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Beowulf

Life and Death in

The Song of Beowulf is one of the oldest English heroic epics. The author is unknown, the date of composition is uncertain for it includes religious elements both of Christian and heathen character. An Anglian poet in the vicinity of Northumbria probably composed it somewhere about 700 A.D. But the manuscript, and it is the only one that still survives, was written down in West Saxon, three hundred years later about year 1000. Hrothgar builds a great hall, Heorot, which is continually subjected to continuous nightly attacks from the monster Grendel who has killed Hrothgars thanes during 12 years. Finding out of the tragic position of the Danish king Beowulf comes across the sea with 14 fighters to give assistance. He fights unarmed with Grendel, who mortally wounded goes to his lair. For his great courage Hrothgar gifts Beowulf with gold. Over the night Grendels mother attacks the hall. She kills and carries off the atheling Aeshere, the kings beloved counsellor. Beowulf follows her into the mare and cuts off her head. Beowulf and his men return to their land where he gives Hygelac, Hrothgars gifts. After Hygalacs death Beowulf gets to the throne, where he reigns for 50 years. The end of his reign is darkened by the invasion of a dragon. Beowulf and 11 companions go out to meet it. All companions, except Wyglaf fly to a wood. He wounds the dragon, which Beowulf kills, with his last powers, though the monster set his teeth in Beowulfs neck, wound that caused the heros death. The body was burnt on a great funeral pyre and his ashes were buried together with the dragons treasure.

From the structural point of view the poem is divided into two great narrative themes: young Beowulfs fight against Grendel and the monsters mother, finished with Beowulfs victory; the latter, Beowulfs reign and his fight at the end of his life against the fire dragon, fight in which Beowulf finds his death even though he defeats the monster. The poem has its symmetric composition as it begins and ends with a funeral. It opens with a praise of the deeds of the Danes, Scyld Shefing who is now buried by his people. The fragment has four parts and there the qualities of the leader are celebrated. The readers attention is required by Attend! in the first line as a suggestion of the following events, calling the reader into the story. The introduction of the personal pronoun we renders the story an objective character, implies real witnesses. The life of the great leader did not have an easy life being subjected to the vicissitudes of destiny found in childhood, lacked clothing. But that hard life made him the good king he was, Yet he lived and prospered, / grew in strength and stature under the heavens. At the same time a boy child was afterwards born to Scyld, who shall grow and become a good king. He seems to be sent by God, and by this appears the Christian element in the poem, though associated with the name of Wyrd, the Germanic goddess representing faith a hope for the people, sent them by God. The authors voice is heard in the aphoristic statement describing the Anglo-Saxon moral code: For in youth an atheling should so use his virtue, / give with a free hand while in his fathers house, / that in old age, when enemies gather, / established friend shall stand by him/ and serve him gladly.

The body of the great king is prepared for the endless trip onto the land of walkiries. He is buried on a ship full with gold and treasures, to celebrate and reward his life as their king, and let to flow on the sea, the burial place for the Anglo-Saxon leaders. As an end to this glorious beginning is the funeral of Beowulf, who, at the end of his reign fights over the dragon and loses his life in the battle. As opposed to the optimism of the thriving of the throne of Danes, the last canto of the poem is a pessimistic one. The death of Beowulf is the beginning of the evil days destined for the Geat people. The fragment opens with the preparations for the funeral pyre erected in honour of the great king. The whole atmosphere reflects tragedy and desperation in front of the uncertain future that awaits them. After having finished the great symbol of death, the warriors recited a dirge to declare their grief, / spoke of the man, mourned the King. In some aspects of literary composition and of literary material the beginning and the ending of this heroic epic poem have some common features, such as the main theme of death and funeral, the definite fragments with a definite subject, the authors voice reflected in the aphoristic passages. Both Scyld Shefing and Beowulfs funeral take place on the edge of the sea, as water is the symbol of the Germanic people, their way to the lands they conquered. The loss of their leaders is a tragic event in both moments. But the death of Scyld announces the birth of Beowulf, the future hope of the Danes, while the death of Beowulf foresees only troubles for the Geats. It states the beginning of the end of the Danish Royal House.

Luciana Ursu English-Romanian