An epic poem, epos, or epopee is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the moral universe that their descendants, the poet and his audience, must understand to understand themselves as a people or nation. Another type of epic poetry is epyllion, a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme; the term, which means "little epic", came into use in the nineteenth century. It refers to the erudite, shorter hexameter poems of the Hellenistic period and the similar works composed at Rome from the age of the neoterics; the most famous example of classical epyllion is Catullus 64. The English word epic comes from the Latin epicus, which itself comes from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός, from ἔπος, "word, poem". Originating before the invention of writing, primary epics were composed by bards who used complex rhetorical and metrical schemes by which they could memorize the epic as received in tradition and add to the epic in their performances.
Hence aside from writers like Dante, Camões, Milton, Apollonius of Rhodes in his Argonautica and Virgil in Aeneid adopted and adapted Homer's style and subject matter, but used devices available only to those who write, in their works Nonnus' Dionysiaca and Tulsidas' Sri Ramacharit Manas used stylistic elements typical of epics. The oldest epic recognized is the Epic of Gilgamesh, recorded In ancient Sumer during the Neo-Sumerian Empire; the poem details the exploits of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. Although recognized as a historical figure, Gilgamesh, as represented in the epic, is a legendary or mythical figure; the longest epic written is the ancient Indian Mahabharata, which consists of 100,000 ślokas or over 200,000 verse lines, as well as long prose passages, so that at about 1.8 million words it is about four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa, ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Famous examples of epic poetry include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Indian Mahabharata and Rāmāyaṇa, the Tamil Silappatikaram, the Persian Shahnameh, the Ancient Greek Odyssey and Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid, the Old English Beowulf, Dante's Divine Comedy, the Finnish Kalevala, the German Nibelungenlied, the French Song of Roland, the Spanish Cantar de mio Cid, the Portuguese Os Lusíadas, John Milton's Paradise Lost, Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz.
The first epics were products of oral history poetic traditions. Oral tradition was used alongside written scriptures to communicate and facilitate the spread of culture. In these traditions, poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer by purely oral means. Early twentieth-century study of living oral epic traditions in the Balkans by Milman Parry and Albert Lord demonstrated the paratactic model used for composing these poems. What they demonstrated was that oral epics tend to be constructed in short episodes, each of equal status and importance; this facilitates memorization, as the poet is recalling each episode in turn and using the completed episodes to recreate the entire epic as he performs it. Parry and Lord contend that the most source for written texts of the epics of Homer was dictation from an oral performance. Milman Parry and Albert Lord have argued that the Homeric epics, the earliest works of Western literature, were fundamentally an oral poetic form.
These works form the basis of the epic genre in Western literature. Nearly all of Western epic self-consciously presents itself as a continuation of the tradition begun by these poems. Classical epic poetry employs a meter called dactylic hexameter and recounts a journey, either physical or mental or both. Epics tend to highlight cultural norms and to define or call into question cultural values as they pertain to heroism. In his work Poetics, Aristotle defines an epic as one of the forms of poetry, contrasted with lyric poetry and with drama in the form of tragedy and comedy. In A Handbook to Literature and Holman define an epic: Epic: a long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race. An attempt to delineate ten main characteristics of an epic: Begins in medias res; the setting is vast, covering the world or the universe.
Begins with an invocation to a muse. Begins with a statement of the theme. Includes the use of epithets. Contains long called an epic catalogue. Features long and formal speeches. Shows divine intervention on human affairs. Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization. Features the tragic hero's descent into the underworld or hell; the hero participates in a cyclical journey or quest, faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey and returns home transformed by his journey. The epic hero illustrates traits, performs deeds, exemplifies certain morals that are valued by the society the epic originates from. Many epic heroes are recurring characters in the legends of their native culture. Conventions of epics: Proposition: Opens by stating the cause of the epic; this may take the form
Grendel's mother is one of three antagonists in the anonymous Old English poem Beowulf. The other antagonists are all aligned in opposition to the hero Beowulf, she is introduced in lines 1258b to 1259a as: "Grendles modor/ides, aglæcwif". Grendel's mother, never given a name in the text, is the subject of ongoing controversy among medieval scholars; this is due to the ambiguity of a few words in Old English which appear in the original Beowulf manuscript. While there is consensus over the word "modor", the phrase "ides, aglæcwif" is the subject of scholarly debate; the poem, Beowulf, is contained in the Nowell Codex. As noted in lines 106–114 and lines 1260–1267 of Beowulf, monsters are descendants of Cain. After Grendel is killed, Grendel's mother attacks Heorot in revenge. Beowulf ventures into her cave under a lake, engages in fierce combat with Grendel's mother, she nearly kills him until he sees an ancient sword, with which he kills her, beheads the dead Grendel. Beowulf returns to the surface and to his men at the "ninth hour".
Some scholars have argued that the female characters in Beowulf fulfill certain established roles such as hostess and peace-weaver. Grendel's mother and Modthryth, who challenge these roles, represent "monster-women". Jane Chance argues in "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother" that there are two standard interpretations of the poem: one view which suggests a two-part structure and the other, a three-part structure. Chance stated that, "this view of the structure as two-part has prevailed since its inception in J. R. R. Tolkien's Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics in Proceedings of the British Academy 22." In contrast, she argued that the three-part structure has become "increasingly popular". She developed this argument in Woman as Hero in Old English Literature. There is ongoing debate among medieval scholars concerning the ambiguity of a few words in Old English which appear in the original Beowulf manuscript; because these terms are ambiguous, scholars disagree over aspects of her appearance.
Indeed, because her exact appearance is never directly described in Old English by the original Beowulf poet, part of the debate revolves around what is known, namely her descent from the biblical Cain. For some scholars, this descent links her and Grendel to the monsters and giants of the Cain tradition, while others such as Kevin Kiernan in Grendel's Heroic Mother argue that there is "plenty of evidence for defending Grendel's mother as a heroic figure" as she "accepted and adhered to the heroic ethic of the blood-feud, the main difference between Grendel's feckless feud with the noise at Heorot and his mother's purposeful one exacting retribution for the death of her son. In heroic terms, her vengeance for the death of her kinsman Grendel."This lack of consensus has led to the production of a few seminal texts by scholars over the past few decades. One important focus of these articles and books concerns the numerous, at times opposing, translations of the Old English compound "ides aglæcwif".
Until the late 1970s, all scholarship on Grendel's mother and translations of the phrase "aglæc-wif" were influenced by the edition of noted Beowulf scholar Frederick Klaeber. His edition and the Fight at Finnsburg, has been considered a standard in Beowulf scholarship since its first publication in 1922. According to Klaeber's glossary, "aglæc-wif" translates as: "wretch, or monster of a woman". Klaeber's glossary defines "aglæca/æglæca" as "monster, fiend" when referring to Grendel or Grendel's mother and as "warrior, hero" when referring to the character Beowulf. Klaeber has influenced many translations of Beowulf. Notable interpretations of "aglæc-wif" which follow Klaeber include "monstrous hell bride", "monster-woman" "woman, monster-wife", "Ugly troll-lady" and "monstrous hag". Doreen M. E. Gillam's 1961 essay, "The Use of the Term'Æglæca' in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592," explores Klaeber's dual use of the term "aglæca/æglæca" for the heroes Sigemund and Beowulf as well as for Grendel and Grendel's mother.
She argues that "aglæca/æglæca" is used in works besides Beowulf to reference both "devils and human beings". She further argues that this term is used to imply "supernatural," "unnatural" or "inhuman" characteristics, as well as hostility towards other creatures. Gillam suggests: "Beowulf, the champion of men against monsters, is inhuman himself. Epitomises, in one word, the altogether exceptional nature of the dragon fight. Beowulf, the champion of good, the'monster' amongst men, challenges the traditional incarnation of evil, the Dragon: æglæca meets æglæcan." The Old English ides, Old High German itis and Old Norse dís are cognates that all mean "lady," and idisi appears as the name of the Valkyries in the only surviving pagan source in Old High German, the Merseburg Incantations. More in Norse mythology, the Dísir are fate goddesses who can be both benevolent and antagonistic towards mortal people. Many have pointed out that dís is the original term for the valkyries, which in turn would be a kenning for dís.
A few scholars have drawn from
Hrothgar is portrayed in medieval sources as a Danish king living around the early sixth century CE. Hrothgar appears in the Anglo-Saxon epics Beowulf and Widsith, in Norse sagas and poems, in medieval Danish chronicles. In both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian tradition, Hrothgar is a Scylding, the son of Halfdan, the brother of Halga, the uncle of Hrólfr Kraki. Moreover, in both traditions, the mentioned characters were the contemporaries of the Swedish king Eadgils; the consensus view is that Scandinavian traditions describe the same person. Hrothgar rendered Hrōðgār, is an Old English form attested in Beowulf and Widsith, the earliest sources to mention the character. In non-English sources, the name appears in more or less corresponding Old Icelandic, Old Danish, Latinized versions, he appears as Hróarr, etc. in sagas and poetry, as Ro or Roe in the Danish Latin chronicles. The form Hrōðgār is thought to have derived from the proto-Norse *Hrōþigaizaz "famous spear", i.e. Roger. However, the corresponding Old Norse name Hróarr and its variations are not derived from *Hrōþigaizaz, but from the close names *Hrōþiwarjaz "famous defender" or *Hrōþiharjaz "famous warrior".
These two names, both appearing as Hróarr in Scandinavia, did not have any corresponding Old English form, so Hrōðgār was their closest equivalent. Hrothgar appears in two Anglo-Saxon poems and Widsith. Beowulf gives the fuller account of Hrothgar and how the Geatish hero Beowulf visited him to free his people from the trollish creature Grendel. Widsith only mentions Hrothgar, his nephew Hroðulf and their enemy Ingeld, but can complete Beowulf in some cases where Beowulf does not give enough information; this is notably the case concerning the ending of his feud with Ingeld. In the epic poem Beowulf, Hrothgar is mentioned as the builder of the great hall Heorot, ruler of Denmark when the Geatish hero Beowulf arrives to defeat the monster Grendel; when Hrothgar is first introduced in Beowulf, it is explained that he was the second of four children of King Healfdene: he had an older brother, king before him. The sister is not named in the manuscript and most scholars agree this is a scribal error, but suggested names are Signy and Yrsa.
The poem further tells that Hrothgar was "given victory in war" and so his kinsmen eagerly followed him. He is both honest and generous: "He broke no oaths, dealt out rings, treasures at his table"; when Beowulf leads his men to Denmark, he speaks of Hrothgar to both a coast-guard and to Hrothgar's herald: he calls Hrothgar a "famed king", "famed warrior", "protector of the Scyldings", describes him as "old and good." The poet emphasizes that the Danes "did not find fault" with Hrothgar, "for, a good King". When Beowulf defeats Grendel, Hrothgar rewards Beowulf and his men with great treasures, showing his gratitude and open-handedness; the poet says that Hrothgar is so generous that "no man could fault him, who wished to speak the truth." Hrothgar was married to a woman named Wealhþeow, a Helming defining her as a relative of Helm, the ruler of the Wulfings. When Hrothgar welcomes Beowulf, he recalls his friendship with Beowulf's family, he met. Hrothgar thanks God for Beowulf's arrival and victory over Grendel, swears to love Beowulf like a son.
The poem introduces Hroðulf as Hrothgar's supporter and right-hand man. The common piece of information that Hrothgar's younger brother Halga is Hroðulf's father comes from Scandinavian sources, where Halga was unaware that Yrsa was his own daughter and either raped or seduced her. Yrsa herself was tragically the result of Halga raping a woman. Wealhþeow has borne Hrothgar two sons, Hreðric and Hroðmund, Hroðulf is to be regent if Hrothgar dies before his sons are grown. Hrothgar is plunged into gloom and near-despair after Grendel's mother attacks the hall and kills Hrothgar's best friend and closest advisor. After Beowulf defeats Grendel's mother, Hrothgar rewards him again, preaches a sermon in which he warns Beowulf to beware of arrogance and forgetfulness of God. Beowulf takes his leave of Hrothgar to return home, Hrothgar embraces him and weeps that they will not meet again; this is Hrothgar's last appearance in the poem. When Beowulf reports on his adventure to his lord Hygelac, he mentions that Hrothgar had a daughter, Freawaru.
Since the Danes were in conflict with the Heaðobards, whose king Froda had been killed in a war with the Danes, Hrothgar sent Freawaru to marry Froda's son Ingeld, in an unsuccessful attempt to end the feud. Beowulf predicts to Hygelac that Ingeld will turn against his
Old English literature
Old English literature or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses literature written in Old English, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th century to the decades after the Norman Conquest of 1066. "Cædmon's Hymn", composed in the 7th century, according to Bede, is considered the oldest extant poem in English, whereas the poem, The Grave is one of the final poems written in Old English, presents a transitional text between Old and Middle English. The Peterborough Chronicle can be considered a late-period text, continuing into the 12th century; the poem Beowulf, which begins the traditional canon of English literature, is the most famous work of Old English literature. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has proven significant for historical study, preserving a chronology of early English history. In descending order of quantity, Old English literature consists of: sermons and saints' lives. In all there are over 400 surviving manuscripts from the period, of which about 189 are considered "major". Besides Old English literature, Anglo-Saxons wrote a number of Anglo-Latin works.
Old English literature has gone through different periods of research. On account of the work of Bernard F. Huppé, the influence of Augustinian exegesis was emphasised. Today, along with a focus upon paleography and the physical manuscripts themselves more scholars debate such issues as dating, place of origin and the connections between Anglo-Saxon culture and the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages, literary merits. A large number of manuscripts remain from the Anglo-Saxon period, with most written during its last 300 years. Manuscripts written in both Latin and the vernacular remain, it is believed that Irish missionaries are responsible for the scripts used in early Anglo-Saxon texts, which include the Insular half-uncial and Insular minuscule. In the 10th century, the Caroline minuscule was adopted for Latin, however the Insular minuscule continued to be used for Old English texts. Thereafter, it was influenced by Caroline minuscule, while retaining certain distinctively Insular letter-forms.
There were considerable losses of manuscripts as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Scholarly study of the language began when the manuscripts were collected by scholars and antiquarians such as Matthew Parker, Laurence Nowell and Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. Old English manuscripts have been prized by collectors since the 16th century, both for their historic value and for their aesthetic beauty with their uniformly spaced letters and decorative elements. There are four major poetic manuscripts: The Junius manuscript known as the Cædmon manuscript, is an illustrated collection of poems on biblical narratives; the Exeter Book is an anthology, located in the Exeter Cathedral since it was donated there in the 11th century. The Vercelli Book contains both prose; the Beowulf Manuscript, sometimes called the Nowell Codex, contains prose and poetry dealing with monstrous themes, including Beowulf. Seven major scriptoria produced a good deal of Old English manuscripts: Winchester.
In addition, some Old English text survives on other ornate objects. Regional dialects include: Northumbrian. An example of the dominance of the West Saxon dialect is a pair of charters, from the Stowe and British Museum collections, which outline grants of land in Kent and Mercia, but are nonetheless written in the West Saxon dialect of the period. Early English manuscripts contain annotations in the margins of the texts; these include corrections and expansions of the main text, as well as commentary upon it, unrelated texts. The majority of these annotations appear to date to the 13th century and later. Old English poetry falls broadly into two styles or fields of reference, the heroic Germanic and the Christian. All Old English poets are anonymous. Although there are Anglo-Saxon discourses on Latin prosody, the rules of Old English verse are understood only through modern analysis of the extant texts; the first accepted theory was constructed by Eduard Sievers, who distinguished five distinct alliterative patterns.
His system of alliterative verse is based on accent, the quantity of vowels, patterns of syllabic accentuation. It consists of five permutations on a base verse scheme; the system was inherited from and exists in one form or another in all of the older Germanic languages. Two poetic figures found in Old English poetry are the kenning, an formulaic phrase that describes one thing in terms of another and litotes, a dramatic understatement employed by the author for ironic effect. Alternative theories have been proposed, such as the theory of John C. Pope, which uses musical notation to track the verse patterns. J. R. R. Tolkien describes and illustrates many of the feat
Beowulf is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is arguably one of the most important works of Old English literature; the date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the "Beowulf poet"; the story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland and becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants erect a tower on a headland in his memory; the full story survives in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original manuscript, but has become known by the name of the story's protagonist.
In 1731, the manuscript was badly damaged by a fire that swept through Ashburnham House in London that had a collection of medieval manuscripts assembled by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. The Nowell Codex is housed in the British Library; the events in the poem take place over most of the sixth century, after the Anglo-Saxons had started migrating to England and before the beginning of the seventh century, a time when the Anglo-Saxons were either newly arrived or were still in close contact with their Germanic kinsmen in Northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. The poem may have been brought to England by people of Geatish origins. Many suggest that Beowulf was first composed in the 7th century at Rendlesham in East Anglia, that the Sutton Hoo ship-burial shows close connections with Scandinavia, that the East Anglian royal dynasty, the Wuffingas, may have been descendants of the Geatish Wulfings. Others have associated this poem with the court of King Alfred the Great or with the court of King Cnut the Great.
The poem deals with legends, was composed for entertainment, does not separate between fictional elements and historic events, such as the raid by King Hygelac into Frisia. Though Beowulf himself is not mentioned in any other Anglo-Saxon manuscript, scholars agree that many of the other figures referred to in Beowulf appear in Scandinavian sources.. This concerns not only individuals, but clans and certain events. In Denmark, recent archaeological excavations at Lejre, where Scandinavian tradition located the seat of the Scyldings, i.e. Heorot, have revealed that a hall was built in the mid-6th century the time period of Beowulf. Three halls, each about 50 metres long, were found during the excavation; the majority view appears to be that people such as King Hroðgar and the Scyldings in Beowulf are based on historical people from 6th-century Scandinavia. Like the Finnesburg Fragment and several shorter surviving poems, Beowulf has been used as a source of information about Scandinavian figures such as Eadgils and Hygelac, about continental Germanic figures such as Offa, king of the continental Angles.
19th-century archaeological evidence may confirm elements of the Beowulf story. Eadgils was buried at Uppsala according to Snorri Sturluson; when the western mound was excavated in 1874, the finds showed that a powerful man was buried in a large barrow, c. 575, on a bear skin with two dogs and rich grave offerings. The eastern mound was excavated in 1854, contained the remains of a woman, or a woman and a young man; the middle barrow has not been excavated. The protagonist Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a giant's sword that he found in her lair. In his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, finds his realm terrorized by a dragon, some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound, he attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon to its lair at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf, whose name means "remnant of valour", dares to join him.
Beowulf slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour. Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts; the poem begins in medias res or "in the middle of things,", a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, deeds of valour; the warriors form a kind of brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord. What is unique about "Beowulf" is that the poem begins and ends with a funeral. At the beginning of the poem, the king, Shield Shiefson dies and there is a huge funeral for him. At the end of the poem when Beowulf dies, there is a massive funeral for Beowulf. Beowulf begins with the story of Hrothgar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for himself and his warriors.
Liminal beings are those that cannot be placed into a single category of existence. Associated with the threshold state of liminality, from Latin līmen, "threshold", they represent and highlight the semi-autonomous boundaries of the social world. Liminal beings are ambiguous, challenging the cultural networks of social classification; the cultural anthropologist Victor Turner considered that liminal entities, such as those undergoing initiation rites appeared in the form of monsters, so as to represent the co-presence of opposites—high/low. Liminal personas are structurally and invisible, having left one set of classifications and not yet entered another; the social anthropologist Mary Douglas has highlighted the dangerous aspects of such liminal beings, but they are potentially beneficent. Thus we find presiding over a ritual's liminal stage a semi-human shaman figure, or a powerful mentor with animal aspects, such as a centaur. By extension, liminal beings of a mixed, hybrid nature appear in myth and fantasy.
A legendary liminal being is a legendary creature that combines two distinct states of simultaneous existence within one physical body. This unique perspective may provide the liminal being with wisdom and the ability to instruct, making them suitable mentors, whilst making them dangerous and uncanny. Many beings in fantasy and folklore exist in liminal states impossible in actual beings: Hybrids: Centaurs from classical mythology, among them Chiron, the mentor of Achilles Tritons from classical mythology, half-human sea beasts Satyrs and their elder counterparts the Silenoi from classical mythology, half-man half-goat Harpies from classical mythology, half-woman half-bird Cynocephali, dog-headed humans Yali'A liminal figure, like the Sphinx...straddling the divide between animal and human, partaking of both'. Both human and spirit by blood: Merlin is a cambion, the son of a woman and an incubus Caliban in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest Abe no Seimei, legendarily attributed a human father but a kitsune motherBoth human and vegetable: the Green ManBoth alive and dead: ghosts, among them Tiresias, the dead seer whom Odysseus consulted in the underworld, in the Odyssey.
Tiresias had been transformed into a woman and back into a man while living, was blind as well as a seer. Both human and machine: In science fiction, liminal beings include cyborgs, such as the Six Million Dollar Man and Seven of Nine from Star Trek. Both human and alien: hybrids or adoptives torn between their human and alien natures, such as Spock from Star Trek or Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land. John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy Allison Wright,'liminal, liminality' Liminal beings: Indian mythology