History through Poems: Examining Beowulf

A great article on a classic of Old English Literature by Kristyn J. Miller.

Kristyn J. Miller

Epic poems have incredible staying power both as literary achievements and as historical resources. The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is one of the foremost examples of this. Despite its mythological themes, the story offers historians a rare insight into Anglo-Saxon ideals of masculinity, heroism, and society. At the same time, it presents literary scholars with a wellspring of opportunities to analyze symbolism and metaphor, as well as a look at the progression of our literary language.

Within the literary sphere, modern Beowulf criticism finds its origins in J.R.R. Tolkien. In his 1936 lecture at Oxford University, later transcribed as an essay, Tolkien argued:

I have read enough, I think, to venture the opinion that Beowulfiana is, while rich in many departments, specially poor in one. It is poor in criticism, criticism that is directed to the understanding of a poem as a poem.

The essay goes on to reaffirm the value…

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