This week the guys over at the Legends Myths and Whiskey Podcast have graciously accepted our request to guest write an installment of our Finger Food Blog. For those of you who are not familiar with the show, head on over to iTunes and check them out! As always if you have comments or suggestions please hit us up on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you and #StayTwined
The Anglo-Saxon epic-poem of Beowulf is old. Like, really old. Like, over 1,000 years old. Sure there are older manuscripts out there, but there aren't any older poems written in Old English out there. So aside from being the incontestably greatest hero of all Scandinavia, Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, is also the oldest existing bastion of the earliest days of verse; at least where the English language is concerned. Beowulf is, however, unique and special for more reasons than just these - one reason being the focus of this article.
The Humanization of Beasts
Beowulf is the work of an unknown author, and we can't assume that much about him (indeed there is much debate over the poem's authorship). What we do know is that the epic-poem of Beowulf has a decidedly Christian slant for being written in a Pagan world. The work clearly posits the Christian God as the supreme decider of human fate and takes several potshots at the ineffectiveness of paganism. In spite of this however, Beowulf has a very unique theme running all the way through it: This Anglo-Saxon epic-poem makes constant concession for its villains by giving them incredibly human traits. By forcing us, when we study them closely, to identify with them in ways we shouldn't.
This is unheard of.
Why would a Christian author, clearly competing against the pagan religions for dominance in Europe, spend time showing us the mind of Grendel? Spend time illustrating the good heart of Grendel's beastly and horrific mother? Convey a dragon as anything less than repulsively evil? The Bible doesn't do this. The Bible tells us that an evil entity simply is evil and simply does evil things. But in Beowulf, evil has a mind, it has a reason beyond itself for acting as it does, and it seems to have a good heart in some places. Grendel attacks because he is kept awake by the constant noise of bad neighbors; not because he likes eating Danes. Grendel's mother mourns the death of her son in a visceral way and even goes so far as to endanger herself to in order to make him complete again in death. The Dragon does no evil until it is stolen from, it lives happily atop its hoard; sleeping for days at a time, feasting not on the flesh of Gaets.
The hero Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, may treat these beasts with the edge of his sword, but the author treats them as complete characters and goes out of his way to ensure they explain themselves through his narration. This is worth discussing.
What else might be hidden in this story?
Now that I've got you thinking, you may be super interested in taking a second look at Beowulf; to see for yourself what you may have missed all those years ago. At the same time, it may sound like the most daunting task you can imagine: sitting down to parse through ~120 pages and then deeply analyzing their hidden or missed meanings. But you're in luck, we've made something just for you and people like you.
Beowulf: A Mythosymphony
Recently I got together with two friends of mine and started a production company: Satyr Productions, LLC. We produce the tri-monthly Legends Myths and Whiskey Podcast and recently we've begun creating and releasing Mythosymphonies. A Mythosymphony is a story set to a completely custom soundtrack from start to finish. But that's not all. Spaced out between the chapters - and at various intervals - are commentary tracks featuring discussions just like this one (including this one, actually) intended to provide context and insight which is difficult to gain when reading on your own and without spending hours on research.
So if you're interested in giving Beowulf another go, and in learning more from it than you have before, pick up a copy of Beowulf: A Mythosymphony today on iTunes or Bandcamp (Google Play soon). We'll finish this discussion when you get there! See you soon!