Briefly describe the significance of the epic poem Beowulf. Who were the main protagonists, what was the plot, and what historical truths can be gleaned from it?
Beowulf, written in Old English sometime around the eighth century A.D., describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. As a rendition of oral tradition, and presents us with a rare glimpse of the culture from which it emerged. The oldest surviving epic in British literature, it is a texture of both historic fact and fantastic imaginings.
One manuscript of Beowulf survived the ages. Originally part of the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631), it survived the fire which destroyed the building. However the upper left corner of the manuscript bears witness to this narrow escape. It is now housed in the British Library in London.
Beowulf was a prince of the Geats, a seafaring Swedish people who have since been conquered. They may have been the Danes who were mentioned by Gregory of Tours. Given this history, F.R. Klaeber speculates that Beowulf himself ...
Overview of Beowulf's plot and attempts to glean historical facts from its text.