|This Week in Core||Medieval Europe Page||What is Beowulf?
Beowulf describes the heroics of a great Scandinavian warrior around the year 600. The hero defeats two dreaded monsters, only to meet his fate against a third monster in old age. The world of warriors in Beowulf is based on loyalty and bravery, and combines pagan customs of revenge with Christian faith in the will of God.
Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in English literature. An unknown bard composed it and probably recited it to the accompaniment of harp music. However, it was probably not put in writing until the 900's, when monks made several copies. It is likely that the monks removed mentions of pagan gods and replaced them with Christian references to the Bible. The words were first written in Old English. This would be a foreign language to us, although a few words are familiar: scyld (shield), sweord (sword), Gode (God) and strong.
original manuscript survives today. This copy survived a disastrous
fire in 1631. If you look at the photograph at right, you can see the
scars of the fire, visible
upper left corner of the page. The manuscript is now
housed in the British Library, London.
What is an epic?
An epic is a long story in the form of a poem, which tells about a hero and his great exploits. The protagonist, or hero, usually has superhuman qualities and abilities. Sometimes he also has a fatal flaw which causes his undoing.
The most famous epics in western literature are the Iliad and the Odyssey, which celebrate the deeds of Greek heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus.
Click here for very readable illustrated translation of Beowulf.
Listen to a bit of Old English
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The Setting of the Epic, perhaps 600 A.D.
Beowulf came from what is now southern Sweden, and sailed to Denmark to defeat Grendel.
Viking Ship like Beowulf's
The Oseberg ship was excavated from a large burial mound in Norway. The ship was built in around 815-820 A.D. and was used as a sailing vessel before it became a burial ship for a prominent woman in 834.
after Grendel's Defeat
in Hall Heorot
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To review the plot, create an illustrated and annotated map of the events and locations in Beowulf. Show Beowulf's progress in sequence. Include these locations:
Beowulf Character Gram
To delineate Beowulf's character, find words and phrases from the text which give clues about Beowulf. Quote the words and give page numbers. Identify these categories:
Arrange these around a portrait of Beowulf.
Try your hand at epic writing style. Compose a memorial poem for Beowulf to be read at his funeral or as the evening's entertainment in a medieval hall. Describe his heroic character by celebrating his exploits.
Write your poem using poetic language techniques such as metaphors, alliteration, and rhythm.
Beowulf Vocabulary Mandala
To recognize significant vocabulary, select a theme:
or a pair of opposite themes:
Collect 50 words from Beowulf that portray your selected theme(s). In your rough draft, list the word and their page numbers. On the final product, arrange the words in an artistic pattern.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Prologue - Ch. 4|
to Hrothgar's ancestors, from the orphan king Shild Sheafson, to Beo, to Healfdane, to Hrothgar.
the generous king of the Danes, builds Hall Herot.
hellish monster Grendel attacks Herot, killing and eating men.
the court of King Hygelac in Geatland, Beowulf sails to help Hrothgar. When they land, a Danish watchman questions them.
||Beowulf explains his mission to the watchman.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 5-10|
is allowed to enter Hall Herot.
announces his desire to defeat Grendel.
recognizes Beowulf and tells of Grendel's raids.
challenges Beowulf's reputation.
tells the story of his swimming match with Breca and defeating sea
monsters. He boasts that he will either kill or be killed by
says he will face Grendel without weapons, and waits for the monster.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 11-18|
attacks during the night. Beowulf grips him with his hands and won't
rips Grendel's arm off. Grendel runs away.
the morning, the men compare Beowulf with the story of Sigemund and the
thanks Beowulf and adopts him. Grendel's arm is hung up as a
holds a feast and rewards Beowulf with gifts.
minstrel tells the story of Finn and the Danes.
Wealtheow reminds Hrothgar to remember his own young sons too.
Wealtheow offers Beowulf a gold necklace.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 19-24|
everyone sleeps, Grendel's Mother comes to Herot for revenge.
carries off Esher, Hrothgar's best friend.
calls for Beowulf and laments the death of Esher. He thinks
was revenge for Grendel.
warriors follow the trail to a bloody lake with sea dragons and other
monsters. Unferth offers Beowulf his sword, named Hrunting.
bids farewell and plunges into the lake. His sword fails and
wrestles with bare hands.
||Beowulf discovers a giant sword and beheads Grendel's Mother. Then he beheads Grendel's corpse. The sword blade melts. Meanwhile, after the awaiting Danes give up and go home, Beowulf emerges with the sword hilt and Grendel's head.|
describes the successful fight. Hrothgar pledges his
and contrasts Beowulf with the cruel King Heremod.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 25-30|
advises Beowulf to avoid pride and respect danger.
wants to return home. They fondly bid farewell.
Geats sail home. At Hygelac's court, the gracious Queen Hygd is
contrasted with the story of the selfish Queen Modthryth.
Hygelac welcomes Beowulf, who tells about Hrothgar's court.
tells about his fight with Grendel.
describes the feast and the revenge of Grendel's Mother.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 31-37|
presents Hygelac with the rewards he has won. Hygelac gives
sword and land.
years pass. Beowulf becomes king. Then a thief
the hoard of a sleeping dragon, and the dragon wants revenge.
dragon burns the land. Beowulf recalls earlier feuds with
of Sweden before he became king.
who has survived many battles, senses that his own death is
Death has struck other kings and their heirs.
is old now, but resolves to pursue this last fight against the
dragon alone. He enters the dragon's den with shield and
sword fails. His fearful troop runs from the flames.
Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, stands by Beowulf. The dragon wounds
and Beowulf each stab the dragon and kill it. Beowulf,
is dying, and asks Wiglaf to show him some of the dragon's treasure
before he dies.
|Top of Page Study Questions for Ch. 38-43|
orders the contruction of his tomb and dies.
criticizes the cowardly soldiers and predicts that the enemy
Franks and Frisians will attack the vulnerable Geats.
poet announces the death of Beowulf, and warns of coming war from the
poet tells how King Hygelac came to power. He calls for a
pyre to burn the cursed treasure that has cost Beowulf's
reflects on Beowulf's fate. He orders the funeral pyre.
Beowulf's funeral, the Geats build a mound in his honor.
|Top of Page||This Week in Core||Medieval Europe Page||What is Beowulf?
|Chapter: Lines||Questions Chapter summaries of Prologue to Ch. 4|
Who is Hrothgar?
4. Why does Hrothgar build the Hall Herot?
5. Find an example of a Christian religious detail that might have been added to the original pagan epic.
What does Grendel do at Herot?
7. What does Grendel dare not touch? Why?
Why do Beowulf and the Geats sail across the sea to Hrothgar?
9. How does the Danish watchman describe Beowulf's arrival as different from others?
|4: 258-319||10. Name Beowulf's king and his father.|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 5-10|
|5: 320-370||11. Why does the Danish warrior make Beowulf and his men wait?|
|6: 371-455||12. How does Hrothgar know Beowulf?|
|7: 456-498||13. Even though Hrothgar is not the oldest son, how did he get to be king?|
|8: 499-558||14. Why
doesn't Unferth like Beowulf?
15. How does Beowulf defend himself against Unferth?
|9: 559-661||16. Beowulf
accuses Unferth of what crime?
17. [line 607] Why is Hrothgar called a "ring-giver"? (Notice that Shild was, too, in line 35. Hint: what does a ring signify?)
18. Why does Hrothgar leave when the sun goes down?
|10: 662-709||19. Why does Beowulf decide not to use his sword to fight Grendel?|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 11-18|
|11: 710 - 790||20. How does Grendel react when Beowulf grabs him? Why does he react this way?|
|12: 790-836||21. What is hung from the rafters of Herot?|
|13: 837-924||22. Where has Grendel gone?|
23. Who does Hrothgar thank first?
|15: 991-1049||24. What six gifts does Hrothgar give to Beowulf?|
|16: 1050-1124||25. How does Hrothgar compensate for the one Geat who died?|
|17: 1125-1191||26. What would you say is the moral of the story of Finn? (Hint: Think about why they tell this story now, after Grendel's defeat.)|
|18: 1192-1250||27. What does Welthow ask of Beowulf?|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 19-24|
|19: 1251-1320||28. Who wants revenge for Grendel’s death?|
|20: 1321-1382||29. Why does it matter to Hrothgar that the monster has killed Esher?|
|21: 1383-1472||30. How has Unferth’s attitude changed?|
|22: 1473-1556||31. In what way is Beowulf’s battle here similar to his fight with Grendel?|
|23: 1557-1650||32. In the underwater home of Grendel's mother, what two things does Beowulf find?|
|24: 1651-1739||33. In what way was Hermod a bad king?|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 25-30|
|25: 1740-1816||34. Here is some foreshadowing!
does Hrothgar want Beowulf to reject?
What should Beowulf choose instead?
|26: 1817-1887||35. Before Beowulf returns home, what two things does he promise to Hrothgar?|
|27: 1888-1962||36. What does Beowulf give to the boat’s watchman?|
|28: 1963-2038||37. Why does Hrothgar plan to give his daughter Freaw in marriage to Ingeld?|
|29: 2039-2092||38. What is Beowulf talking about in the second half of this chapter?|
|30: 2093-2143||39. [line 2141] Interpret the meaning of the metaphor when Beowulf says, “My death was not written.”|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 31-37|
|31: 2144-2220||40. How long has Beowulf been king when the dragon awakes?|
|32: 2221-2311||41. Why is the dragon angry?|
|42. [lines 2249-2252] Interpret the meaning of "War and terror have swept away my people, shut their eyes."|
|33: 2312-2390||(no question)|
|34: 2391-2459||43. [lines 2419-2425] Interpret the meaning of “Beowulf’s heart was heavy ... Body and soul might part here.”|
|35: 2460-2601||44. What is Beowulf’s boast?|
|36: 2604-2693||45. Who is the only one of Beowulf’s comrades that does not run?|
|37: 2694-2751||46. What causes Beowulf's death?|
|Top of page||Chapter summaries 38-43|
|38: 2752-2820||47. What does Beowulf ask Wiglaf to do?|
|39: 2821-2891||48. Wiglaf accuses the other men of failing in what way?|
|40: 2892-2945||49. According to Wiglaf's messenger, how will things change now that Beowulf is dead?|
|41: 2946-3057||50. How do Beowulf’s men feel now, after having heard the messenger’s warning?|
|42: 3058-3136||51. Why does Wiglaf order the treasures to be destroyed?|
|43: 3137-3182||52. Look back at Hrothgar's advice to Beowulf in chapter 25 [1761-1768]. What would you say is Beowulf's fatal flaw?|
|Top of Page||This Week in Core||Medieval Europe Page||What is Beowulf?