Ne Sorga: Grief and Revenge in Beowulf

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    Recent scholarship on revenge culture has stressed the importance of the distinction between individual, personal grievances and group grievances against ‘national enemies’9 born out of conflicts between kingdoms, tribes, or peoples,10 so I have chosen examples where the conflict does not have a political dimension. Further, scholars of revenge culture such as Hudson and Halsall have stressed that the concept of feud11 may be used cynically under certain circumstances. Hudson notes that it may act as a ‘legitimizing narrative’,12 while Halsall comments that some ‘feuds are actually periodically reinvented to justify discrete acts of violence.’13 So, in focusing on these four, I have chosen examples in which the mourner suffered a profound personal loss. Finally, and perhaps most significantly in terms of Owen-Crocker’s comment on the consequences of being unable to assume the role of avenger, two of the four are able to exact revenge while two are not. This allows for an exploration of the emotional effect of vengeance, at least as it is depicted in a literary text. For, while literature is not necessarily an indicator of reality, it is often an indicator of cultural assumptions. Narratives express a stylised and, in the case of heroic figures, idealised version of human behaviour, but not one beyond the reach of our understanding. That Anglo-Saxon kings had their family trees interwoven with mythic narrative, that Beowulf itself freely entwines historical with mythic figures, or that Hrothgar’s bard compares Beowulf to Sigemund are not simply examples of glorification. They also suggest that the Anglo-Saxons compared themselves and their actions with literary models to which they aspired.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAnglo-Saxon Emotions
    Subtitle of host publicationReading the Heart in Old English Language, Literature and Culture
    EditorsAlice Jorgensen, Frances McCormack, Jonathan Wilcox
    Place of PublicationAbingdon and New York
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Print)9781472421692
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Publication series

    NameStudies in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland


    • Beowulf
    • Grief
    • Revenge


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