The Structure

Beowulf is loosely divided into three parts, each of which centers around Beowulf’s fight with a particular monster: first Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, then the dragon. One can argue that this structure relates to the theme of the epic in that each monster presents a specific moral challenge against which the Anglo-Saxon heroic code can be measured and tested. Beowulf’s fight with Grendel evokes the importance of reputation as a means of expanding one’s existence beyond death. Grendel’s great and terrifying nature ensures that Beowulf will long be celebrated for his heroic conquering of this The Structure foe. His subsequent encounter with Grendel’s mother evokes the importance of vengeance. Just as Beowulf exacts revenge upon Grendel for killing Hrothgar’s men, so too must Grendel’s mother seek to purge her grief by slaying her son’s murderer. Beowulf’s final encounter with the dragon evokes a heroic approach to wyrd, or fate. Though he recognizes that his time has come and that he will thus not survive his clash with the dragon, he bravely embraces his duty to protect his people, sacrificing his life to save them.

Alternatively, one might make a division The Structure of the text into two parts, examining youth and old age as the two distinctive phases of Beowulf’s life. Along these lines, the gap of fifty years between the first two conflicts and the last marks the dividing line. One of the main thematic points highlighted by such a division is the difference in responsibilities of the warrior and of the king. As a young warrior, Beowulf is free to travel afar to protect others, but as an old king, he must commit himself to guard his own people. Additionally, whereas Beowulf focuses on the heroic life early The Structure on, seeking to make a name for himself, he must focus on fate and the maintenance of his reputation late in life.


1. Беовульф. Старшая Эдда. Песнь о Нибелунгах. / Ст. и коммент. О.А. Смирницкой. – С. 631-659; ст. и коммент. А.Я. Гуревича – С. 707-749.

2. Зарубежная литература средних веков. Хрестоматия / Сост. Пуришев Е.А. – С. 261-273

3. Мельникова Е.А. Меч и лира. – М., 1987. – С. 74- 80; 90- 98; 167- 179

4. Пропп В.Я. Морфология сказки.


Primary Epic: an epic is a poem that records and celebrates the heroic achievements of an individual or individuals. A primary epic is an epic poem that comes from The Structure an oral tradition. The Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics. A secondary epic, such as The Aeneid, is a more deliberately literary production. Both terms were developed by C. S. Lewis.

Scop: an Old English term for poet. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the scop had the important job of singing about the accomplishments of his patron and his people. The scop functioned as both an entertainer and as an historian.

Heroic Ideal: Anglo-Saxon culture was governed by the ideals of bravery, loyalty and generosity. The king or lord surrounded himself with a band of retainers, who are rewarded The Structure with the spoils of their victories. As E. Talbot Donaldson writes, “the retainers are obligated to fight for their lord to the death, and if he is slain, to avenge him or die in the attempt. Blood vengeance is regarded as a sacred duty, and in poetry, everlasting shame awaits those who fail to observe it.”

Comitatus: This term was developed by the Roman historian Tacitus in Germania. Comitatus describes, as Robert C. Hughes writes, “the society or brotherhood of men who owed allegiance to a chieftain and expected his benevolence in return.”

Wyrd: Old English for fate The Structure, which was believed to be the controlling force of the world for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture.

Kenning: a poetic device in Old English poetry consisting of a compound of two words in place of another, such as Whale-road for sea.

Litotes: an ironic understatement, also a common feature of Old English poetry.

Alliteration: the occurrence in a phrase or line of poetry of two or more words having the same initial sound. In OE poetry, alliteration is the principal poetic device.

Caesura:a pause in a line of poetry.

Alliteration: the commencement of two or The Structure more words in a close connection with the same sound, for example ‘lilies and languors of virtue’ and ‘raptures and roses of vice’ in Swinburne’s Dolores.

Alliterative verse: the native Germanic tradition of English poetry and the standard form in Old English up to the 11th century, also recurring in Middle English. The Old English line was normally unrhymed and made up of two distinct half-lines with a pause (caesura) in the middle. Each half-line contained two stressed syllables. The alliteration was always on the first stress of the second half-line, which alliterated with either or The Structure both of the stressed syllables of the first half-line; e.g.:

Heald pu nu, hruse, nu haeleth ne mostan

Hold them now, Earth, now hand of man cannot

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