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An Epic is a long narrative poem that deals with a great and serious subject in a lofty and elevated style. It is set in a remote time and place and the action involves heroic deeds. The characters are heroic and grand. At times, the gods and goddesses and supernatural beings participate in the action.
Beowulf as an epic

Beowulf belongs to the epic of growth or traditional or primary or authentic or folk epic. It is a national epic of the Teutons. The story elements or materials of Beowulf have been largely drawn upon the traditional Teutonic (Germanic) ethos. The stories are relates to continental or Scandinavian lands. Britain does not figure at all in Beowulf, even though it is considered as the national epic of England. It conforms to quite a few accepted norms of epic, though critics often differ as to its epic qualities and grandeur.

The long narrative feature of the epic is traceable in Beowulf which is a poem of 3182 lines --- quite long. In these lines the epic records the heroic actions and exploits of the hero Beowulf. The hero achieves spectacular victory over the man killing monster Grendel in Hrothgar's Hall named Heorat. He killed the monster in a heroic manner appropriate for an epic hero. The way he fought deserves praise and admiration. He then killed Grendel's mother in the cave at the dark bottom of the sea. Here also Beowulf showed his extraordinary courage, valour and fighting ability. After reigning the people of Geat for long fifty years as their benevolent king, he again fought and killed the fire-dragon though he was poisoned by the dragon's venomous blood to death at a later stage. Thus the narrative is befitting for an epic tale.

To talk about the subject matter of the epic undoubtedly it is serious and great. As a great warrior, Beowulf exhibited his leadership quality. He, as an epitome of virtue, went ahead to crush the vice. The monster and the dragon episodes are matters that terrorise and destabilize the peace and tranquility of a society which is to be protected by a benign king or a virtuous soul. The reign of vice is anti- Christian and also anti-pagan. It cannot be allowed to continue.

The style of Beowulf is consistently lofty and dignified. The massive simplicity and sustained narrative of noble events capture popular imagination. The heroic actions have expressed in the grand style. As far as Beowulf is concerned, it has a dignified and grand style based on simplicity. Though the poet of Beowulf is anonymous, the grand poetic style proves that he was a poet of very high standard and calibre. The speeches are stately. The tone is restrained and there is an undertone of melancholy and moral earnestness throughout the poem. The wealth variety and picturesqueness of expressions have heightened the epical grandeur of Beowulf that offers a picture of heroic age and the story refers to pre- Christian period in a Teutonic race in the sixth century - a time dominated by paganism. The references to funeral ship (line 27), the offerings at the shrines (line 175), the omens (line 204), the boar on helmets (lines 303,1111,1286,1451,2152), the buried of treasures (2233), and cremation (lines 1108,2124,3137) are heathen and pagan.

Besides the epic hero, the characterization of super-natural figures/elements is noticeable in the epic. They predominate throughout the poem quite effectively. In the first part, the monster Grendel and his mother and in the second part, the fire-dragon which are certainly super natural beings. Man is set against monsters and dragons. In this respect Beowulf is at par with other famous epic, like Homer's 'Iliad' and Milton's 'paradise Lost'. The quality of an epic's being historical or semi-historical is also discernble in Beowulf. The epic has a historical base, however, thin in may be. Hygelac, the uncle of Beowulf, may be identified with Cochilaicus, who invaded the lower Rhine about 512 A.D. and had Beowulf as one of his trusted lieutenan.

Last but not least, the main character of the narrative is Beowulf and he is epic hero. He is an eloquent speaker and can hold his ceremonial dignity. The mighty figure of Beowulf towers head and shoulders of his peers. He is a great hero, a loyal thane, a well-beloved king. Beowulf as an epic hero eclipses even Achilles. Besides Beowulf, the characterization of other characters is superb. Wiglaf, the symbol of faith and fidelity, risks his life for his master and upholds the traditional values. Hrothgar is the most benevolent ruler, Wealhtheow is the gracious queen.

Though critics differ as to consider Beowulf as a true epic, yet it is undoubtedly an epic. It has observed some major accepted norms of epic as have been discussed. With all its weaknesses, it is considered as the first national epic of England or English literature.

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