Education Knowledge

Why Beowulf is Important: The Main Reasons to Read the Epic of English Literature

The modern system of education is overwhelmed with various Beowulf studies and reviews. What makes this epic poem so special? First of all, it is a very important historical artifact. It brings the audience and the scholars many interesting insights into the history of England and its ancient literature. But there’s much more to admire in this legendary story. In this article, we will discuss the main reasons to research Beowulf as the masterpiece of ancient literature.

The Epic Poem Gives A Glimpse of Old English Literature

First of all, Beowulf is the oldest surviving example of old English literature. It tells the audience a lot about the interests of ancient English people, their aspirations, social patterns, and many more. One of the most important things about this epic poem is that Beowulf tells the audience about the ancient code of honor. In other words, it gives birth to many tales of chivalry and strong friendship between warriors. Needless to say how spread these motives are in popular culture. Besides, the historical importance of this story lies in the fact that the story dates back to the 6th century AD. There aren’t too many surviving poems that are more ancient in the world. The legend of Beowulf tells the audience about the verses and style of old English authors. It also shows the audience a glimpse of the English language revolution. The legend also highlights the major themes of bravery and heroes defeating monsters as the most important topics in ancient English literature. This relevance to the epoch and topicality are the things making Beowulf a truly great literary work.

The Great Debate

Many people say that only the greatest literary works can cause truly heated discussions and debates. If that’s true, Beowulf proves to be one of the greatest literary works ever. The poem is surrounded by many controversies. Some people keep discussing its genre, others focus on its relevance, and there is also heated debate on the roots of Beowulf. However, one of the greatest discussions surrounding Beowulf is the one that dwells upon its relevance. While some scholars underestimated its value and emphasized its excessive simplicity, there were also people advocating for its great meaning and significance. For example, the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien dismissed the skeptics by presenting Beowulf as the greatest manifestation of the old European mythology. Actually, this writer used some motives from Beowulf in his greatest works dedicated to Middle Earth. The debate surrounding the poem is so significant that even nowadays students keep on discussing the poem’s true meaning and relevance during classes.

Beowulf Asks Questions about Good and Evil

Despite its seeming simplicity, Beowulf is, actually, a literary work that raises many interesting topics. Among them, one can mention the eternal debate about the essence of good and evil. The eternal struggle between the two has been dwelled upon in countless literary research analyses and  Beowulf essays and papers that have been conducted by academic scholars or students. The primary focus, in this case, is on Grendel. This character plays the role of the monster in the story. But are all monsters, actually, evil? Some scholars emphasize the fact that Grendel is not purely evil but rather misunderstood. This creature is completely different from normal human beings. That’s why Grendel is perceived as a monster that has to be killed. If this interpretation is right, Beowulf might be one of the earliest literary works exploring the problem of xenophobia and hostility in society. In the context of the latest events with COVID-driven xenophobia, this story is more relevant than ever.

Beowulf Teaches to Recognize and Analyze Poetic Techniques

The observed literary work is extremely rich in various stylistic devices that show the poetic potential of Anglo-Saxon literature. For example, almost all lines of the poem represent alliteration, which is a frequent repetition of the same vowel within the line. Besides, Beowulf is rich in various litotes. The most attentive readers also pay much attention to the frequency of “kennings” in the poem. These are word combinations, such as “hand-spike.” By using them, the author of the poem creates vivid imagery. Such devices are especially relevant when it comes to representing monsters and other supernatural things in the story. One more distinctive feature of this poem is its vivid representation of the Anglo-Saxon verses. Although understanding old English poetic merits may be too challenging for an ordinary person, students and scholars will find many interesting insights in this literary masterpiece.

What is Reputation in Beowulf?

Many scholars that study Beowulf emphasize the value of reputation as one of the most important topics in the story. The point is that the main character does most of his deeds driven by the desire to defeat his reputation. That’s why he is ready to face Grendel in a violent battle. Actually, this battle brings Beowulf the desired reputation of a great warrior. Later, he has to defend himself, which makes Beowulf face a vicious dragon in his final stand. In the end, reputation is what remains after the hero’s eventual death. So, we may definitely say that is the ultimate goal of an Anglo-Saxon man, according to the story of Beowulf. An interesting fact is that the Beowulf film, which was released in 2007, questions the character’s reputation. In particular, the motion picture shows Beowulf sparing one of his enemies due to lust and the will for power. This, later, leads the character to a tragic ending.


The Poem Relates to Our Modern Day Society

Modern parallels make many scholars understand why Beowulf is important: the main reason to read the epic of English literature is to understand these similarities and to learn to evaluate them. Just like modern society, the Anglo-Saxon community is overwhelmed with greed and the will to power. Besides, one of the hidden topics explored in the tale of Beowulf is the question of xenophobia. However, as it has been already mentioned, the narrative’s stance on this question remains unclear. Some people say that Grendel should be perceived as a creature suffering just because of being different. Others view him as a hostile and dangerous monster who has to be killed. Also, some people reading the poem indicate that the tale of Beowulf touches upon the relevant questions of duty, self-sacrifice, and desire for fame. One more important topic explored in this tale is the question of aging. After all, the story, somehow, emphasizes the difference between the young Beowulf and the hero that has his final stand at the end of the story.

Wrapping Up

So, the most important takeaway from the tale of Beowulf is the fact that this tale has exceptional historical value. As an ancient literary masterpiece, it tells the audience a lot about old English literary traditions and Anglo-Saxon society. Besides, this story is surrounded by many debates and is known for exploring the topics of good and evil, reputation, and some other things that are relatable to our modern society. Finally, Beowulf is a perfect text to research Anglo-Saxon poetic techniques and stylistic devices. With all such points, Beowulf is definitely a story that deserves recognition. And this recognition should go far beyond the film with Angelina Jolie as one of the main characters.

Join The Discussion