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Anonymous Beowulf, Introduction and lines 1940 through end:

Vocabulary: allusion (i.e., biblical allusions), beot, fame/shame culture, foreshadowing, ubi sunt motif

Lecture or Handouts: How is the dragon in Germanic legend a sort of "anti-cyning"? I.e., how does the behavior of dragons function as a foil to the ideals of Germani kingship among the Anglo-Saxons? What does the name "Wiglaf" mean in Anglo-Saxon? If we undertake a Christological reading of Beowulf, how does that connect with the disciple John?
Identify the Following Primary Characters, Items, and Places from the third section of Beowulf
Beowulf, Hygelac, Breca, Unferth, Daeghrefn (Day-Raven), Wiglaf, the Dragon, the gem-studded goblet, the Dragon's Lair in the Barrow, the Keeper of the Hoard, the sword Naegling

Explain the Significance of the Following and How it Relates to the the third section of the Beowulf Narrative

Norse legends of Fafnir turning into a dragon, Norse legends of Ragnorak. Christological symbolism, Revelation 12:7-9

Reading Questions:

  • What ultimately happens to Hygelac and his kingdom in the days after Beowulf's first two monster fights? To whom does the kingdom of the Geats revert upon the death of Hygelac and Hygelac's son Heardred?
  • How many years does Beowulf rule the kingdom according to line 1945?
  • Where does the dragon make its lair? What is this "steep stone-barrow" the poet refers to?
  • What does the thief steal from the dragon's lair that arouses the monster's wrath in line 1954?
  • The thane or "ringkeeper" in lines 1974 and 1981, et passim, is often called the "Keeper of the Hoard," by scholars. He is apparently the last survivor of some forgotten tribe.After all his race has died, what did he decide to do with their treasure?
  • How is the speech of the Keeper of the Hoard an example of the ubi sunt motif?
  • How does the dragon react to the theft of its goblet?
  • What does the dragon do to King Beowulf's own stronghold?
  • In lines 2076 onward, the poet describes briefly the battle that killed Hygelac. We discover an astonishing fact about Beowulf's swimming ability here. How many "trophies" (suits of enemy armor) does Beowulf carry with him as he "swims"?
  • How many men does Beowulf take with him to scout out the dragon's location in line 2122? Who is added a couple lines later to this number?
  • When Beowulf muses on his childhood, what unfortunate situation did King Hrethel face where he was unable to pursue a blood-feud as would normally be expected? Why do you suppose Beowulf brings up this story now, in his present circumstances?
  • In lines 2479-86, Beowulf remembers how Hygelac's sword was used by Eofor to cleave the skull of King Ongentheow of the Swedes. Where is the sword of Hygelac now--who possesses it? Given what we know about Anglo-Saxon blood-feuds, what does this indicate about the political situation between the Swedes and the Geats whom Beowulf rules?
  • How did Beowulf kill Daeghrefn (Dayraven), the champion of the Franks? Given what we know about Anglo-Saxon blood-feuds, what does this indicate about the political situation between the Franks and the relatives of Beowulf?
  • What is Beowulf's last beot he makes before going to fight the dragon?
  • Give a brief blow-by-blow of Beowulf's fight with the dragon.
  • Who is the one warrior that remains loyal to Beowulf when the other thegns run away?
  • Wiglaf, we discover, is a son of Weohstan, a leader among the Scylfings [see line 2300]. How does this connect with the introductory lines of Beowulf? How does it connect to the character of Beowulf himself?
  • The sword Wiglaf carried had been used by Weohstan to kill Eanmund of Othere's tribe. Given what we know about Anglo-Saxon blood-feuds, what does this suggest about the political attitude of Othere's tribe toward Wiglaf and the Waegmunding families of the Geats?
  • After Beowulf appoints Wiglaf king, what is Beowulf's last dying request? (i.e., what does he want to look at before he dies?)
  • What does Beowulf ask be done with his body when it comes to burial?
  • When Beowulf is about to die, what does he remove from his neck and give to the young thegn? [Note: this means Beowulf is passing his kingdom on to the boy Wiglaf.]
  • In lines 2485-87, Beowulf makes a stunning revelation. Beowulf isn't just a Geatish tribesman, he's also a member of the Waegmunding tribe--just like Wiglaf! For an Anglo-Saxon audience, this news would be met with a sudden intake of breath and a dreadful "aha!" moment. See if you can put together the pieces of the puzzle. Think back about all those blood feuds. What are the Swedes obligated to do to the Geats? What are Othere's family obligated to do to the Geats? What are the Franks obligated to do to the Waegmundings? Note also the Frisians and the Scylfings also have blood-feuds with the Geats. Beowulf only was able to maintain the peace through the sheer terror of his reputation, so what are all the surrounding tribes going to do when the kingdom of the Geats falls into the lap of a young boy like Wiglaf? How does this explain the low morale among the tribe at the end of the story?
  • What punishment does Wiglaf order for those men who fled from the scene of battle? Why does this decision make sense in terms of Anglo-Saxon culture--but why is it political suicide at the same time?
  • What do the Geats do with the war-shields, helmets, and shining armour they pull out of the dragon's lair in the barrow?
  • What do the Geats do with the torques, jewels, and gold from the dragon's lair?

Quotations for Identification (Be able to identify what work these quotations come from, what the author is, what character (if any) is speaking, and briefly comment upon the quotations significance or importance in the work:

A: For three centuries, this scourge of the people / had stood guard on that stoutly protected / underground treasury, until the intruder unleashed its furuty; he hurried to his lord / with the gold-plated cup and made his plea/ to be reinstated. Then the vault was rifled, / the ring-hoard robbed, and the wretched man had his request granted.

B: "I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning. / ... / But I shall be meeting molten venom / in the fire he breathes, so I go forth / in mail-shirt and shield. I wont't shift a foot / when I meet the cave-guard."

C: Then the king in his great-heartedness unclasped / the collar of gold from his neck and gave it / to the young thane, telling him to use / it and the war-shirt and gildedhelmet well. "You ar ethe last of us, the only one left / of the Waegmundings. Fate swept us away, / sent my whole brave highborn clan / to their final doom. Now I must follow them." / That was the warrior's last word.

D: "I remember the time, when mead was flowing / how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall, / promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price, / make good the gift of the war-gear, / those swords and helmets, as and when his need required it. He picked us out / from the army deliberately, honored us and judged us / fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts. . . . / Now the day has come / when this lord we serve needs sound men / to give him their support. Let us go to him, / help our leader through the hot flame / and dread of the fire."


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