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Cultural World in Beowulf

Cultural World in Beowulf

John M. Hill
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 234
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  • Book Info
    Cultural World in Beowulf
    Book Description:

    In this cross-disciplinary study, John Hill looks atBeowulffrom a comparative ethnological point of view. He provides a thorough examination of the socio-cultural dimensions of the text and compares the social milieu ofBeowulfto that of similarly organized cultures.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2303-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    Early in this century specialists in medieval English literature and history wrote in the current anthropological and legalistic terms about the nature of early Germanic society. Their focus was the time before and during the early periods of written law codes, charters, wills, histories, and, of course, literary texts. When scholars such as Schiicking, Grønbech (who more than any other scholar of his generation explored Germanic gift giving), Seebohm, the Chadwicks, Lawrence, and Phillpotts turned from attempts to understand such ‘institutions’ as early medieval coinage or social organization, they tended to focus on questions concerning implied social stratification, land-holding rights,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Feud Settlements in Beowulf
    (pp. 25-37)

    Much of the commentary on feud and revenge inBeowulfconfuses raiding behaviour with feud relationships. It also overlooks successful settlements, such as Hrothgar’s on Ecgtheow’s behalf, while focusing on the supposedly terrible lessons of revenge feud. Supposedly such feud is interminable, bringing everything to grief; even hoped-for settlements through marriage are not immune to disaster; indeed, they may well be especially vulnerable to ongoing blood-revenge. Thus the marriage alliances, more than anything else, become symbols of terrible pathos and are seen as implicitly anchoring the poet’s social critique of the heroic world. Yet one can understand the complexity of...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Temporal World in Beowulf
    (pp. 38-62)

    God underwrites revenge in the requital he takes against giants who warred against him, presumably by drowning them in Noah’s flood. Grendel bears the mark of God’s wrath and Hrothgar sees Beowulf as quite literally a god-send in his feud against Grendel. In these and many other respects, Beowulf’s social world is far from demythologized; it is neither a world of mechanical relationships and automatic duties nor one simply arranged between existential humans who make their meanings and establish their values as they go along. Thus we might do well to leave our considerations of revenge and proceed with a...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Jural World in Beowulf
    (pp. 63-84)

    Although Beowulf is not a law-code giver in the sense that kings in the seventh to ninth centuries were in Anglo-Saxon times, he is nevertheless a juridical figure in that his combats and activities occur within expressly acknowledged jural and ethical contexts of what is right and of what one is obliged to do. Those contexts have been almost entirely overlooked byBeowulf’sreaders; we have seen Beowulf only as an oddly extra-social warrior-adventurer, like Sigemund, or else as kind of culture hero, a warrior-saviour who somehow operates outside the networks created by such overlapping social institutions as the feud,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Economy of Honour in Beowulf
    (pp. 85-107)

    This chapter shows the surprising and complex ways in whichBeowulfis a drama of exchange, in terms of both violent settlement and gift giving. With an appropriate focus, this drama becomes evident in formal speeches and celebrations; these in turn become more than they have seemed to us as the poet delineates complex gestures and establishes the dynamic character and variable scope of aristocratic gift giving.

    Others have seen something of this and have even looked beyond the combats of the poem to the many ways in which the poem emphasizes such non-martial social activities as feasting, gift exchange,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Psychological World in Beowulf
    (pp. 108-140)

    In this chapter I extend thepsychoanalyticalpossibilities of psychological anthropology and suggest the coherence a Freudian reading can draw out ofBeowulf. This approach is somewhat out of favour in late twentieth-century anthropology, having been displaced by intentionalist studies of relativized cognitive and affective formations that vary greatly with the ways in which individuals in different cultures are partially formed by, interact with, and change the cultural environments into which they grow.¹ To those orientations we can add recent arguments for the total ‘imbeddedness’ of Freudian thought in Western contexts. Freudianism becomes either just one of several possible responses...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 141-152)

    Beowulf’s perception of his situation regarding the dragon has been discussed in terms of his dismayed turmoil of mind – the basically right-minded but momentarily dark and tumultuous supposings of an ethical battle-king. When his people say of him that he was of world-kings the most generous (rather than ‘mildest’) of men, the most given to tying men together in kindred harmony, to his people the most kind and most eager for good repute, they speak of him in superlatives drawn from bothcomitatusreciprocity (the generosity of the lord as expressed in ‘milde’) and cohesion-oriented social values within both...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-202)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-224)