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English Epic Poetry Essay

March 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

One distinctive characteristic of Old English Literature is the role of heroic epic poetry. According to wikipedia.org, epic poetry is defined as “a broadly defined genre of poetry, which retells in a continuous narrative the life and works of a heroic person or group of heroic persons either historical or mythical.” In Medieval literature, the role of the hero has played a constant role in the works surfacing from that time period. The hero role is a man or woman who usually possesses powers far beyond that of a standard human being. In most cases, one of the ongoing themes from the work is the struggle between Man vs. Evil. An excellent example of an epic piece that includes the role of the hero is the literary work, Beowulf.

The Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf is probably the most important work of Old English Literature. It tells the story of a hero named Beowulf and his exploits fighting the evil Grendel’s mother and a Dragon. The storyteller uses many elements to build a certain depth to the characters. According to studyworld.com, a few of the important character elements in Beowulf are “wealth and honor, biblical and paganistic, and man vs. wild themes.”

In Medieval Literature, the mentality shared by many Anglo-Saxons can be inferred by its literature. In Anglo-Saxon culture, one can assume that wealth and status was also measured in terms of accomplishments. These characteristics were used as the barometer of who was good and who was evil. Therefore, these qualities show who are the heroes and villains. For instance, Beowulf, the hero-prince, proves his true wealth and status by defending the Danes. After his fight and defeat of Grendel, Beowulf earns the fame, wealth, and honor that he deserves; hence, depicting Beowulf as the true hero. On the other hand, Grendel has no money, honor, and murderous. As a result, he is the obvious villain – EVIL.

The use of heroic epic poetry probably defines Old English Literature. According to studyworld.com, another example of Beowulf as a hero can be evidenced by his unnatural powers for a human being. Beowulf, by being simply pure and good, can overcome his enemy without any armor or weaponry. This example also ties in the role of Christianity, which was an influence on the literature that emerged from the era.

In conclusion, the role of heroic epic poetry in Old English Literature is illustrated in Beowulf. This particular epic is a wonderful example of depicting the role of the hero, Man vs. Evil, and religious influences. As a result, this allows one to distinguish Old English Literature from the rest.

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