scholarship proposes Viking Age alternatives.

The principal setting is southern Scandinavia c.500, but there is also reference, direct or indirect, to Hengist, King Offa, and other figures from English history. The stately and complex narrative is composed in the alliterative metre common to most early Germanic poetry, and is enhanced by rich description, decorous speeches, and moral reflection. It surveys Danish dynastic legend before depicting three great monster fights which conform to international story-types. In the first two, the young Geat hero Beowulf frees King Hrothgar and the Danes from the predations of the evil fen-dwellers Grendel and his mother; in the last, Beowulf, now an aged king, loses his life while slaying a treasure-guarding dragon. Interlacing the main plot are quasi-historical feuds and wars which emphasize the rhythms of joy and sorrow, youth and age, life and death which permeate the poem. Beowulf is deeply concerned with the ideals and tensions of the heroic life, especially strength, wisdom, loyalty, and the quest for glory. Whether it is also a ‘mirror for princes’, Scandinavian propaganda, a Christian critique of heroism, or a Christian allegory of salvation is more contentious.

D. C. Whaley

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

"Beowulf." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

Beowulf

Beowulf

An Anglo-Saxon poem of mythological wonders. The folk tales on which the poem is based may date from the fifth century. The epic itself was composed ca. 700 C.E. Beowulf was most likely regarded as one of the Sons of Light or Men of the Sun whose business it was to fight the powers of darkness until they themselves fell.

The legend recounts the tale of Beowulf fighting the monster Grendel; after losing the fight, the giant escapes only by leaving his arm in Beowulf's grip. But Grendel's mother, a mer-woman (see mermaids ), revenges him and slays many people. When Beowulf hears of this, he takes up the quarrel. Diving to the bottom of the sea, where her palace lay, he kills her after a fierce fight.

Later on Beowulf is made regent and then king of Gothland, where he reigns about 40 years. He is eventually poisoned by the fangs of a dragon during a mighty struggle and dies from the effects. He is buried on a hill named Hronesnas and is deeply mourned by his people.

There are numerous translations of Beowulf (see C. B. Tinker, The Translations of Beowulf, 1903), as well as many critical works and study guides. A manuscript Beowulf (Cotton Vitellius A. xv) ca. 1000 C.E. is preserved in the British Museum Library in London.

Sources:

Beowulf. Edited by F. Klaeber. Boston, 1950.

Beowulf. Translated by John R. Clarke. Rev. ed. New York: C. L. Wrenn, 1954.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

"Beowulf." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

Beowulf

Beowulf (bā´əwŏŏlf), oldest English epic, probably composed in the early 8th cent. by an Anglian bard in the vicinity of Northumbria. It survives in only one manuscript, written c.AD 1000 by two scribes and preserved in the British Library in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton. The materials for the poem are derived mainly from Scandinavian history, folk tale, and mythology. Its narrative consists of two parts: The first relates Beowulf's successful fights with the water monster Grendel and with Grendel's mother; the second narrates the hero's victory in his old age over a dragon and his subsequent death and funeral at the end of a long life of honor. These events take place entirely in Denmark and Sweden. The poem contains a remarkable fusion of pagan and Christian elements and provides a vivid picture of old Germanic life. It is written in a strongly accentual, alliterative verse. There have been some 65 translations of the work into modern English; one of the most accomplished is by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (2000).

See The Beowulf Poet: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by D. K. Fry (1968); studies by K. Sisam (1965), J. C. Pope (rev. ed. 1966), E. B. Irving (1968), R. Girvan and R. Bruce-Mitford (1971), K. S. Kiernan (1981), W. F. Bolston (1982), and J. D. Ogilvy and D. C. Baker (1986).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

"Beowulf." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

Beowulf

Beowulf Oldest English epic poem, dating from around the 8th century, and the most important surviving example of Anglo-Saxon verse. It tells how a young prince, Beowulf, slays the monster Grendel and his vengeful mother. Some 50 years later, Beowulf (now King of the Geats) fights and slays a fire-breathing dragon but dies from his wounds. The text, which exists in a single 10th century manuscript, was transcribed by more than one hand, and the many explicitly Christian interpretations were probably added by monks.

http://lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/AnoBeow.html

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

"Beowulf." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

BEOWULF

BEOWULF. The longest of the known poems in OLD ENGLISH and the first major recorded poem in a European VERNACULAR language. Its 3,182 lines survive in one manuscript (BL Cotton Vitellius A. 15) of c.1000, which was damaged in a fire in 1731, first transcribed in 1787, and first published in 1815. The poem tells the story of its Geatish hero Beowulf in two parts: ridding the Danes of the monster Grendel and his mother, and a fatal struggle against a fire dragon after he became king of the Geats.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"BEOWULF." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"BEOWULF." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

"BEOWULF." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beowulf

Beowulf

Beowulf a legendary Scandinavian hero whose exploits are celebrated in an eponymous Old English poem; in the first part, as a young warrior, he destroys the monster Grendel and Grendel's mother, and in the second part, as an old king, he kills (but is also killed by) a dragon which is ravaging his country.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beowulf

"Beowulf." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beowulf

Beowulf

Beowulf •Ralph •elf, herself, himself, itself, myself, oneself, ourself, self, shelf, themself, thyself, yourself •mantelshelf • bookshelf • sylph •golf, Rolf, Wolf •Randolph • Rudolph •Wolfe, Woolf •aardwolf • werewolf • Beowulf •engulf, gulf •Ranulf

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Beowulf." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Beowulf." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beowulf-0

"Beowulf." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beowulf-0