January 1, 2024

Beowulf: How A Legendary Poem Offers A Portal To Our Ancient Past

An excerpt from, "Beowulf: The Hero as Keeper of Human Polity" By Norma Kroll, Modern Philology, Vol. 84, No. 2 (Nov., 1986):

Current critical responses to Tolkien's demand that we look at Beowulf as "a productof art" still tend to generate as much controversy as agreement over what kind of the poem reveals. On the one side, scholars see the poem as a symbolic representation of man's moral and social struggles, with the monsters as earthly, virtually human creatures who are not entirely evil. On the other, some view it more or less as a psychomachia, an allegorical struggle between virtues and vices, with the battles between the marvelous characters representing cosmic confrontations between Christ and Satan. The critical controversy has its basis in the essential similarities radical differences between the hero and the two monsters. Nonetheless, Beowulf, Grendel, and the dragon do not symbolize either cosmic absolutes or ordinary humans. Instead, they are identical and opposite enough to be doubles, a relationship that shows all three to be physically, emotionally, and, in a sense, morally superior to the nonheroic characters. At issue is the question of what kinds of moral dilemma are central to the doubles relationships in the poem. As we shall see, the hero's and the monsters' prodigious battles have social and political rather than personal and psychological consequences. In essence, the Beowulf poet explores the problems inherent in a practical politics of civilization, presenting virtue as acts that sustain and vice as acts that disrupt human brotherhood.

Video Title: Beowulf: How A Legendary Poem Offers A Portal To Our Ancient Past | Literary Classics | Perspective. Source: Perspective. Date Published: May 16, 2023.