Beowulf Literary Terms Definitions

Epic (definition)
a poem that records and celebrates the heroic achievements of an individual

Alliteration (definition)
the repetition of consonant sounds at the initial position of a word

epithet (definition)
an adjective or phrase applied to a noun to accentuate a certain characteristic

Kenning (definition)
a type of metaphor usually combining words

Foreshadowing (definition)
the writer’s use of hints or clues that suggest what Events will occur later in the narrative

Caesura (definiton)
a pause in the middle of a line of poetry

Alliteration (example)
“fastened those claws in his fists till they cracked, clutched Grendel closer” (284)

Epithet (example)
Grendel is “stealthy and swift”Beowulf is “mighty and canny”

Kennings (example)
“whale road,” “ring-giver,” “gem of heaven”

Foreshadowing (example)
“And Beowulf uttered his final boast” (line 600)

Caesura (example)
“A noble life short. No Geat could have stopped her;” (line 417)

Primary Epic (definition)
an epic poem that comes from oral tradition

Primary Epic (example)
The Illiad or Odyssey

flashback (definition)
narrative disgression

flashback (example)
the story of Siegemund slaying the dragon and the Dane/Frisian battle

scop (definition)
an old English term for poet; sings about the important accomplishments of his patron and people; functions as an entertainer and as a historian

Heroic Ideal (definition)
Anglo-Saxon culture was governed by the ideals of bravery, loyalty and generosity; the king/lord surrounded himself with a band of retainers, who are rewarded with the spoils of their victories

Heroic Ideal (example)
“the retainers are obligated to fight for their lord to the death, and if he is slain, to avenge him or die in the attempt. Blood vengeance is regarded as a sacred duty, and in poetry everlasting shame awaits those who fail to observe it”

comitatus (definition)
the society or brotherhood of men who owed allegiance to a chieftain and expected his benevolence in return

wyrd (definition)
old English for fate, which was belived to be the controling force of the world for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture

Wergild (definition)

wergild (example)
“if one of his kinsmen had been slain, a man had the special duty of either killing the slayer or exacting him for money in return.

.. the money itself had less significance as wealth than as proof than proof that the kinsmen had done what was right.

Relatives who failed either to exact payment or to take vengeance could never be happy, having found no practical way of satisfying their grief”

aphorism (definition)
a concise, pointed, epigrammatic statement that purports to reveal a truth or principle

aphorism (example)
“behavior that’s admired is the path to per among people everywhere” (lines 24-25)

litotes (definition)
an ironic understatement

litotes (example)
“not bad looking” “not too bad”

metonymy (definition)
a figure of speech in one thing is used to designate something with which it is commonly associated (closely linked, but not part of it)

metonymy (example)
“crown for king;” “steel for swords”

synecdoche (definition)
a figure of speech in which part of something is used to designate a whole

synecdoche (example)
keel for ship

agon (definition)
a conflict between the protagonist and antagonist

agon (example)
Beowulf vs GrendelBeowulf vs Grendel’s MotherBeowulf vs dragon

animation (definition)
the act, process or result of imparting life, interest, spirit, motion, or activity