Sunday, September 15, 2013


v     Beowulf was a king and hero of the ancient Geats (Goths), who lived in what is now southern Sweden.

Land of the Geats

Beowulf is also the name of an epic poem about his life and great deeds (činy).

Beowulf may have looked something like this.
All the items shown were found by archaeologists.

v     You might remember the Goths (Visigoths & Ostrogoths) as the barbarians who broke up the Roman empire (Rímska ríša) with a series of invasions from 300-550 AD.

How the Romans saw the Goths, 3rd C, AD

v     No one knows what the name Beowulf means, but there are some interesting ideas. Beowa was a pagan (pohanské) god of farming. Beado-wulf is Anglo-Saxon for “war wolf”.  And then, ‘biewolf’ is an Old Dutch word for woodpecker. Who knows?

v     In addition to being an epic poem, Beowulf is a legend because it combines historical fact with fiction. Many of the characters in the book were real life kings.

v     The poem Beowulf is considered the first masterpiece (majstrovské dielo) in English literature, because the earliest written version was found in Britain, dated around 1000 AD, and written in Old English.
The original manuscript (rukopis)
    However, the story really isn’t English. It’s far older, dating to around 520 AD – according to historians, Beowulf’s uncle Hygelac died in a raid (útok) on the nation of Frisia (Franks), some time around 520 AD.

v     Also, the story doesn’t take place in Britain. It takes place in Denmark, Sweden, and surrounding islands in the Baltic Sea.

v     Beowulf is similar to Greek epic poems like the Odyssey, with heroes, villains, and fantastic monsters. But there is no mention of pagan gods, because, by this time, Christianity had traveled north from Rome, and, of course, the written version came far later, written in Christian England. The story makes a reference to the Bible in referring to the monster Grendel as a descendent (nasledovník) of Cain.

Cast of Characters:

Beowulf – the hero (hrdina)
Ecgþeow (Ecgtheow) – Beowulf’s father
Hroðgar (Hrothgar) – the Danish King
Grendel – a demon or monster
Grendel’s Mother – another demon
Hygelac – Beowulf’s uncle, and king of the Geats
Heardred – Hygelac’s son, and king after Hygelac dies.
Ohthere – king of the Swedes
Onela – Ohthere’s brother, the usurper (ten čo sa zmocnil trónu).
Eadgils and Eanmund – sons of Ohthere.

v     This story really begins with Beowulf’s father, Ecgþeow. He got into trouble, killing a nobleman in Geatland. He fled to the Danes, and king Hroðgar paid a weregild (money paid as a reparation (odškodnenie), literally “the price of a man”) so that Ecgþeow could go back home, a free man. He got married and had a son, Beowulf.

v     Years later, a horrible monster named Grendel terrorized the Danes, and Beowulf came to kill it, paying his father’s debt (dlh). Then, he had to kill its mother, who was angry at Grendel’s death.

v     After that, Beowulf went with Hygelac on that ill-fated (nešťastný) raid to Frisia. Beowulf survived by swimming away in full armor (brnenie).

v     Next came war with the Swedes in the north. The Swedish king Ohthere died, fighting with the Geats. His brother, Onela, usurped the throne (zmocnil sa trónu), and Ohthere’s sons, Eadgils and Eanmund, fled (utekli) to the Geats, begging (prosili) for help and mercy (milosť). Here was the Geats’s chance to make peace with Sweden. Young Heardred went off to fight Onela, but Onela killed him.

v     Beowulf, now the new king of the Geats wanted to avenge the death of Heardred, so he and his army attacked the Swedes, killed Onela, and the son Eadgils became king of Sweden. The Geats and Swedes finally had peace, and Beowulf reigned as king (vládol ako kráľ) for 51 years.

v     Beowulf died tragically, killed by a dragon that began terrorizing the land. Beowulf hunted it to its lair and killed it with a seax (a short sword), but was poisoned (bol otrávený) by one of its horns.

a collection of Frankish seaxes, around Beowulf's time.

v     Beowulf’s body was buried in a barrow, a man-made hill, used to bury (pochovať) kings. This was the custom at the time. Archaeologists believe his body might be in Skalunda barrow:

Beowulf is most famous for the killing of Grendel. There are two things that make it interesting. First of all, Beowulf said it wasn't enough to kill Grendel, he wanted to do it bare handed. Grendel always came to kill people in their sleep, so Beowulf pretended to sleep, then wrestled with Grendel, ripping off one of his arms. Then Grendel ran away to die in his swampland home. The second thing that's interesting is, What was Grendel anyway? It's been suggested that his name means rip and tear. he's described as having fiery eyes and large claws, being descended from Cain. But, other than that he's a unique monster, and many artists have come up with different ideas of what he looked like.
Here's a telling of the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, told in old English, with subtitles:


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