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Reading Focus I: from Beowulf

KEY IDEAUnlike the monsters in Beowulf, those in our world are not always easy to identify. Evil can hide in the most unexpected places: behind a smiling face, between the lines of a law, in otherwise noble-sounding words. Even when evil is clearly exposed, people may disagree on how to confront it.

Before Reading Meet the BeowulfPoet

“Hear me!” So begins Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic poem in English. The command was intended to capture the listening audience’s attention, for Beowulf was originally chanted or sung aloud. Centuries of poet-singers, called scops, recited the adventures of Beowulf. It is our great fortune that eventually a gifted poet unified the heroic accounts and produced an enduring work of art.

By AnonymousUnfortunately, we don’t know who that poet was or when Beowulf was composed. Scholars contend that the poet may have lived anytime between the middle of the seventh century AD and the end of the 10th century. However, we do know where the poem was written. In the 5th century, bloody warfare in northern Europe had driven many Germanic-speaking tribes, including groups of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, to abandon their homes. Many of these groups settled in England, where they established what is now called Anglo-Saxon civilization.

The people of the Anglo-Saxon period spoke a language known as Old English, the language in which Beowulf was composed. Old English bears little resemblance to Modern English and so must be translated for readers today. By the time Beowulf was written, the Anglo-Saxons had also converted to Christianity. This Christian influence is evident in the poem.

Long Ago and Far AwayAlthough Beowulf was composed in England, the poem describes events that take place in Scandinavia around the 500s among two groups: the Danes of what is now Denmark and the Geats of what is now Sweden. Beowulf is a Geat warrior who crosses the sea to defeat Grendel, a monster who is terrorizing the Danes. He later returns to his homeland to succeed his uncle as king of the Geats.

FYI Did you know that the Beowulf manuscript . . . • exists in only one original copy? • was damaged and nearly destroyed in a fire in the 18th century? • has now been preserved through computer digitization?
Beowulf celebrates warrior culture and deeds requiring great strength and courage. Scops recited the poem and other tales in mead halls, large wooden buildings that provided a safe haven for warriors returning from battle. During the performances, audiences feasted and drank mead, an alcoholic beverage.

SurvivorThe sole surviving copy of Beowulf dates from about the year 1000. It is the work of Christian monks who preserved the literature of the past by copying manuscripts. After suffering mistreatment and several near-disasters, the Beowulf manuscript is now safely housed in the British Library in London.

While Reading

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 732

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