Is Beowulf an epic? What sort of social order produces "epic" poetry? What values does the poem promote, and how does it promote them? What sorts of conflicts with or resistances to the ideology of epic can be expressed? What sorts are found within the poem itself?

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Beowulf is an example of an epic poem. An epic is normally defined as a long narrative poem. Traditional epic evolves out of the need to preserve, pass down, and perform in easily memorable form the cultural heritage of a society.

Epic originated in oral traditional cultures, starting as an...

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Beowulf is an example of an epic poem. An epic is normally defined as a long narrative poem. Traditional epic evolves out of the need to preserve, pass down, and perform in easily memorable form the cultural heritage of a society.

Epic originated in oral traditional cultures, starting as an art form before the invention of writing. Even after writing was invented, in cultures with limited or scribal literacy, oral performance was still the most important way in which epics were transmitted over time and made accessible to a large audience. Because oral memory and performance had limited storage capacity, as it were, only the most important cultural traditions tended to be embodied in epic and performed.

In Old English society, a limited number of epics were preserved in written form. Beowulf embodies many of the traditional features of epic. It is a quasi-historical poem, reflecting pride in ancestral traditions. The eponymous hero embodies the virtues of first a young warrior, and then an elder statesman, serving as a lesson in proper conduct for the nobles listening to the poet recite the epic.

The poem reflects a mixture of heroic and Christian values. The hero is distinguished by loyalty to bonds of kinship and alliances as well as personal bravery and moral restraint. He is pious, not just killing for glory but with a sense of moral duty. Fame and glory of individual and family are highly valued. There is some tension between pagan and Christian values, with humility admired more in Christian culture and boasting and fame more in traditional pagan culture.

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