Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Beowulf Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 Aug. 2016. Web. 22 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Beowulf/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2016, August 25). Beowulf Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Beowulf/

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Beowulf Study Guide." August 25, 2016. Accessed September 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Beowulf/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Beowulf Study Guide," August 25, 2016, accessed September 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Beowulf/.

Things You Didn't Know

Every book has a story—check out these 10 unusual facts about the epic poem Beowulf.

Beowulf | 10 Things You Didn't Know

Share
Share

Thought to have been composed between 700 and 750 CE, Beowulf is a classic text of early medieval Old English literature. A tale of the virtues of bravery and strength, Beowulf tells the story of the titular character's battles against three fearsome creatures: the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a ferocious dragon.

The epic poem—taken from a single manuscript produced in the early 11th century—is regarded by scholars as important both for its literary content and its historical value in chronicling Scandinavian mythology traditionally passed down orally.

Though the author and original title of the work remain unknown, the story has been memorialized in countless retellings and adaptations and has had an impact on stories of heroes through the ages.

1. Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English.

Despite being the longest poem in Old English, the action is all set in Scandinavia. In fact archaeologists believe they have found the remains of Heorot Hall in eastern Denmark, which is terrorized by the monster Grendel in the epic. Ironically, the British Isles, where Old English was spoken, aren't mentioned anywhere in the story.

2. The original manuscript of Beowulf was damaged in a fire.

The original copy of the Beowulf manuscript was badly damaged in a fire on October 23, 1731, at Ashburnham House in Westminster, England. Now housed at the British Library in London, the remains of the poem are incredibly fragile.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien quoted Beowulf with his classmates.

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, fell in love with Beowulf during his school years. During meetings of the literary club he and his classmates formed, Tolkien would quote lines of the epic poem in its original Old English.

4. Beowulf includes some 36 different words for "hero."

The language used in Beowulf is a mash-up of dialects from four different areas of medieval Britain: Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex. The result shows just how developed and complex a language Old English was at the time the poem was written. For example, the poem uses a total of 36 different words for "hero." "Hæle" and "eorl" are just two of the Old English words that can be translated to "hero"in Modern English.

5. There is only one surviving Beowulf manuscript.

Beowulf was an oral tale passed down for years before being written down sometime in the 10th or 11th century. Today, there is only one remaining manuscript. This manuscript has survived both age and a 1731 fire. Today, the manuscript is kept safe at the British Library in London.

6. Beowulf may have been influenced by Virgil or Homer.

Some scholars believe Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey or Virgil's The Aeneid may have inspired the North European epic, as all are epic poems that follow a hero's grand voyage. These works also share similarities in structure and texture. The epic poem form may have been brought to England by a Greek named Theodore who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 638 and taught Greek language and literature to English clergy.

7. Irish poet Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf became a surprise best seller.

Beowulf might seem like a dense text with little appeal for a broad, modern audience, but the translation by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released in 1999 proved otherwise. Heaney's translation made the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

8. One film adaptation deviates heavily from the plot by introducing an affair between Beowulf and Grendel's mother.

The 2007 film Beowulf featured motion capture, creating a digitized effect by using computer animation to overlay a live-action performance. The film makes many changes to the poem, such as featuring an affair between Beowulf and Grendel's mother (played by Angelina Jolie).

9. The author Michael Crichton wrote a novel inspired by Beowulf.

Michael Crichton, the American author of Jurassic Park, made a bet that he could spin an entertaining tale out of Beowulf. The result was his 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead. The book was eventually adapted into a movie, The 13th Warrior (1999).

10. A 1971 novel tells the story of Beowulf from Grendel's perspective.

Grendel is unquestionably the villain of Beowulf, but American novelist John Gardner saw more to the character than pure evil. Gardner's 1971 novel Grendel tells the epic story from the monster's perspective. Through Gardner's eyes, Grendel becomes a fascinating protagonist.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Beowulf? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!