Saturday, March 27, 2010

Beowulf as an Oral Epic

Beowulf as an Oral Epic


Beowulf is an oral epic circulated from mouth to mouth in an oral tradition and later written down by trained clerics. Though Beowulf was recorded in Old English, it can easily be assumed that its roots are to be found in the mostly oral traditions of the ancient Germanic tribes that roamed and settled much of Western Europe. However, Beowulf has formulaic characters, words, ideas and other stylistic features for which we can term Beowulf as an Oral Epic.


One of the most important characteristics of Oral Epic is that its author is unknown. Because of its circulation from mouth to mouth, it becomes very difficult to find out the actual author or authors. In Beowulf, we see that the author is unknown. Whether one or more authors were involved in the production of this epic is hard to determine.


The very first word of this epic indicates that it is an oral epic. The epic opens with the word 'attend' which is normally used by speaker when he wants to draw the attention of his listeners or audiences at the time of speaking.


However, the other characteristics of an oral epic that are found in Beowulf are discussed below:


One of the most important characteristics of an Oral Epic is that it must have a central hero of superhuman quality. Beowulf shows his superhuman strength when he battles Grandel, who terrorized Herot and eaten many of Hrothgar bravest warriors. He said to the king, Hrothgar that he will fight with that monster. Before him 'no one could hope to defeat this monster'.  His strength of mind is strong that he makes a boasting speech   -'

'I fancy my fighting- strength, my permance in combat, at least as greatly as Grandel does his;

and therefore I shall not cut  short his life

With a slashing sword

We'll at night play

Without any weapons-if unweaponed he dare to face of in fight"

His mental tenacity is also exposed when he stands "firm, unmoving, prepared" to face his challenger (l 678,

Like all oral epic stories, in great distress the nation was dependent upon Beowulf and the same facts happened in the case of the dragon. Beowulf says "I don't find myself weaker in work life deeds than Grandel".


In an oral epic, supernatural elements are very significant. Supernatural force is represented by Grandel "Grandel they called this cruel spirit, the fell and fen his fastness was, the march his haunt. This unhappy being had long lived in the land of monsters". Another supernatural being is Grendel's mother," a monstrous orgress". "She had been doomed to dwell in the dread waters".  And another monster is the dragon.     


Long journey on water is also another remarkable characteristic of oral epic that is also found in Beowulf. Hearing the reports of Grendel's alone thirsty raids, the great hero announces that he will rail to Hrothgar kingdom and offer help. Beowulf sets out for Denmark from Geatland with fourteen good tharves with fully armored man.


"He bade a sea worthy warrior king

Move cutter be fitted out for her; the warrior king

The wiser sought to dissuade him from voyaging"


Under world journey

After the death of Grendel, his mother came to the feast and grabbed Ashnere, councilor and friend of Hrothgar. He then summoned Beowulf and related the events and the abode of the monster that is am evil and frightening region, windy, frostly, dark and mysterious. Beowulf then prepares in his underworld journey. After passing meadows, steep and jagged cliffs, he reached into a forest. In the midst of this forest, they came upon a horrible pool which was "turbid with blood". There were" of strange sea drakes' swering multitudes through the depths, and water snakes lay on the ledges of the cliffs. "Beowulf put on his best armour and then -

"dived into the mere-he did not care

. . . It was a days space almost before he could glimpse ground at the bottom."

  Grendel's mother understands his presence and carried him with her in her cave. Beowulf finds

" that he was in some enemy hall

Where there was no water to weigh upon him".

Three mighty battles took place in this great oral epic. First the great battle between Beowulf and Grandel. Grandel attacks the Danes and Beowulf sailed out for helping them and at last killed Grendel. Then Grendel's mother became furious to take revenge. She attacked in the feast and killed one of the friends of Hrothgar. Beowulf decided to go to underworld to kill her. In the underworld, he made a great struggle and hits her heavy blow, but it did not even scratch Grendel's mother because no man- made can harm her. Then he brought a magic sword '''in fury to take her full and fairly across them breaking the bones. . . She fell to the ground".    Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people. One day, late in Beowulf's life, a slave steals a golden cup from the lair of an unnamed dragon (sometimes referred to as Sua) at Earnaness. When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but when Beowulf is wounded by the dragon, his warriors run away in fear. Only one of the warriors, a brave young man named Wiglaf, stays to help Beowulf. The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf dies from his wounds.


An aspect which is frequently used in epic is long speeches. When Beowulf reached at the Danes sea coast, guard challenged Beowulf and he was seen forwarding with his speeches


"We here are come from the country of the Geats

And are king Hygelac's hearth companions

My noble father was known  as Edgetheow,

. . .

Otherwise he must miserably live out

this lamentable time, for as long as Heorot,

best of houses, bulls to the sky. "



After having reached in Denmark with a view to freeing Dens from the attack of Grandel, a great feast was arranged for Beowulf and his companions.


"There was laughter of heroes, harp music ran,

Words were warm hearted . . . the queen of Hrothgar,

glittering to greet the Geats in the hall,

peerless lady;"


Another feast was also arranged after the killing of the monster, Grandel. Applause filled the hall "in that day.   


Grand style

The style of the poem is undoubtedly grand. It's expressions, phrases are concrete rather than abstract, short and vicorous speech, majestic verse, lofty language and elaboration of the description reveal the presence of the careful artist. It is proved that Beowulf's style is grand but is described in a simple way.  


Repetition: Epics and ballads of considerable length may have needed repetition in order to be memorized easier, and Beowulf has many of its events told again and again.


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