Alfgars Stories from Beowulf
Beside him was his queen, named Hygd, and called the Wise and Fair. About the king and queen were gathered the finest lords of the land. All were valiant warriors whose courage had been tried in many battles. They were tall like the trees of their forests, and broad like the stout beams of their boats, and each man had the strength of ten.
They were yellow of hair; their eyes were deep-set and burned blue like the sea; on their arms and around their necks were great circlets of beaten gold; and upon their heads they wore helmets decorated with the horns of bulls or the black wings of ravens. In battle these lords were fierce and terrible, and their war-cries froze the blood of their enemies. But in their own halls, in times of peace, they often dropped their warlike mien and sang and laughed and fondled their dogs and played jokes upon one another like children.
When they gathered in the great drinking-hall of the king, the minstrels would come among them after they had eaten; and with horns of ale passing from hand to hand, these lords of Geatsland would listen to songs of other lands and to news of the world which lay beyond their own frontiers. They heard the stirring story of Sigmund, that great hero; or learned how this king was warring with that or how a terrible dragon had destroyed a whole army of brave fighters.
Sometimes Hygd the Wise and Fair would call upon one or another of the assembled company and beg him to recount some particular deed of valor which he had performed in the past; and often Hygelac conferred with his warriors on some point of warfare or on the building of new boats which would better withstand the fierce gales of the winter seas. And the younger men listened, their blue eyes wide with eagerness, to the tales of bravery and battle, and struck one another upon the knee, vowing themselves to great deeds when they became older, or boasting of their youthful exploits and feats of strength.
Like so many great heroes of old, Beowulf was the son of his king's sister. As a small boy, Beowulf had shown such strength of body that Hygelac had early named him one of his thanes. So his mother and father gave him up, and young Beowulf went to live with his uncle, to learn the arts of war and the handling of ships. For several years he led a lonely life, for so great was the strength of his limbs that even among those men of vast vigor he was a youth to be marveled at. As the years slipped by and he grew to manhood, he became more and more sullen in his strength, and his companions dubbed him "The Silent.
He tripped over his sword. He broke whatever he touched. The other youths laughed at him for his awkwardness, but in secret they envied the immense spread of his shoulders and the terrible swiftness of his stride when he hunted in the forests. When he was sixteen years of age, Beowulf was challenged by one of his companions, Breca by name, to a swimming race in the sea. He accepted the challenge because he had been called lazy, and in his heart he was angry that his strength had never truly been tried. For five days and five nights he and Breca fought the waves of the sea, until Beowulf reached shore victorious.
Later, when he was accused of cowardice in this race, he told the true story of those black nights in the water, and what he related then was to go down in song as a famous legend. WHEN Beowulf had at last reached the full tide of his manhood, and been admitted to the circle of Hygelac's personal retainers, a feast was held one night in the king's drinking-hall.
From all over Geatsland famous warriors and earls gathered at the drinking-benches of their king to hear the songs of the minstrels and take part in games and feats of strength. The drinking-hall was decorated with the green boughs of fir trees, and fires blazed on the hearths at either end. Along the walls, at intervals, were placed flaming torches which lighted the vast hall with flickering light, and the smoke from the flares and the fires on the hearths was drawn high to the roof, where it disappeared in the gloomy rafters through a hole cut at the peak.
Around the hall stood wooden benches in tiers, one above the other, and at one end, highest of all, was the table at which Hygelac and Hygd his queen sat in their robes of state. The lower benches were crowded with the lords of Geatsland, and waiting upon them with food and drink were their vassals. In one corner of the hall were piled the armor and helmets of the warriors, and the spears tipped with bright metal, the huge swords glittering in their places.
The air was heavy with the smell of burning pine and fir. There was not much laughter among the guests, for these were men of the North, noted for their silence. But now and again a clear deep voice rang out above the continual murmur of the crowd and there was an answering rise in the applause or disapproval of those who heard.
Here and there stood a huge dog, resting his head upon his master's knee and waiting patiently for a rough caress or a chunk of meat. The servants hurried from bench to bench with ox horns adorned with beaten gold and filled with heady mead, that favorite drink of the Northmen, flavored with honey. Large wooden bowls painted in bright colors and overflowing with various meats stood on the tables and were dipped into by the seated guests.
Hygelac and his lady were served separately, from dishes more beautiful and precious than the rest, and the queen paused often to acknowledge with her gracious smile the toasts of her subjects as the drinking-horns were raised and held toward her. The king ate and drank sparingly, as became an old man, but the queen who was almost young enough to be his daughter took a lively interest in everything that was placed before her.
At the feet of the royal couple sat Beowulf, at a table especially prepared for the king's earls. These were the most favored and beloved of all the warriors of Geatsland. But many were the murmurs of jealousy and discontent among the lords when they beheld young Beowulf in such a place of honor. The older lords shook their gray heads disapprovingly and the younger men sighed and scowled with jealousy. Only one spoke up in defense of Beowulf, an ancient warrior with white flowing locks and a gentle sweet voice.
But when the others questioned him further, the old man smiled a wise smile, and would say no more; and as he was considered something of a sage and a magician, they exchanged wondering glances among themselves and kept their tongues quiet. But Beowulf, unmindful of the talk about him, sat in gloomy silence.
He ate little, but each time the drinking-horns were passed he drank long and deep. And like his drafts of ale and of mead, his thoughts, too, were deep and long. His strength was great, but there was no use for him to put it to, and he longed for wild adventure and the chance to stretch his muscles to the limit of their power. True, he thought, I have fought small dragons and hunted wild boars, but such hazards are mere games for boys, and I am now a man. My uncle Hygelac is at peace with his neighbors, and there is no war in which I can take part.
He sat stonily in his place, and his blue eyes were scornful of the earls about him and their big talk of little battles.
Then, at a signal from Hygelac, the murmur of voices died down, until there was no sound in the whole length of the vast hall save the spluttering of the flares upon the walls and the snarling of two dogs over a chunk of meat on the earthen floor. He brings, he says, a wondrous song for you to hear. It is long since we have had word from the North, and this man's harp is a sweet one. Sing to us, Wanderer, that we may have your news and your entertainment. Then the minstrel came forward with his harp. He was a tall rugged man, with a beard streaked with gray.
He had the air of one who had traveled long distances, and his blue eyes were wide and fixed like one used to watching the horizon of the wide world. Around him was wrapped a cloak of deep blue, held together by a curious clasp of gold. Beowulf, noting the clasp, thought it resembled a coiled snake, for there were two green stones set in it which glittered. This man, Beowulf thought, has been in far-away places. He will chant us a good song. Then the Wanderer for so he was called sat down upon a wooden stool, threw back the cloak from about his arms, and with long thin fingers struck the resounding strings of his harp.
He sang in a sharp voice that was like the crying of birds on the gray sea, but there was a sweetness in it at the same time which held his hearers, and the lords of Geatsland leaned forward on their benches in eagerness to catch every word. He sang of the vast and frozen North, where winter lay upon the land for many, many months, and men fought in the gloomy light of the night-burning sun. He sang of endless forests stretching black and forbidding in a sea of snow; of mountains higher and bleaker than the highest mountains of Geatsland; of the strange and fearful demons that inhabited this ghostly region.
He sang of dragons that had no blood in them, but which, when they fought in bitter combat among themselves, oozed a white liquid so cold that even the fir trees withered where it fell. He sang of the limitless gray sea and the green-white icebergs floating treacherously, and of the sirens who lived in caves upon them, and whose bodies were clothed in blue fish scales and whose hair was swaying seaweed. He sang of the monsters of the deep, strange wormlike creatures with brazen heads and tails like the tails of serpents, and Beowulf nodded with a knowing air, because he had swum in a great race against Breca and had learned something of the sea and what it held of terror for the swimmer.
Then the tune of the Wanderer changed. His voice fell to a lower note, and he sang of Hrothgar who was king of the Danes, that country not far from Geatsland, across the water. He told a sad story of desolation and despair in Hrothgar's land, because of a beast which had struck mortal fear into the hearts of the lords of Daneland. For on one cruel night, twelve years before, there had come to Heorot--which was the great drinking-hall of Hrothgar--a monster, part animal, part man, part bird.
The lords of Daneland were sleeping soundly in Heorot, and the monster, who was called Grendel, had forced open the solid doors of the king's hall and carried away in their sleep thirty of the greatest earls of the Danes. There had been lamentation throughout the land, and many were the attempts to slay Grendel, but none had succeeded.
And Hrothgar and his councilors no longer dared to sleep in Heorot, since for twelve long years Grendel repeatedly visited the king's hall and wrought destruction there. Yet Heorot had been well built by Hrothgar and for twelve years it had withstood the monster's onslaught, but in those twelve long years the valiant young warriors of the king had not withstood so well the nightly visitations, and now the land was despoiled of its youthful strength, and there remained to the king only those fighters whose early vigor had long since passed, and Daneland had become a country of old men and defenseless women.
The Wanderer sang of the fear that was in the Heart of Hrothgar the king and in the hearts of all his vassals and retainers, of the sorrowing of the women who were the wives or mothers or sisters of the slain warriors. He told of Unferth, who was Hrothgar's beloved companion, and how Unferth had not once offered to meet Grendel in combat, because the fear in his breast was greater than his love for his master. And at this a scornful murmur ran through the company that listened, and the lords of Geatsland condemned Unferth for a black coward.
Now, all the while that the Wanderer was singing, Beowulf sat as one bewitched. Those about him paid no heed to his rapid breathing, and failed to notice the light that had sprung into his blue eyes. He leaned forward upon the table, his arms folded under his still beardless chin, his eyes fixed upon the minstrel. The middle barrow has not been excavated. The protagonist Beowulf , a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes , whose great hall, Heorot , is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a giant's sword that he found in her lair.
Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a dragon , some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound.
He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour. Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem also begins in medias res or simply, "in the middle of things," which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event.
An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. The warriors form a kind of brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord. What is unique about "Beowulf" is that the poem actually begins and ends with a funeral.
At the beginning of the poem, the king, hero, Shield Shiefson dies 26—45 and there is a huge funeral for him. At the end of the poem when Beowulf dies, there is also a massive funeral for Beowulf — Beowulf begins with the story of Hrothgar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for himself and his warriors. In it, he, his wife Wealhtheow , and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating.
Grendel, a troll-like monster said to be descended from the biblical Cain , is pained by the sounds of joy.
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Hrothgar and his people, helpless against Grendel, abandon Heorot. Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hrothgar's troubles and with his king's permission leaves his homeland to assist Hrothgar. Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot.
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Beowulf refuses to use any weapon because he holds himself to be the equal of Grendel. This display would fuel Grendel's mother's anger in revenge. The next night, after celebrating Grendel's defeat, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot. Grendel's mother, angry that her son has been killed, sets out to get revenge. Earlier, after the award of treasure, The Geat had been given another lodging"; his assistance would be absent in this battle. Hrothgar, Beowulf, and their men track Grendel's mother to her lair under a lake.
Unferth , a warrior who had doubted him and wishes to make amends, presents Beowulf with his sword Hrunting. After stipulating a number of conditions to Hrothgar in case of his death including the taking in of his kinsmen and the inheritance by Unferth of Beowulf's estate , Beowulf jumps into the lake, at the bottom of which he finds a cavern containing Grendel's body and the remains of men that the two have killed.
Grendel's mother and Beowulf engage in fierce combat. At first, Grendel's mother appears to prevail. Beowulf, finding that Hrunting cannot harm his foe, puts it aside in fury. Beowulf is again saved from his opponent's attack by his armour. Beowulf takes another sword from Grendel's mother and slices her head off with it. Travelling further into Grendel's mother's lair, Beowulf discovers Grendel's corpse and severs his head. The blade of Beowulf's sword touches Grendel's toxic blood, and instantly dissolves so that only the hilt remains.
Beowulf swims back up to the rim of the pond where his men wait in growing despair. Carrying the hilt of the sword and Grendel's head, he presents them to Hrothgar upon his return to Heorot. The events prompt a long reflection by the king, sometimes referred to as "Hrothgar's sermon", in which he urges Beowulf to be wary of pride and to reward his thegns.
Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people. When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but Beowulf tells his men that he will fight the dragon alone and that they should wait on the barrow. Beowulf descends to do battle with the dragon, but finds himself outmatched. His men, upon seeing this and fearing for their lives, retreat into the woods.
One of his men, Wiglaf, however, in great distress at Beowulf's plight, comes to his aid. The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf remains by his side, grief-stricken. When the rest of the men finally return, Wiglaf bitterly admonishes them, blaming their cowardice for Beowulf's death. Afterward, Beowulf is ritually burned on a great pyre in Geatland while his people wail and mourn him, fearing that without him, the Geats are defenceless against attacks from surrounding tribes.
Afterwards, a barrow, visible from the sea, is built in his memory Beowulf lines — Beowulf was written in England, but is set in Scandinavia; its dating has attracted considerable scholarly attention. The poem has been dated to between the 8th and the early 11th centuries, with some recent scholarship offering what has been called "a cohesive and compelling case for Beowulf's early composition.
Albert Lord felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD ,  and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey , Leonard Neidorf, Rafael J.
The claim to an early 11th-century date depends in part on scholars who argue that, rather than the transcription of a tale from the oral tradition by an earlier literate monk, Beowulf reflects an original interpretation of an earlier version of the story by the manuscript's two scribes.
On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, palaeographical, metrical, and onomastic considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century;     in particular, the poem's regular observation of etymological length distinctions Max Kaluza's law has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century.
Hutcheson, for instance, does not believe Kaluza's Law can be used to date the poem, while claiming that "the weight of all the evidence Fulk presents in his book [b] tells strongly in favour of an eighth-century date. Beowulf survives in a single manuscript dated on palaeographical grounds to the late 10th or early 11th century.
The poem is known only from a single manuscript, which is estimated to date from close to AD , in which it appears with other works. The Beowulf manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from 16th-century scholar Laurence Nowell. XV" because it was one of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton 's holdings in the Cotton library in the middle of the 17th century. Many private antiquarians and book collectors, such as Sir Robert Cotton, used their own library classification systems. The earliest extant reference to the first foliation of the Nowell Codex was made sometime between and by Franciscus Junius the younger.
Smith's catalogue appeared in , and Wanley's in In the letter to Wanley, Hickes responds to an apparent charge against Smith, made by Wanley, that Smith had failed to mention the Beowulf script when cataloguing Cotton MS. Hickes replies to Wanley "I can find nothing yet of Beowulph. It suffered damage in the Cotton Library fire at Ashburnham House in Since then, parts of the manuscript have crumbled along with many of the letters. Rebinding efforts, though saving the manuscript from much degeneration, have nonetheless covered up other letters of the poem, causing further loss. Kevin Kiernan, in preparing his electronic edition of the manuscript, used fibre-optic backlighting and ultraviolet lighting to reveal letters in the manuscript lost from binding, erasure, or ink blotting.
The Beowulf manuscript was transcribed from an original by two scribes, one of whom wrote the prose at the beginning of the manuscript and the first lines before breaking off in mid sentence. The first scribe made a point of carefully regularizing the spelling of the original document by using the common West Saxon language and by avoiding any archaic or dialectical features. The second scribe, who wrote the remainder, with a difference in handwriting noticeable after line , seems to have written more vigorously and with less interest.
As a result, the second scribe's script retains more archaic dialectic features which allow modern scholars to ascribe the poem a cultural context. In the way that it is currently bound, the Beowulf manuscript is followed by the Old English poem Judith. Judith was written by the same scribe that completed Beowulf as evidenced through similar writing style. Worm-holes found in the last leaves of the Beowulf manuscript that aren't present in the Judith manuscript suggest that at one point Beowulf ended the volume.
The rubbed appearance of some leaves also suggest that the manuscript stood on a shelf unbound, as is known to have been the case with other Old English manuscripts. The question of whether Beowulf was passed down through oral tradition prior to its present manuscript form has been the subject of much debate, and involves more than simply the issue of its composition. Rather, given the implications of the theory of oral-formulaic composition and oral tradition, the question concerns how the poem is to be understood, and what sorts of interpretations are legitimate.
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Scholarly discussion about Beowulf in the context of the oral tradition was extremely active throughout the s and s. The debate might be framed starkly as follows: These fragments would have been told for many years in tradition, and learned by apprenticeship from one generation of illiterate poets to the next. The poem is composed orally and extemporaneously, and the archive of tradition on which it draws is oral, pagan, Germanic, heroic, and tribal. On the other hand, one might posit a poem which is composed by a literate scribe, who acquired literacy by way of learning Latin and absorbing Latinate culture and ways of thinking , probably a monk and therefore profoundly Christian in outlook.
On this view, the pagan references would be a sort of decorative archaising. However, scholars such as D. Crowne have proposed the idea that the poem was passed down from reciter to reciter under the theory of oral-formulaic composition , which hypothesises that epic poems were at least to some extent improvised by whoever was reciting them, and only much later written down.
In his landmark work, The Singer of Tales , Albert Lord refers to the work of Francis Peabody Magoun and others, saying "the documentation is complete, thorough, and accurate. This exhaustive analysis is in itself sufficient to prove that Beowulf was composed orally. Examination of Beowulf and other Old English literature for evidence of oral-formulaic composition has met with mixed response.
While "themes" inherited narrative subunits for representing familiar classes of event, such as the "arming the hero",  or the particularly well-studied "hero on the beach" theme  do exist across Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic works, some scholars conclude that Anglo-Saxon poetry is a mix of oral-formulaic and literate patterns, arguing that the poems both were composed on a word-by-word basis and followed larger formulae and patterns. Larry Benson argued that the interpretation of Beowulf as an entirely formulaic work diminishes the ability of the reader to analyse the poem in a unified manner, and with due attention to the poet's creativity.
Instead, he proposed that other pieces of Germanic literature contain "kernels of tradition" from which Beowulf borrows and expands upon. John Miles Foley wrote, referring to the Beowulf debate,  that while comparative work was both necessary and valid, it must be conducted with a view to the particularities of a given tradition; Foley argued with a view to developments of oral traditional theory that do not assume, or depend upon, ultimately unverifiable assumptions about composition, and instead delineate a more fluid continuum of traditionality and textuality.
Finally, in the view of Ursula Schaefer, the question of whether the poem was "oral" or "literate" becomes something of a red herring. Schaefer's concept of "vocality" offers neither a compromise nor a synthesis of the views which see the poem as on the one hand Germanic, pagan, and oral and on the other Latin-derived, Christian, and literate, but, as stated by Monika Otter: He made one himself, and had another done by a professional copyist who knew no Anglo-Saxon. Since that time, however, the manuscript has crumbled further, making these transcripts a prized witness to the text.
While the recovery of at least letters can be attributed to them, their accuracy has been called into question, [c] and the extent to which the manuscript was actually more readable in Thorkelin's time is uncertain. A great number of translations and adaptations are available, in poetry and prose. Andy Orchard, in A Critical Companion to Beowulf , lists 33 "representative" translations in his bibliography,  while the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies published Marijane Osborn's annotated list of over translations and adaptations in In , the historian Sharon Turner translated selected verses into modern English.
Grundtvig reviewed this edition in and created the first complete verse translation in Danish in Wyatt published the ninth English translation. In , Francis Barton Gummere 's full translation in "English imitative meter" was published,  and was used as the text of Gareth Hinds's graphic novel based on Beowulf in First published in , Frederick Klaeber 's Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg  which included the poem in Old English , an extensive glossary of Old English terms, and general background information became the "central source used by graduate students for the study of the poem and by scholars and teachers as the basis of their translations.
Seamus Heaney 's translation of the poem referred to by Howell Chickering and many others as "Heaneywulf"  was widely publicized. Fulk, of Indiana University , published the first facing-page edition and translation of the entire Nowell Codex manuscript in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series in Following research in the King's College London Archives, Carl Kears proposed that John Porter's translation, published in by Bill Griffiths ' Pirate Press , was the first complete verse translation of the poem entirely accompanied by facing-page Old English.
Translating Beowulf is one of the subjects of the publication Beowulf at Kalamazoo , containing a section with 10 essays on translation, and a section with 22 reviews of Heaney's translation some of which compare Heaney's work with that of Anglo-Saxon scholar Roy Liuzza. Tolkien 's long-awaited translation edited by his son, Christopher was published in as Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.
Neither identified sources nor analogues for Beowulf can be definitively proven, but many conjectures have been made. These are important in helping historians understand the Beowulf manuscript, as possible source-texts or influences would suggest time-frames of composition, geographic boundaries within which it could be composed, or range both spatial and temporal of influence i. There are Scandinavian sources, international folkloric sources, and Celtic sources. But Scandinavian works have continued to be studied as a possible source.
Axel Olrik claimed that on the contrary, this saga was a reworking of Beowulf , and others had followed suit. Lawrence to reposition his view, and entertain the possibility that certain elements in the saga such as the waterfall in place of the mere retained an older form. The viability of this connection has enjoyed enduring support, and was characterized as one of the few Scandinavian analogues to receive a general consensus of potential connection by Theodore M. Another candidate for a cogener analogue or possible source is the story of Hrolf kraki and his servant, the legendary bear- shapeshifter Bodvar Bjarki.
Hence a story about him and his followers may have developed as early as the 6th century. This tale type was later catalogued as international folktale type , now formally entitled "The Three Stolen Princesses" type in Hans Uther 's catalogue, although the "Bear's Son" is still used in Beowulf criticism, if not so much in folkloristic circles. However, although this folkloristic approach was seen as a step in the right direction, "The Bear's Son" tale has later been regarded by many as not a close enough parallel to be a viable choice.
For no such correspondence could be perceived in the Bear's Son Tale or Grettis saga. Attempts to find classical or Late Latin influence or analogue in Beowulf are almost exclusively linked with Homer 's Odyssey or Virgil 's Aeneid. In , Albert S. Cook suggested a Homeric connection due to equivalent formulas, metonymies , and analogous voyages. Work also supported the Homeric influence, stating that encounter between Beowulf and Unferth was parallel to the encounter between Odysseus and Euryalus in Books 7—8 of the Odyssey, even to the point of both characters giving the hero the same gift of a sword upon being proven wrong in their initial assessment of the hero's prowess.
This theory of Homer's influence on Beowulf remained very prevalent in the s, but started to die out in the following decade when a handful of critics stated that the two works were merely "comparative literature",  although Greek was known in late 7th century England: Several English scholars and churchmen are described by Bede as being fluent in Greek due to being taught by him; Bede claims to be fluent in Greek himself.
Frederick Klaeber , among others, argued for a connection between Beowulf and Virgil near the start of the 20th century, claiming that the very act of writing a secular epic in a Germanic world represents Virgilian influence. Virgil was seen as the pinnacle of Latin literature, and Latin was the dominant literary language of England at the time, therefore making Virgilian influence highly likely. It cannot be denied that Biblical parallels occur in the text, whether seen as a pagan work with "Christian colouring" added by scribes or as a "Christian historical novel, with selected bits of paganism deliberately laid on as 'local colour'," as Margaret E.
Goldsmith did in "The Christian Theme of Beowulf ". There is a wide array of linguistic forms in the Beowulf manuscript. It is this fact that leads some scholars to believe that Beowulf has endured a long and complicated transmission through all the main dialect areas. Considerably more than one-third of the total vocabulary is alien from ordinary prose use.
There are, in round numbers, three hundred and sixty uncompounded verbs in Beowulf , and forty of them are poetical words in the sense that they are unrecorded or rare in the existing prose writings. One hundred and fifty more occur with the prefix ge - reckoning a few found only in the past-participle , but of these one hundred occur also as simple verbs, and the prefix is employed to render a shade of meaning which was perfectly known and thoroughly familiar except in the latest Anglo-Saxon period.
The nouns number sixteen hundred. Seven hundred of them, including those formed with prefixes, of which fifty or considerably more than half have ge -, are simple nouns, at the highest reckoning not more than one-quarter is absent in prose. That this is due in some degree to accident is clear from the character of the words, and from the fact that several reappear and are common after the Norman Conquest. An Old English poem such as Beowulf is very different from modern poetry.
Anglo-Saxon poets typically used alliterative verse , a form of verse in which the first half of the line the a-verse is linked to the second half the b-verse through similarity in initial sound. In addition, the two halves are divided by a caesura: This verse form maps stressed and unstressed syllables onto abstract entities known as metrical positions. There is no fixed number of beats per line: The poet has a choice of epithets or formulae to use in order to fulfil the alliteration.
When speaking or reading Old English poetry, it is important to remember for alliterative purposes that many of the letters are not pronounced in the same way as in modern English. Both are voiced as in this between other voiced sounds: Otherwise they are unvoiced as in thing: Kennings are also a significant technique in Beowulf. They are evocative poetic descriptions of everyday things, often created to fill the alliterative requirements of the metre.