Beowulf: Elements of an Epic

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Beowulf - Elements of an Epic


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Activity Overview

Generally, epics are mythological histories, meaning they are a melting pot of famous figures from history and historical events. In the case of Beowulf, the battle of Grendel is the beginning of the epic with the famous Beowulf, Warrior of the Geats, as its hero.

Epics typically begin as oral traditions, passed down for generations before being written down. Because of this, epics have an order and repetition of the events that made them easier to remember. Due to their length, these works often took days to tell.

Six Elements of an Epic

A Hero of Legendary Proportions

The epic hero is typically well known in his time, often reaching superstar status. In ancient legends, the hero often is either partially divine or at least protected by the gods.

"I'm Beowulf! I've killed nine sea monsters." In cell one, this quote shows Beowulf's notoriety. When he first gets to the Denmark, the Dane's throw him a great feast. While there, he brags to Hrothgar about all he's accomplished.

Adventures of Superhuman Strength and Valor

The hero accomplishes feats no real human could, both physically and mentally.

After bragging, Beowulf also tells a story about a swimming match with his friend Brecca. During the match, sea monsters attack, and Beowulf was able to slay the monsters, save his friend, and finish the race.

Multiple Settings

The actions of the hero span the continent, other realms, or even worlds.

In Beowulf, much of the action takes place in or around Hrothgar's hall of Heorot, but Beowulf also goes to the to kill the swamp hag in her underwater lair, and his fight against the dragon is in his home of Geatland.

Involvement of the Supernatural

Gods, demons, angels, time/space travel, cheating death, immortality, and other supernatural elements.

In this epic tale, our hero encounters monsters, a witch, and a fire-breathing dragon. He uses a sword forged by giants to kill his enemies.

Epic Style of Writing

The style of is frequently ornate, drawn out, or exaggerated.

The poem uses traditional "kennings", or compound metaphors, to replace simple objects, and much of the action is relayed at breathless pace, interspersed with digressions about lineage and past deeds. Characters and events are described in a truly epic and poetic manner.

Omniscient Narrator

The narrator sees and knows all.

Throughout Beowulf, the narrator uses third person omniscient narration to tell us the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the characters. He writes as though from a god’s point of view, witnessing and experiencing everything that takes place in the story and sometimes even spoiling what's going to happen next!

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows the six elements of an epic in Beowulf.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify events or characteristics of the story that fit into the elements of an epic.
  3. Illustrate the examples for each event or characteristic.
  4. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Beowulf as an epic.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

Elements of an Epic Template


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