Setting of Beowulf Video

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  • 0:03 A Time Like Few Others
  • 0:48 Dichotomy Between…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laurie Smith
This lesson depicts the Scandinavian wilds that are the setting for the epic poem, 'Beowulf.' This setting plays a key role in the formation of the community as well as in major plot points in the poem. After the lesson, test yourself with the quiz!

A Time Like Few Others

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to move someplace where no one else you knew had ever lived? What would it have been like to have been one of the first pioneers to cross the Appalachian Mountains into the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys, or even on to Oregon. Or, better yet, what dangers do you think the first colonists of Mars would face? Would they always be strictly scientific, or would there be some element of superstition to it all?

While the characters of Beowulf had lived in their region for quite some time, the societies still had a great deal of what we would call the pioneering spirit. There didn't exist any of the established land routes of the Mediterranean or even of Celtic Ireland nor were there standing governments ready to protect their people. Instead, people had to rely largely on their own abilities.

Dichotomy Between Settled and Wild

Imagine a Dark Age settlement for a moment. It's made up of huts and longhouses, surrounded by a few fields and corrals for the small herds of sheep and cattle. Other than the immediate area, it's wild though. Surrounded by trees, everything that is known ends at the edge of the forest. Most certainly, there were outlaws, bears, wolves, and other treacherous elements waiting for them away from the safety of the village. This was especially true in winter, when the woods were stripped of all evidence of life.

Beyond that, there were still all the legendary dangers. The dominant religious traditions of the people of the region were Norse and Germanic mythologies. These two systems overlap as much as Greek and Roman mythologies do, but all emphasize the safety to be found among one's neighbors and the dangers of the unknown.

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