Thursday, April 29, 2010

Introduction to "Beowulf" and Info. for Friday's quiz

Dear Mythology Students,

Our introduction to the epic poem Beowulf took place on Wed., April 28th. Each student received a handout detailing the poem. I have included a copy of it below, but the format is different from the one given in class. Please read the information below so that when you return to class on Friday, you will have some schema for the poem.

In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien delivered a lecture before members of the British Academy entitled “Beowulf: The Monsters and critics.” Tolkien remarked, “Beowulf is in fact so interesting as poetry, that it overshadows other pieces of the same period. It is the greatest achievement of Old English literature.

The Beowulf manuscript, written about 1000 A.D., was preserved in ways unknown. It is one of few Anglo-Saxon pieces of literature to survive Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and their magnificent libraries in the late 1530’s.

Once Henry separated himself from the Catholic Church, most references to Catholicism, including written texts, were destroyed due to Henry claiming they were “pagan” in origin. The manuscripts housed in the monasteries were then ripped apart and used to polish candlesticks, clean boots and furniture, some were sold as scrap paper to grocers and soap makers; some were sent to bookbinders, who cut them into strips and used them to form the book covers of other books. Somehow, a single manuscript managed to survive this travesty. Yes, the epic poem known as Beowulf. However, the current manuscript is not the original, but a copy, in two distinct hand writings. How many other copies existed, or how close to the original this particular version actually is, we will never know. This copy survived a fire in 1731; however, the top and outer edges of the manuscript were damaged. Fortunately, due to ultra-violet photography, the chard sections, that were once gaps, have now been translated. The poem still bears the scars of the fire. The Beowulf poem is significant because it is a miraculous survivor of the ravages of history. It is now housed in the British Library London, England. I am sure that you will enjoy reading it.


Beowulf is an epic poem, a work of fiction, centered on the main character, Beowulf, and his fight with three monsters. Beowulf blends a fairytale type of narrative, where monsters are defeated with the hero receiving honor and fame. The always relevant theme of “Good vs. Evil” is significant to this piece of literature. The battle between Grendle, Grendle’s mother, and the Dragon illustrate a society that valued war and aristocracy. Layers of morality, tenderness, and piety are intermixed in Beowulf, with the glorification of war, death, and fame. The Beowulf poet captures battle scenes with magnificent skill and vividness in this poem about kings and kingship.

“…He ruled Land on all sides: where ever the sea would take them, his soldiers sailed, returned with tribute and obedience. There was a brace King!” (8-12)

“Then the monster charged again, omitting fire, wild with pain, rushed out fierce and dreadful, its fear forgotten watching for its chance it drove its tusks into Beowulf’s neck; he staggered, the blood came flooding forth, fell like the rain.” (2688-2693)
“… No female, no matter how fierce, could have come with a man’s strength, fought with power and courage men fight with. Smashing their shining swords, their bloody, hammer-forged blades onto boar-headed helmets, slashing and stabbing with the sharpest points.” (1282-1287)

The significance of battle against supernatural forces is what moves the poet, in addition to the hero’s driving force for glory. The strong fighter, the hero, the man who wins that most precious of all treasures, fame, is the man who never gives up, and who does not worry about the possible consequences of bravery.

“… so fame Comes to the men who means to win it, and care about nothing else.”
“… I am old now, But I will fight again, seek fame still…” (2512-2513)

“…But the brave old Swede felt no fear; he quickly returned a better blow than he’d gotten, and struck the beast savagely again…”
“…Grendle Saw that his strength was deserting him, his claws bound fast, Beowulf tearing at his claws. The monster’s hatred rose higher, but power had gone. He twisted in pain…”

Beowulf is a Swedish Geat (Nordic tribe in Sweden), who comes to aid the Danes (Nordic tribe in Denmark) to defeat Grendle, a monster who has terrorized them for years. When Grendle’s mother appears, hungry for revenge due to the killing of her son, Beowulf follows her back to her watery lair and kills her too. Showered with gifts from the Danes, he returns to Sweden where he becomes a great leader of his people. Many years pass, and he faces the threat of an angry fire-breathing dragon, aroused by the theft of a jeweled cup from its treasure hoard. The aging hero kills the dragon, only after suffering a mortal wound, and then dies himself. The Geats bury Beowulf’s ashes in an earthen tower at the sea’s edge, to guide sailors from far and wide.

Principle Character and Terms:

Hrothgar (Dane/Denmark/King of Danes/mead hall is ravaged by Grendle)
Wiglaf: Beowulf’s nephew/fights with B. against the Dragon
Herot/name of mead hall built by Hrothgar
Wergild: “Life for Life”
Unferth: best Danish warrior; jealous of Beowulf

Hygelac: King of Geats (Sweden); Beowulf’s uncle

Beowulf: Geat/protagonist

Brecca: Beowulf’s Childhood friend
Wyrd (urd): unalterable fate/ predetermination of life

Background on Poet and Significance of Poem

The poem is full of Christian sentiments, superimposed with a pagan code of battle, heroism, and kingship. The poet was either a Christian or was familiar with and influenced by Christianity. Some scholars believe that some monkish hand could have added the Christian references to improve and correct an essentially pagan epic. Most of the Christianity within Beowulf can not be so easily dismissed as there is too much of it. “Let God be thanked!” cries Hrothgar when the Danes assemble to celebrate Beowulf’s victory over Grendle. These are his first words; he goes on, almost at once, to assert with great feeling that
“…the Almighty makes miracles
When He pleases, wonder after wonder, and this world
Rests in His hands…” (960-962)

In addition, the poet describes Grendle as being a relation of Cain.

“He was spawn in that slime, Shut away from men; they split
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born Into a thousand forms of evil-spirits and
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished fiends, goblins, monsters, giants,
By God, punished forever for the crime of A brood forever opposing the Lord’s
Abel’s death. The Almighty drove those demons Will, and again and again defeated.”
Out, and their exile was bitter, (103-114)

It is God, who leads Beowulf into victory over Grendle’s vicious mother, once Beowulf has proved that he is willing and able to help himself. The essential nature of this Christianity may not be quite the same as those found in California, London, or Utah, but it is an integral part of the poet’s though and his view of life. The poet is quite skilled at blending pagan beliefs with Christianity. Personally I find it hard to believe that he wasn’t a Christian. If not, he must have had significant interaction with individuals that were of that faith. This is a mystery surrounding the poet that will never be solved as he never openly declared his faith!
We do know several aspects about the Beowulf poet, his name unfortunately, is not one of them. We know that he was an Anglo-Saxon, as the poem is written in his language (Old-English), who must have had some contact with the Vikings. This would have been a strong possibility, as the Vikings had settlements in England between 680-1010 A.D. The central settings of the poem are Sweden, Denmark, and several names occur within the poem in association with Norse religion; these include Hermod and Woden. Beowulf is also described as a Viking by the poet. In addition, the Norse believed in the concept of Wyrd (pronounced ‘urd’) which translated means, “that which will happen.” It is mentioned several times within the poem, and seems to take on a female persona.
2. Please be prepared for your Quiz on Friday covering the following myths:
  • The Necklace of the Brisings
  • Theft of Idun's Apples
  • Marriage of Njord and Skadi

NOTE: Your quiz has two parts. You will take one part in class on Friday and then the other is a "take-home" quiz.

3. Regarding your Practice Quiz........If you would like to receive extra-credit, then you are welcome to record responses to the following aspects, and then submit them tomorrow with Part 1 of your quiz.

  • Please be familiar with the following characters: Thiazi, Idun, Loki, Odin, Honir, Skadi, Njord, Freyja
  • Please be familiar with events within the three myths. You should be able to recount, without the use of your text, the plot of each myth.
  • Please be familiar with the outcome of each of the above characters in the three myths.

I look forward to reading Beowulf with you on Friday.



Monday, April 26, 2010


Dear Mythology Students,
I hope you had an enjoyable weekend! For those of you who attended Prom, I enjoyed seeing you at the dance. I must say, that I think you "clean up" so well. Basically, you looked junoesque and apollonian.


1. Locate the answer to the following questions concerning the epic poem entitled Beowulf.

1. Who is the Beowulf poet? (Hint: You won't find a name for the poet, but you will discover some information about him in your research.)
2. The original poem was written using what language?
3. Why is the Beowulf poem so valuable?
4. Identify the three monsters destroyed by Beowulf?
5. How does Beowulf destroy each monster?

2. Research the above questions, using the Internet (use "Beowulf Manuscript" or "Beowulf Epic Poem") as your source. Print off a hard copy of your source (or sources, if you need more than one to obtain answers to the five questions), highlighting the answers to the questions within the body of the source.

3. Please read the following myths for Friday. Your QUIZ covering the myths will take place on Friday.

  • "Necklace of the Brisings" pgs. 65- 70

  • "Theft of Idun's Apples" pgs. 38-44

  • "Marriage of Njord and Skadi" Pgs. 44-47

Big Hugs,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Oral Quiz and the Mead of Poetry

Dear Mythology Kids,

I hope you have a wonderful weekend; I look forward to seeing you (those of you attending) at Prom.

For those of you that missed class on Tuesday, April 20th, we participated in a "Socratic Discussion," otherwise known as "Oral Quiz. " You are welcome to take the quiz orally with me, but this must take place on Monday, April 26th during lunch.

We shared our favorite "poetic" works on Thursday, April 22nd. The "Mead of Poetry" was available for each student to taste. If you missed class, then you need to be prepared to share your piece on Monday, April 26th.

I will see you on Monday!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Dear Mythology Kids,

Please make sure that you are prepared for your reading quiz scheduled for Tuesday. The myths that you need to have read are the following:
1. "Mead of Poetry" pgs. 26-322.
2. "The Treasures of the Gods" pgs. 48-53

Your quiz will be different, again, as it is an oral quiz. I promise it will make sense when I see you on Tuesday. You will need to support your responses by using examples from the myths. MAKE SURE YOU READ THEM! The following questions will be used for the Socratic discussion we will have on Tuesday:

1. 1. The name “Bolverk” translated means “evil one.” Explain why you think Odin selected this name for the character he portrays in “Mead of Poetry.” Support your answers with examples from the myth.

2. Agree or disagree with the following statement by Odin, and then justify your response. “To be a poet, that is the finest calling.”

3. Consider the “host/guest” relationships within “The Mead of Poetry.” How are these relationships different and/or similar to those in the Greek myths? Support your idea with examples from “The Mead of Poetry” and any Greek myth.

4. The “quest for knowledge” is a strong motif in “The Mead of Poetry.” Primitive societies venerated poets in association with their leaders and gods; however, in some cultures the desire to learn was considered dangerous. Express your ideas concerning both “frames of thought.”

5. What could Sif’s hair represent? (What could it symbolize?) Explain your ideas.

6. What are Loki’s motive, both hidden and apparent, in the myth “Treasures of the Gods?” Explain.

7. Which group of gifts, in your opinion, is more superior? Support your reasoning.

In addition, don't forget that your memorized poem, and the explanation that goes along with it, are due on Thursday, April 22nd. Please remember the following:

1. Make sure your poem is memorized
2. Make sure you have included a typed explanation as to why you value the poem and the meaning behind the piece.
3. Remember to include a copy of the poem beneath your explanation.

1. We took/corrected our quiz covering the gods
2. I introduced the concept of motifs to my B1 and B4 classes. B2 had to leave early due to the Spirit Bowl, so I will explain motifs to them on Tuesday.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Dear Mythology Students,

How are you doing? Realize that you only have 31 days remaining until you can don the "coat and hood of privilege" (your cap and gown). Hang in there, my fine young friends, as your "moment of glory" is quickly approaching.

If you missed class on Wednesday, we completed the following:
1. Discussed questions through the use of our annotation sheet regarding "War," "Wall" and "Loki's Evil Children"
2. Took Quiz and submitted Annotation sheet

1. Application Quiz regarding the gods is Friday. Complete the "practice quiz" below. If you make flashcards for each of the gods you may use 3 on your quiz.

2. Select a "poetic piece" to share with the class on Thursday, April 22nd. Visit with me upon your return regarding more details about this assignment.

3. I will collect your Classical Mythology book on Tuesday, April 20th.

Practice Quiz: Please choose the god that best fits each clue.

1. "It is so nice to meet you." ( What do you do when you first meet someone?) ____________
2. "Here kitty, kitty....." ________________
3. "The better to see you with, my dear." _________________
4. Malevolent, Mischievous, and Malicious _________________
5. "I love toy boats, especially if they can fold up and fit in my pocket." _____________
6. Salt water is excellent for my skin, because it acts as an exfoliate. _______________
7. He gave me a splitting headache. _______________
8. "Promise me that you won't lay a hand on him. " _________________
9. "If I could only relive my youth again." ______________
10. Black and White, Life and Death, Good and Evil _____________________

Monday, April 12, 2010


Dear Mythology Kids,

I hope you had a relaxing and enjoying break. If you missed class today, Monday, April 12, we completed the following:

1. I returned the "Handout" assignment back to each student.
2. We shared the information on our handouts with the students in our group.

1. Please read "War between the Aesir and Vanir" pgs. 7-8
2. Please read "Building Asgard's Wall" pgs. 9-14
3. Please read "Loki's Children and the binding of Fenrir" pgs. 33-36
4. Complete the "Annotations #1" for the above myths (see below)
5. QUIZ covering the above myths on Wed.
6. QUIZ covering more specifics regarding the Norse Pantheon on Fri. If you missed class today, then make sure you obtain the information from another mythology student.

Annotations #1
Name______________________________ Period_____________ Score________

Directions: Please annotate each of the following myths, by asking questions concerning aspects of the text that you feel need clarification. Remember to not ask questions regarding a character's identity as those can be answered in the "GLOSSARY" section located at the back of your textbook. Please ask two questions per each page of text.

"The War of the Aesir and Vanir" pgs. 7-8

Building of Asgard's Wall pgs. 9-14












"Loki's Children and the Binding of Fenrir" pgs. 33-36