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Riddles of the epic "Song of Beowulf"
Riddles of the epic "Song of Beowulf"

Recently, scientists have solved one of the mysteries of the epic, proving that it was written by one author. Nevertheless, many plots of the poem remain a mystery to readers.

Epic and history

The monument of Anglo-Saxon literature has survived to this day in a copy that dates back to the beginning of the 11th century. But if we talk about the creation of the poem, scientists talk about the period of the end of the 7th - beginning of the 8th century.

England around the 7th century

Early medieval England was a series of Christian states in which a harmonious social structure was just emerging. The cultural climate was not completely saturated with early Christian traditions: the influence of paganism was still felt.

This proves one important discovery by British archaeologists. In 1939, scientists discovered the Sutton Hoo mound necropolis in the east of England. As you know, a funeral boat was found with a rich treasure that belonged to King Redwald. Similar burials are known only on the territory of Sweden.

Reconstruction of the burial

The plot of the poem, of course, transported the reader in more ancient times to the Scandinavian Peninsula. The world of the work is filled with battles, exploits and feasts. Germanic archaic sets the tone for the Anglo-Saxon epic.

An energetic and young warrior named Beowulf (bee wolf, he is also a bear) from the Scandinavian tribe of Gauts learns about the grief that overtook the Danish king Higelak. For 12 years now, the swamp monster Grendel has been attacking the capital of the kingdom of Heorot and exterminating the king's subjects just because they feast and sing songs.

Beowulf with his retinue defeats the monster and deprives him of his hand. After defeating Grendel, the brave northerners have to meet with his mother, who decided to avenge the death of her child. The fight between Beowulf and the "Monster Woman" almost cost the hero's life, but drawing a sword from the lake, the knight deprives the mother of the monster with one blow.

After a triumphant victory and a grandiose celebration, Beowulf returns to his native lands and continues to perform feats. He becomes the ruler of the Gouts and reigns serenely for 50 years until the fire-breathing dragon begins to ravage the territory of the kingdom. The serpent is angry with people because they have plundered his treasury. Beowulf goes to fight the dragon and defeats him, however, having lost a lot of strength, the hero dies. The body of the famous warrior is burned in a boat and his ashes are placed in a mound filled with all kinds of values.

Beowulf and the dragon

The mythological plot of the poem is based on historical ground. The hero's world is more than real: the tribes of Yutes, Danes, Goths ("Gauts") really inhabited Scandinavia in the first millennium of our era and, of course, they were connected by various kinds of relations. There is no description of England in Beowulf.

It would seem that this is rather strange for the Anglo-Saxon epic, but if we look at the monuments of medieval heroic literature, such as the "Song of the Nibelungs" or "Elder Edda", we will notice a lot of references to Europe during the Great Migration. It can be assumed that the action of "Beowulf" dates back to the time before the migration of the Saxons, Jutes and Angles to the British Isles in the 5th century.

Conquest of Britain in the 5th century

The poem presents a kind of integral composition of the Germanic world, but with separate semantic features that are characteristic of the works of Christian authors.

Motives and traditions

The poem draws attention to folklore motives and symbolic references to Christianity. The episode with the found Skild Skewang, whose boat is washed up on the Danish shores, is very revealing. Local residents found themselves in an unenviable position: they did not have a ruler.

The kid grew up and became king of Denmark, giving her a new dynasty, which is rightly identified with the Skjöldungs.As a token of gratitude, the people after the death of the king send his body on the last voyage on a boat with treasures. And exactly in the direction from which the ship with the baby arrived.

Saxon house in England

Beowulf's battles with the dragon and giants should not be emphasized - these are classic techniques of mythology and fairy tales. Medieval people perceived such stories not as fantasy, but as something real and tangible.

The lazy and non-ambitious hero gained the strength of thirty people only when he matured - this is again a bright epic figure. Tests of valor, violation of prohibitions, verbal conflicts with the enemy also emphasize the "nationality" of the poem.

Dragon decoration

Christian ethics did not ignore the content of Beowulf. For example, the often mentioned Destiny is at the same time an autonomous force and an instrument of the Most High. There are also references to biblical stories, but pagan virtues are organically woven into the canvas of the poem and do not look like "false teeth".

England of the 7th-8th centuries has not yet completely abandoned the traditions of Germanic ancestors. In the human mind, changes take a long time. And in "Beowulf" the author tried to convey in an understandable language to the layman at least a little bit of Christian ideals.


The understanding of good and evil in the poem is a good field for the synthesis of pagan and Christian traditions. The bright halls of Heorot with honey feasts and cheerful songs are contrasted with dark rocks, caves and gloomy swamps. Day is a time of festivities and joy, night is a time of deceit and evil. Grendel is an outcast, a marginal, a "descendant of Cain", doomed to eternal torment. He is like the devil.

The work is replete with references to the "ruler of the world", "mighty god". It was extremely difficult and largely useless to convey theological teaching to the common people of that era. But the Old Testament stories were well adapted in the text of the heroic epic.

Manuscript of the poem "Beowulf"

Nevertheless, luck in battle, gaining wealth, fame and valor, displaying loyalty and accepting trials of fate are themes that emphasize the epic character of the work, which combines early Christian and Germanic traditions.

And old Tolkien was right …

Researchers of early medieval European literary monuments have done an enormous amount of work on the search for the roots of "Beowulf" and the interpretation of the main subjects. The central issue that worried specialists for a long time remained the problem of the integrity of the work.

Since the 19th century, it was believed that Beowulf was composed of 4 parts and written by different authors. In favor of this point of view, the mass of references in the text to earlier events and the works of monks in scriptoriums, who corrected errors in the manuscript one after another, spoke.

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien

But the first to suggest that the poem belongs to the authorship of one person was the famous English writer and eminent scholar John Ronald Ruel Tolkien.

In his essay Beowulf: Monsters and Critics, the linguist saw a harmonious interweaving of Christian and pagan traditions. The analysis of this text helped the writer in many ways in his literary career. We can find a huge number of references to the Anglo-Saxon epic in the works of the main author of "high fantasy". A barrage of criticism threw away Tolkien's not unfounded assumption, and the heated discussion continued.

Nevertheless, over time, scholars began to compare English early medieval texts and continue to search for interesting patterns. A long-term dispute has brought science to new ways of finding the truth.

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