Start An ethnic dating of beowulf

An ethnic dating of beowulf

Almost always difficult to date and rarely attributable to a named author, this body of vernacular writing is the largest extant in the first 1,100 years of the Common Era.

By common estimation the corpus of Old English poetry is some 30,000 lines or, roughly, the literary output of John Milton.

At 3,182 lines, Beowulf is approximately 10 percent of the corpus, which partially accounts for its significance.

Richard Scott Nokes, Troy University Beowulf, a poem written in a language identified with the Anglo-Saxons but without mention of England or a single English character, has always been entangled with the complexities of issues of nationalism.

The tribes and peoples mentioned in the story are little more than names to us, but the original audience may well have had strong feelings about them.

Claims upon Beowulf have often served as proxies for claims on national identity, whether English or otherwise. Niles stated with dry irony that "Thorkelin's chief motive for transcribing and publishing Beowulf was nationalism: Danish nationalism, to be precise." [2] Beowulf is by no means unique in medieval literature in serving the interests of nationalism. Cantor traced the deep interest in and profound impact of the Nazis upon medieval studies, particularly in the ways in which they promoted the use of history, linguistics, and folklore as tools for shaping a myth of pan-Germanic identity.

[3] Though they used medieval studies for their own purposes, the Nazis were part of a long tradition of underwriting national identity through medieval literature, a tradition that includes less malevolent incarnations such as the work of the Brothers Grimm or, in the case of Beowulf, the work of Frederick Klaeber.

In the early interpretation of the text, scholars saw a Scandinavian context.

As the study of the poem grew in the 19th century and beyond, scholarship and criticism offered a dizzying array of approaches and opinions.

Scholars and teachers of Beowulf tend either to ignore or downplay this aspect of Beowulf's critical reception, or they may work actively to challenge such readings through more sophisticated analysis of the poem's origins and history.

Unlike many other medieval works, however, Beowulf has a life beyond the academic world and a place in popular culture, where the nuances of scholarly caution and restraint have little effect.

[1] Modern scholarship on the poem is also fraught with issues of nationalism, but in this case we can see the details and distinctions more clearly.