The Wanderer Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

 Discuss the epic characteristics in The Wanderer.

Expert Answers info

David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2017

write11,398 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

To some extent, the epic elements in "The Wanderer" are subtly undermined and subverted by the overall elegiac structure of the poem. Elegy is used here primarily to lament the loss of the heroic-epic values of Anglo-Saxon culture. As he reflects ruefully on his past life, the wanderer comes to understand time's corrosive effects on all those cherished aspects of Anglo-Saxon life he'd previously venerated, which are celebrated in countless poems and songs.

As a brave warrior, the wanderer conquered nature—this is a common theme of epic. But now the roles have been completely reversed; for now it is the wanderer who's under the lash of the forces of nature as he navigates the stormy seas.

Unlike the elegy, the epic is a social mode of story-telling which deals with the community as a whole. Traces of epic are to be found in the wanderer's memories of the life he's left behind, such as the pleasures of the mead-hall. The close bonds that once bound the wanderer to his lord also have a certain epic quality to them. The lord was a brave warrior who displayed immense courage in battle as an epic hero was expected to. But now that the wanderer's liege-lord lies dead, those bonds have been severed forever.

The wanderer, like his late master, has been brought low by a higher power, whether it's fate or the gods. As in an epic, supernatural forces have inserted themselves into the action, determining not just the wanderer's past and present, but also his future.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial