Redeeming Beowulf. The Heroic Idiom as Marker of Quality in Old English Poetry

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Although it has been fashionable lately to read Old English poetry as being critical of the values of heroic culture, the heroic idiom is the main, and perhaps the only, marker of quality in Old English poetry. Considering in turn the ‘sacred heroic’ in Genesis A and Andreas, the ‘mock heroic’ in Judith and Riddle 51, and the fiercely debated status of Byrhtnoth and Beowulf in The Battle of Maldon and Beowulf, this discussion suggests that modern scholarship has confused the measure with the measured. Although an uncritical heroic idiom may not be to modern critical tastes, it is suggested here that the variety of ways in which the heroic idiom is used to evaluate and mark value demonstrates the flexibility and depth of insight achieved by Old English poets through their apparently limited subject matter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNarration and Hero
Subtitle of host publicationRecounting the Deeds of Heroes in Literature and Art of the Early Medieval Period
EditorsVictor Millet, Heike Sahm
Place of PublicationBerlin
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-11-036977-9, 978-3-11-033815-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-11-033613-9
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2014

Publication series

NameErgänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde
PublisherWalter de Gruyter


  • heroic narrative
  • early medieval
  • germanic literature

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