The Verb in Beowulf

The Verb in Beowulf

Morin, Paul Emile

PhD Dissertation, University of Ottawa (1965)

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to examine the verb in Beowulf in order to determine the contribution made by the poet to the diction of the poem. The findings establish that the verb plays an important role in the poetic diction of Beowulf.

The Introduction states the approach. It emphasizes the difficult task awaiting anyone investigating the poem Beowulf, mentions the names of some scholars who have studied it all their lives without exhausting the matter, and points to the necessity of marshalling one’s efforts on one aspect, part, or feature of the poem. The last paragraph contains a synopsis of the thesis.

Chapter I deals with Anglo-Saxon poetic diction and technique in general terms. Definitions are given of literature, beauty, prose, verse, poetic diction, poetic technique, style, convention, and tradition. The position of Anglo-Saxon studies in the 1920’s Is mentioned along with Anglo-Saxon research since 1925. The main crux in the study of Anglo-Saxon poetic works is shown to be an understanding of the Anglo-Saxon language made more difficult by a scarcity of Anglo-Saxon works. It Is not uncommon to be led astray in the interpretation of allusions and meanings of Anglo-Saxon poems. This is illustrated by reference to an article by Paull F. Baum on the poet of Beowulf, and clarification of the problem regarding allusions to the Old Testament. The discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure, the Intellectuality of the seventh and eighth centuries, the many important libraries set up at the time, the centers of learning, the monastery schools, the appearance of saints and scholars, are mentioned in support of the claim that Beowulf was written in a period of marked intellectual achievements. The oral formulaic theory advanced by Francis P. Magoun, Jr., regarding the making of Beowulf, is examined, discussed, and rejected. Beowulf is seen as having been written pen in hand.

Chapter II shows the importance of semantics as a prerequisite for an understanding of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, and investigates the influence of Latin and Christianity on the vocabulary and the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. Semantics is defined, and several words, including wineleas, daegwoma, widewe, lencten, cealdheort, serve to illustrate the role of etymology in the understanding of Anglo-Saxon words. The allusion inherent in brunecg is explained in terms of knowledge of the tempering of steel. The description of the helmet found in the Sutton Hoo treasure is used to explain the meaning of wala, a word appearing in line 1031 of Beowulf. The multiplicity of meanings of some Anglo-Saxon words and the difficult y in arrivin g at a precis e understanding of then is illustrate d by way of thirtee n Anglo-Saxon words and their eighty-seven possible modern English equivalents. Colours in Anglo-Saxon poetry are discussed , and their frequency of appearance in Anglo-Saxon poetical works given . A conclusion is reached that the function of the dictionary is not usually to give the historical sense of words.

The influence of Latin on Anglo-Saxon vocabulary is found to exist in Latin borrowings, abstract idea s rendered by native compounds, and in the analogical transference of ideas. Virgil and Anglo-Saxon are discussed , and books known to Anglo-Latin writers mentioned. The influence of Virgil is seen in Virgilia n phrases used by Anglo-Saxon literary ecclesiastics, among Anglo-Saxon kings who were scholars, and in the technique of composition of Anglo-Saxon writings. The effects of Latin appear in Anglo-Saxon idioms and inflexions.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Ottawa

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