Discuss the society of Beowulf and his contemporaries.
1) In Beowulf we have the opportunity to peek into the actual society and culture surrounding the epic, allowing us to see how their world actually worked. Discuss the society of Beowulf and his contemporaries. How did they live? What was important? Make sure you discuss the role of the mead-hall, gifts, and treasure. An important aspect was family lineage and how it was traced. Over and over we hear about the patriarchal history of the characters. Why was this important? What roles do fealty and debt play? The final section of Beowulf is seen as an elegy for a way of life. (Dictionary.com defines an “elegy” as “a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, esp. a funeral song or a lament for the dead.”) Discuss the possible fate of Beowulf, his people, and his way of life using the battle with the dragon to support your ideas. I’m not asking you to research actual history – remember that the author is writing about something that happened in his past. Use the poet’s work as a history text. What is he trying to say about Beowulf’s civilization? What do you think are some of the symbols the author uses – ie, does the death of the dragon have a certain meaning? What about the predictions about what will happen after Beowulf’s death? (A long questions, but really just suggestions to help you develop your response. – you don’t have to discuss each point as long as your response is cohesive and focused)
2) Christ as Epic Hero. Is Christ an epic hero? Specifically, this question is asking if, based on the readings in the text, you believe Christ and his life can be said to represent the steps of the hero’s journey you presented by Joseph Campbell (among others) that you studied at the beginning of the unit. Explain your answer. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, include the stages of the hero’s journey in your answer. Do keep in mind that stories weren’t written according to this outline, developed much later, so he doesn’t have to hit each one – focus on the big five. Remember that we are discussing the Bible as literature – epic heroes have a specific definition that is different from being a personal hero.
Language is very important in Beowulf. In addition to traditional wealth, a man was judged by the words he knew – his “word hoard.” One way this was demonstrated was through the use of kennings. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, one definition of kenning is “A figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, storm of swords is a kenning for battle.” By using several words to describe a single thing (noun), the poet demonstrates how wealthy he is by the number of words he knows and the creative ways he can use them.
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