Beowulf: a heroic tale of fact or fiction?
By Anna Lind Borgþórsdóttir
Bachelor’s Thesis, University of Iceland, 2012
Introduction: The aim of this essay is to look at the ideas of various scholars and researchers in their published books and articles on Beowulf and related material. The poem in question is an Old English manuscript which has been preserved in only one copy. There is no solid date or authorship for the poem and little is known about its origin. Therefore, all statements put forward about the poem’s provenance are mere speculations. It is to be expected that different scholars have different opinions on the matter. This gives an opportunity for many debates, not to mention if additional information about the manuscript comes to light in the future. However, every reader must follow his own conviction and beliefs and measure the truth and accuracy of his mission.
As an admirer of stories as a whole, a romantic believer in adventures, a truth-seeker and a person intensely curious about our ancestors, I now put forward my own musings about the poem. The question of the truth of the narrative is an interesting one, mainly the existence of the ancestor warrior Beowulf, his battles and life. Furthermore, I believe that oral tradition was performed in the Middle-Ages in a story-telling manner and served as a popular form of entertainment for the public. More importantly, these narratives, both verse and prose, were a way to preserve the history and customs of people both alive and deceased. Even in our times we still have individuals and societies that carry out this tradition. To support my opinion I submit the Scottish singer Duncan Williamson (1928-2007) and the tribes in the islands of the South Pacific.
The probability of exaggeration in oral stories passing from generation to generation is high, so we can accept that there is a danger of that occurring Therefore, although I believe there is truth to the story in the account of the events, I draw the line with the supernaturally strong warrior Beowulf and the evil mystical beings in the poem; I assume they are fictional and the result of exaggeration.
I hope this essay will arouse its readers, not least those with limited knowledge of Beowulf, to seek further reading on the subject.