Beowulf is the hero and title of an Anglo-Saxon epic poem (1000 CE) of 3,000 lines, surviving on a single cotton manuscript and originating from an Old English folk tale (700 CE).
Beowulf is a Swedish leader who travels to the court of Heorot, which is presided over by his kinsman, the Dane King Hrothgar. Beowulf plans to help Hrothgar out by fighting a fierce monster, Grendel, which has been devouring the Dane King’s warriors by night.
The court is relieved to receive Beowulf’s help but, due to Grendel’s ferocity, doubt he’ll succeed in defeating the monster.
As night falls, Grendel appears. Beowulf grips him tightly. The monster manages to escape but at the high price of losing one of his arms, which Beowulf seizes with an iron grip. The loss of the arm eventually kills the monster. But the Danes’ merrymaking is short-lived, for that very night Grendel’s mother, a water-troll, appears to revenge her creepy son’s death.
After Grendel’s mother kills one of Hrothgar’s warriors, Beowulf follows her to an underwater cavern where he discovers a magic sword that he wields to destroy her. He returns with Grendel’s head to a delighted court. Beowulf then travels home to southern Sweden and reigns as king of the Geats for 50 years.
Christianized commentaries of the Beowulf myth suggest Grendel and his family are heirs of the Old Testament Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who slayed his brother Abel.
Beowulf’s third and final conquest involves a dragon that awakes from centuries of unconsciousness when a simple slave enters its lair and steals its favorite cup. The enraged dragon wreaks havoc throughout the land, so Beowulf arrives to slay it. All of his supporters desert him in the attempt but one, the noble Wiglaf. In the fierce battle Beowulf strikes the beast’s scales too vigorously, breaking his sword, which then gets caught in the dragon’s jaws. Wiglaf takes the opportunity to pierce the dragon’s throat with his sword. Beowulf, suspecting his own death is near, tells Wiglaf to seize the dragon’s gold.
They manage to kill the beast, but Beowulf later dies from exposure to its poisonous breath. He lives just long enough to see that his actions have saved the people, and Wiglaf then becomes heir to the throne.
Belonging to the tradition of dragon-slayer myths, Beowulf from a Jungian perspective represents the psychological dangers involved if the hero takes on archetypal forces greater than him or herself. Wiglaf, the noble helper, represents a new psychological attitude that hopefully arises after of the death of the noble but slightly overconfident hero.
The Beowulf story was also made into a feature film in 2007.
- The role of women in Beowulf (literaturessays.wordpress.com)
- Beowulf: A Thousand Years Of Baggage – review | Alex Needham (guardian.co.uk)
- Content Marketing Lessons from Beowulf – Yes, Beowulf (contently.com)
- Beowulf’s Last Battle (simplethingscan.wordpress.com)
- The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters Introduction (tedmorrissey.wordpress.com)
- The Death of Beowulf (simplethingscan.wordpress.com)
- Beowulf Makes His Bed (gagedmoments.wordpress.com)
- bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #14: Grendel by John Gardner (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)
- Wealtheow (2012introductiontowritingandenglishstudies.wordpress.com)
- Beowulf (2012introductiontowritingandenglishstudies.wordpress.com)