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FSU CLT 3378 - Ancient Mythology Study Guide

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Ancient Mythology Study Guide• England: Beowulfo Plot- King Hrothgar of Denmark builds a great mead-hall, called Heorot, where his warriors can gather to drink, receive gifts from their lord, and listen to stories sung by the scops, or bards. But the jubilant noise from Heorot angers Grendel, a horrible demon who lives in the swamplands of Hrothgar’s kingdom. Grendel terrorizes the Danes every night, killing them and defeating their efforts to fight back. The Danes suffer many years of fear, danger, and death at the hands of Grendel. Eventually, a young Geatish warrior named Beowulf hears of Hrothgar’s plight. Inspired by the challenge, Beowulf sails to Denmark with a small company of men, determined to defeat Grendel. Hrothgar, who had once done a great favor for Beowulf’s father Ecgtheow, accepts Beowulf’s offer to fight Grendel and holds a feast in the hero’s honor. During the feast, an envious Dane named Unferth taunts Beowulf and accuses him of being unworthy of his reputation. Beowulf responds with a boastful description of some of his past accomplishments. His confidence cheers the Danish warriors, and the feast lasts merrily into the night. At last, however, Grendel arrives. Beowulf fights him unarmed, proving himself stronger than the demon, who is terrified. As Grendel struggles to escape, Beowulf tears the monster’s arm off. Mortally wounded, Grendel slinks back into the swamp to die. The severed arm is hung high in the mead-hall as a trophy of victory. Overjoyed, Hrothgar showers Beowulf with gifts and treasure at a feast in his honor. But another threat is approaching. Grendel’s mother, a swamp-hag who lives in a desolate lake, comes to Heorot seeking revenge for her son’s death. She murders Aeschere, one of Hrothgar’s most trusted advisers, before slinking away. To avenge Aeschere’s death, the company travels to the murky swamp, where Beowulf dives into the water and fights Grendel’s mother in her underwater lair. He kills her with a sword forged for a giant, then, finding Grendel’s corpse, decapitates it and brings the head as a prize to Hrothgar. The Danish countryside is now purged of its treacherous monsters. The Danes are again overjoyed, and Beowulf’s fame spreads across the kingdom. Beowulf departs after a sorrowful goodbye to Hrothgar, who has treated him like a son. He returns to Geatland, where he and his men are reunited with their king and queen, Hygelac and Hygd, to whom Beowulf recounts his adventures in Denmark. Beowulf then hands over most of his treasure to Hygelac, who, in turn, rewards him. In time, Hygelac is killed in a war against the Shylfings, and, after Hygelac’s son dies, Beowulf ascends to the throne of the Geats. He rules wisely for fifty years, bringing prosperity to Geatland. When Beowulf is an old man, however, a thief disturbs a barrow, or mound, where a great dragon lies guarding a horde of treasure. Enraged, the dragon emerges from the barrow and begins unleashing fiery destruction upon the Geats. Sensing his own death approaching, Beowulf goes to fight the dragon. With the aid of Wiglaf, he succeeds in killing the beast, but at a heavy cost. The dragon bites Beowulf in the neck, and its fiery venom kills him moments after their encounter. The Geats fear that their enemies will attack them now that Beowulf is dead. According to Beowulf’s wishes, they burn their departed king’s body on a huge funeral pyre and then bury him with a massive treasure in a barrow overlooking the sea.o KEY TERMS:  Beowulf- The protagonist of the poem. Beowulf is a hero who fights the monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf’s exploits prove him to be the strongest, ablest warrior of his time. In his youth, he personifies the values of the heroic culture. In his old age, he proves a wise and effective ruler. Dragon- An ancient, powerful serpent that guards a horde of treasure. Beowulf fights the dragon in the third and final part of the epic.  Grendel- A demon descended from Cain. Grendel preys on Hrothgar’s warriors in the king’s mead-hall, Heorot. Because Grendel’s ruthless and miserable existence is part of the retribution exacted by God for Cain’s murder of Abel, Grendel fits solidly within the ethos of vengeance that governs the world of the poem. Grendel’s mother- A demon even more monstrous than Grendel. Grendel’s mother seeks revenge on Hrothgar’s men for the death of her son. Beowulf journeys to her magical, creature-filled lair beneath the swamp in order to defeat her. Heorot- The city that was under attack by Grendel and Grendel’s mother.  Hrothgar- The king of the Danes. Hrothgar enjoys military success and prosperity until Grendel comes to terrorize his realm. Hrothgar is a wise and aged ruler, and he represents a different kind of leadership from that exhibited by the youthful warrior Beowulf. He is a father figure to Beowulf and a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes. Hrunting- Unferth's sword, that he lent to Beowulf to fight Grendel's mother Hygelac- Beowulf’s uncle, king of the Geats, and husband of Hygd. Hygelac heartily welcomes Beowulf upon his return from Denmark. Wiglaf- A young kinsman and retainer of Beowulf. Wiglaf helps Beowulf in the fight against the dragon after the other warriors run away. Wiglaf adheres to the heroic code, thereby proving himself a suitable successor to Beowulf.• Scandinavia: Prose Edda (IV.6)o Plot- Gylfaginning- The Gylfaginning tells the story of Gylfi, a king of "the land that men now call Sweden", who after being tricked by one of the goddesses of the Æsir, wonders if all Æsir use magic and tricks for their will to be done. This is why he journeys to Asgard, but on the way he is tricked by the gods and arrives in some other place, where he finds a great palace. Inside the palace he encounters a man who asks Gylfi's name and so king Gylfi introduces himself as Gangleri. Gangleri then is taken to the king of the palace and comes upon three men; High, Just-As-High, and Third. Gangleri is then challenged to show his wisdom by asking questions, as is the custom in many Norse sagas. Each question made to High, Just-As-High, and Third is about an aspect of the Norse mythology or its gods, and also about the creation and destruction of the world (Ragnarök). In the end all the palace and its people just vanish and Gylfi is left standing on empty ground. It is


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