BEOWULF QUESTIONS I
1. How does the first sentence of the poem relate to our discussion of Anglo-Saxon society? What do you think the word "princes" means here?
2. What might be the significance of taking away mead-benches?
3. Why is God invoked early in the poem? What is the function of the invocation?
4. What is middle-earth? Why might the poet use this term?
5. We have said that the poet (scop) did not follow a linear path in his narrative. Find places in the several two pages where he abandons chronology? Does he gain anything by this?
6. How does the poet explain the existence of Grendel?
7. What are some of the appositives the poet gives to Hrothgar? What kind of a person do they reveal?
1. How does the poet explain Grendel's actions? What types of names does he give the monster?
2. To whom do the pagan vikings turn for help in their misery?
3. What is the "swan's road"? What does the sentence mean that reads: "Very little did wise men blame him for that adventure, though he was dear to them"?
4. What type of greeting do Beowulf and his fifteen thanes receive when they land on Denmark? Why are they greeted this way?
5. What are some names given to Beowulf and how do they characterize him?
1. Often, the reading is difficult because the antecedent to a pronoun is not what one might expect. Find some places where the word "he" is used to refer to someone different than the person you might expect. Tell what clues you use to decide who "he" or "him" refers to.
2. What conditions are laid upon Beowulf's men for their being admitted to the presence of Hrothgar? What do these conditions imply?
3. Of what does Beowulf boast? How does his boast become a vow?
4. The oral-formula "Fate always goes as it must" tells us what about the philosophy of the Norsemen?
5. What seems to be the purpose of Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf?
6. What purpose does Unferth's challenge to Beowulf seem to have?
7. Beowulf claims, "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good?" What connection might you make between this saying and Tolkien's reading of the poem?
1. How is Wealtheow characterized by the poet?
2. Who is the King of Glory that the poet refers to?
3. Beowulf boasts as he prepares to fight Grendel. Besides being a vow to battle with Grendel, what other purpose(s) might the boast serve?
4. Why doesn't the poet have Beowulf act faster to save the man Grendel kills?
5. Why might Beowulf have chosen to wrestle with Grendel?
6. What parallels does the poet seem to create between Grendel and Beowulf?
1. Why, in the middle of celebrating Beowulf's victory over Grendel, does the scop (the poet) tell the story of Sigemund? Note that Waels is Volsungr, Sigemund's father and grandfather of Sigfried, greatest of the Germanic heroes.
2. How does the horse race function in the poem?
3. At times the speaker interrupts the tale with "gnomic utterances," wise sayings that provide advice for his listeners. Find at least one of these. How does it relate to the story?
4. How does Hrothgar show his generosity after Beowulf's victory?
5. Reconstruct the story of Finnsburg as it is related here, perhaps drawing a diagram to show the principle players and how they were related. How is the story related to the main story?
6. What seems to be Wealtheow's anxiety about her sons?
1. What seems to be the purpose in recounting Grendel's and his mother's history?
2. Who lends his sword to Beowulf when he goes to fight in the mere, and what do the poet's comments reveal about him?
3. What enables Beowulf to kill Grendel's mother and why might it do so when Hrunting does not?
4. Hrothgar's "sermon" follows his remarks on Heremod? What does the scop accomplish with the story of Heremod and with Hrothgar's "sermon" to Beowulf?