Len Bias Essay

1165 words - 5 pages

Beowulf can be read in two different ways: A) as an anthropological "case study" of a primitive people, or B) as a story, a literary piece, even, perhaps, a work of art.A) The Relic Although it is not the oldest surviving manuscript in Old English, it does represent the only sustained view of the Germanic tribes that settled England during the first millennium A. D.To call the poem "English," however, is something of a mistake; its language is an antecedent of English and its setting is Scandinavian. An oral poem, it was probably transcribed by an "English" monk around the 7th century. (Click here to see a sample of Old English, as well as pictures of the manuscript) Its frame of reference is somewhere around the late 5th or early 6th centuries, though the quality of life it presents could be much earlier or much later.In Beowulf we glimpse several facets of the Anglo-Saxon/Germanic customs: Mythology: Although there are many Christian references, these are thought to be primarily the insertions of the monks who transcribed the poem. Otherwise, the world of Beowulf, refered to as "middle-earth," largely belongs to Norse myth.Social Organization: Obviously, Beowulf lives in a warrior society, one in which the king/thane relationship is extremely important. As you read through Beowulf, note the number of occasions in which service to a king is rewarded; or, as a result of some service, a king is obligated to bestow protection or to take revenge. In addition, there is the concept of wyrgild: seeking restitution for death, injury or insult. The failure to take or to pay wyrgild can lead to expulsion from the community. Note, too, the communal structure, the way in which the mead hall is at the center, surrounded by outlying buildings. The mead hall is the "heart" of the community (Hrothgar names his hall "hart"), offering food, entertainment, and, in times of danger, shelter. The relationship of the king/thane and the place of the mead hall eventually evolve into the medieval system of feudalism.The Scop: The scop is the singer of poetry, who serves as both an entertainer, telling stories about past and current events, and as a historian, who transmits the tribe's history and its customs to his listeners. Beowulf is an example of a "primary" epic, a story composed over a long period of time, oral not written, designed to describe the ethos of a people, usually in the figure of a hero. Thus, we can tell much about the values of Anglo-Saxon society by the actions, statements and deeds of Beowulf. In short, the scop who sings the poem is essentially a teacher, and its original audience would have heard the story both as an exciting adventure story and as an object lesson in how to be a good Anglo-Saxon.B) The Poem While it is interesting to read Beowulf for the customs, habits, and beliefs of tribes like the Danes and Saxons, it would be a mistake to think that this is a "realistic" story. Suppose, for instance, that some future scholars were to...

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