Beowulf: Epic or Elegy?

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Writing Lab III

Beowulf: Epic or Elegy?
Beowulf is a poem written in manuscript form created in England sometime between the years 700 and 1000AD. The author is unknown to this day. Is Beowulf an epic poem or an elegy? An epic is “a long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race” (Harmon and Holman 188). An elegy is “a sustained and formal poem setting forth meditations on death or another solemn theme” (Harmon and Holman 178). Beowulf has been considered to be both an epic and an elegy; an epic by some, and elegy by others. A great epic commits to these things: a hero that is a figure of great or national importance, settings that change several times, deeds of valor or extraordinary courage, and man against a supernatural being. I believe Beowulf is an epic poem telling of Beowulf’s deeds.

Epic poems consist of heroes that are figures of great or national importance. That hero is Beowulf. So every elder and experienced councilman
among my people supported my resolve
to come here to you, King Hrothgar, 
because all knew of my awesome strength.
They had seen me boltered in the blood of the enemies
when I battled and bound five beasts,
raided a troll-next and in the night-sea
slaughtered sea-brutes. I have suffered extremes
and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it
upon themselves, I devastated them).
Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,
settle the outcome in single combat.
(Beowulf 415-426)
Beowulf is stronger than any other man – he ripped off the arm of Grendel with his hands. Beowulf is braver than any other man, prideful, and is the best warrior around. He encounters monsters and beasts but never fears the possibility of dying. Beowulf is also an epic hero because he puts the welfare of others before himself. For...
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