highly organized tribal units (kingdoms)
Each tribe ruled by a king chosen by a council of elders.
Thanes - the upper class, earls, or free warriors
Thralls - slaves who did the farming and domestic work
Freemen - small group who earned possessions by doing specialized work, such as craftsmen
Spoke Old English
Language in which Beowulf was written
Became Christian but still valued heroic ideals and traditional heroes.
Culture valued human contact, family, virtue, and a good story.
Feared humiliation and loneliness in their lives
Desired wealth and power
Appreciated heroic actions of warriors
Women inherited, held, and retained control of property
Very pessimistic view of life (due to the ever-
present dangers of death by accident or warfare)
Human life in the hands of fate (wyrd)
Did not believe in an afterlife
Immortality only earned through heroic actions
Sharp contrast to the Christian belief in an
individual’s free will
Began as an oral tradition.
Stories, poems, and songs were all told aloud and passed from
generation to generation orally through scops.
Poems traditionally had a strong beat, alliteration,
and no rhyme
• Beowulf is the most
• An epic
Long narrative that celebrates a
hero’s long journeys and heroic
Includes a noble hero whose
character traits reflect their
Hero performs brave acts and
Hero travels through The Hero’s
Universal Themes of Epic Poetry
Good vs. evil
Courage and honor
Gods or semi-divine creatures
Fate of an entire race
Most famous of early Germanic
Written anywhere between
Author is unknown
Takes place in Sweden and
Religion in Beowulf
Strong nature presence
Strength of the warrior
God is mentioned
Good vs. Evil
Archetype - a reoccurring symbol or motif throughout literature that represents
universal patterns of human nature; may occur as a character, symbol, or situation.
Kenning - two-word phrase that describes an object through metaphors
Whale-road = sea
oar-steed = ship
Alliteration - the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words (tongue
Consonance - the repetition of consonant sounds anywhere within a line of
poetry. Alliteration is a specific type of consonance.
Assonance - repetition of vowel sounds within a line of poetry
Caesura – a pause in a line of poetry that is formed by the rhythms of natural
speech rather than by metrics
“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?”