LINES 1 – 63 : Introduction
The first lines of the poem provide a brief history of the Danish Royal
family, which was founded by Scyld Scefing. He conquered the surrounding area to form the land of Denmark, acquiring many Mead Halls.
He became the first Danish King and was regarded by his subjects as a kind leader.
He was succeeded by his son Beowulf, not to be confused with Beowulf the
Great from Geatland who is the hero of this poem.
The poem then describes the funeral of Scyld Scefing who was placed on a
ring-proud ship full of treasure and set adrift on the tide. Scyld’s beloved son Beowulf then ruled the Danes for a long period of time, followed by a line of noble Kings, to the present day ruler Hrothgar.
The format for this poem was originally recited from memory by storytellers,
or it may even have been sung. In this respect it is similar to Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’.
It is regarded as an epic narrative poem because of its length and its sophisticated style. It deals with the adventures of great heroes against evil, supernatural monsters.
It is believed to have been composed in England some time in the 8th Century A.D., and was written down some two hundred years later. Although there are some historical truths contained in the poem, much of it has been derived from a mixture of folk tales and themes from other stories.
However, the poet that brought all these elements together was indeed
skilled, for he took the time to characterize the main players in the poem.
There was also an interesting Christian feel to the story, which suggests
that some editing has taken place by the scribes.
The purpose of these initial lines is to set the scene for the rest of the
poem. The poem runs for 3,182 lines, and the remaining part mainly deals with Beowulf’s adventures.
From this introduction, we obtain an insight into the noble Danish Royal
heritage, which indicates that these Kings are civilized and God-fearing. The poem has been composed with the express view of entertaining the aristocracy and is not aimed at the man in the street.
Although the Danes are viewed as civilized, their main activity is to conquer their neighbors and their status is based on their success in battle. Their King is regarded as a virtuous man because of his courage and leadership on the battlefield, coupled with a generous nature.
We also discover that the Danes love to feast and the Mead Hall is the
centre of their recreation, and this is regarded as the prize to be won when conquering your neighbor.
The poet also tells us about the funeral of Scyld and there is also a
funeral at the end of the poem, thus the main story is framed by the deaths of heroes.
The reader also discovers that this is a very masculine poem and very few
women appear in the story, and when they are referred to it is as somebody’s daughter or wife.