Beowulf, an epic poem takes place around 500 AD. Many of the characters in the poem, the Swedish and Danish royal family members, correspond to actual historical figures. Originally pagan warriors, the Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian invaders experienced a large-scale conversion to Christianity at the end of the sixth century. Though still an old pagan story, Beowulf came to be told by Christian poets. This poem has hidden historical values of the fifth, eighth, and twelfth centuries. Beowulf is a significant part of English literature, molded over centuries, incorporating Christian beliefs, and famous for its use of gnomes in storytelling.
Beowulf was created over many centuries. The setting took place in the 5th century, about the Scandinavians. The regions from this time period include, the Geat, Jutes, Swedes, Wulfings, Frisions, and the Scylding Danes. Beowulf is said to be of the Geats people, who were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting what is now Sweden. The story was being told by the Anglo-Saxons in the eighth century. Decedents of the people of the story, were the original story tellers. They talk about their family’s past and their decedents. The English are credited for writing the story in the twelfth century.
During this time period, not many people knew how to read and write. Writing was labor intensive, hand written with ink and animal skin to date down their work. The Beowulf poem that is told is not the original story. When writing down old stories, things get mixed up and forgotten. New material is added to the stories as well to make up for the lost information and to make the story more interesting. When the story is being read, it is not the original story. This story has been edited over the course of centuries. The “authors” are anonymous, there is no one person who is dated down for actually creating this poem.
Dating back to when the story was written in the twelfth century, the story was originally about the fifth century, the Pagan people. The Norman Conquest brought the religion, Christianity, to the English. There was a conflict with religion for the fact that the English were Christian and the story was original based on Pagans. So, the author(s), also known as the descendants from the characters changed up the story to add Christianity. The characters in the story that were known for being Pagan are Beowulf, Grendal, Hrothgar, Unwerth, etc.
For example, “Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel the Eternal Lord had exacted a price: Cain got no good from committing that murder because the Almighty made him anathema and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants too who strove with God time and again until He gave them their reward…” (102-114).
Historical events, people, and popular trends played in to making this story. Back in the eighth century, using words of wisdom was a popular trend to convey messages. These are called gnomes. Gnomes are defined as a catchy saying that expresses a general truth or fundamental principle, an aphorism. This conveys to the reader a culturally pertinent message. In this poem, you can understand the important subject matters of this time. Some being gift giving, battling, nobility, revenge, paying for your sins, and words of wisdom. The Anglo-Saxons were a big fan of these subjects.
For example, it Beowulf states “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark…” (1384-1389). Reflecting on this quote, Beowulf is saying that life is a battle to win glory. This relates to the popular subjects of revenge and war. Later on, Wrathgar tells Beowulf not to boastfully give gifts, meaning to no be brag of being a hero.
He is conveying to live humbly. It states, “O flower of warriors, beware of that trap. Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part, eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride. For a brief while your strength is in bloom but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow illness or the sword to lay you low, or a sudden fire or surge of water or jabbing blade or javelin from the air or repellent age. Your piercing eye will dim and darken; and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away…” (1758–1768). Wrathgar’s speech conveys the popular subject of words of wisdom, gnomes.
In conclusion, Beowulf is a story orally past down from generation to generation in the 8th century over characters from the fifth century, and written down in the twelfth century. The era of the authors added in their belief, Christianity. Their religion played as a big part in the story. The poem is filled with Anglo-Saxon historical content, providing readers insight into the values of the Scandinavians. This came to be a significant part of English literature, that was sculpted over centuries.