Beowulf is an important work because it is the oldest English manuscript (dating back to the eighth century) and has given historians insight into the old Germanic way of life. A single manuscript, handwritten in the eleventh century by two scribes, has survived and is preserved today in the British Museum in London, England. The author is thought to have been a poet who lived in the vicinity of Northumbria (one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England). The material in the poem comes mainly from Scandinavian history and folk tales and is divided into two main parts. The first tells the story of Beowulf, who fights against the water monster Grendel and Grendel's mother. The second part deals mainly with Beowulf in his old age and describes his funeral. All of the events in the epic (long narrative work) take place in what is now Denmark and Sweden, and present a combination of pagan (pre-Christian) and Christian influences.
Further Information: Beowulf. [Online] Available http://www.classicnote.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/beowulf/, October 23, 2000; Bloom, Harold. Beowulf: Modern Critical Interpretations. Broomall, Penn.: Chelsea House, 1987; Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000; Kennedy, Charles W. Beowulf: The Oldest English Epic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978; Nye, Robert. Beowulf: A New Telling. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968.