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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  1. Pam Webb says:

    I start off my AP Lit course with Beowulf, following it with Gardner’s Grendel. The beginnings of monsters and epic heroes is quite timely in our current Avengers times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to admit that I’ve actually never read Lovecraft and only recently have taken some interest in his works, but only in terms of reading summaries online. I found his conception of the Old Gods and their cults very interesting but I don’t think that it would fit the theme of the blog. But thank you for the suggestion! It’s always nice to get advice for topics on future articles.


  3. I wonder if you could do a post on the mythologies behind H.P.Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. A book which could be valuable would be “A means to Freedom: The letters of H.P.Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marcel B says:

    I agree, it doesn’t really appeal to me either, but maybe I’ll give it a go and let you know 😉


  5. What for museums etc? No it makes me all bad tempered. Somehow it misses the point because you just have to BE there innit?😂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marcel B says:

    Same here, have you tried taking one of the virtual tours? I’m yet to try one.


  7. Love Beowulf! Missing my museums here in U.K. thinking of heading to Scandinavia to get a feed of ancient history!

    Liked by 1 person

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