How does Beowulf fulfill the characteristics of the epic?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf is the oldest existing major work written in English. It was composed during the Anglo-Saxon era, somewhere between 700-1000 A.D. It is usually classified as an epic poem because it possesses the following characteristics:

Expansive setting: Epics don't occur in a small space. One of the connotations of the word epic is “big.” Beowulf is set in northern Denmark and southern Sweden, where the climate is harsh and the environment is full of dangerous, supernatural creatures.

High style: The language is what we would call “high,” which means it is not common or slangy. Epics are written in a refined dialect that would have been spoken by the highly educated people of that place and time.

Epic hero: The poem is built around the adventures of a hero who embodies the values of the society in which it is set. As well as being an exceptionally skilled warrior, Beowulf is also loyal, pious, and brave.

Supernatural beings: Epics usually pit supernatural beings against the epic hero. In Beowulf, Beowulf must fight Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon.

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