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AU / OTHER / ENGL 2230 / caedmon's hymn symbolism

caedmon's hymn symbolism

caedmon's hymn symbolism


School: Auburn University
Department: OTHER
Course: British Literature before 1789
Professor: Barbara brumbaugh
Term: Spring 2017
Cost: 50
Name: Lit exam 1 study guide
Description: notes, discussion questions, background info
Uploaded: 02/12/2017
12 Pages 9 Views 13 Unlocks

Intro to the Middle Ages (p.3-25)

What is the Caedmon’s Hymn & Beowulf terms?

Caedmon’s Hymn (p.29-32)

∙ Earliest surviving Old English poem (658-680)

∙ Caedmon was an illiterate, oral-formulaic poet

o Bede (educated Monk) preserved Caedmon’s Hymn in his  Ecclesiastical History of the English People (fin. 731) in Latin o Later, monks copied Bede’s work in original English version

Beowulf (p.36-108)

∙ Dates:

o Between 521 – 526 AD – Scandinavian king Hygelac lost his life  during a military expedition

 Beowulf loyally served Hygelac for many years,  

accompanied him on expeditions against the Franks, &  

followed him to the throne

 This makes Beowulf born around 495 AD, King of the Geats  in 533 and died in the last quarter of the 6th century  

o Poem took form between 700 and 1000, writer was probably a  Christian monk

o Only surviving manuscript dates to around the year 1000  (early epic poems were performed before ever written)

What is a hagiography?

∙ No explicit reference to Christianity, although a lot of Old English  poems were written about heroic figures from the Old Testament  ∙ Beowulf as a hero personifies the value of the distant heroic world at  best, but the Christian poet represents them as limited & ultimately  doomed

Caedmon’s Hymn & Beowulf terms

∙ Old English alliterative lines contain on average 4 principal stresses &  is divided into 2 half-lines of two stresses, each by a strong middle  caesura, that are linked to each other by an alliteration  

∙ Alliteration – repeating the consonant sound OR beginning several  words with the same vowel sound

∙ Caesura – pause separating phrases within individual lines or poetry o Comes from the Latin “a cutting” or “a slicing” If you want to learn more check out ucla eeb

o Indicated by a slash or an extra space in the middle of a poetic  line, if indicated at all

What is a morality play?

∙ Epithet – short, poetic nickname (often in the form of an adjective or  adjectival phrase) attached to the normal name

o “fleet-footed Achilles”

o “wine-dark sea”

o “Odysseus the man-of-many-wiles”

∙ Oral formulaic – having traits associated with works intended to be  spoken aloud before an audience  

o Repetition of words or passages

o Use of epithets after/before a character’s name We also discuss several other topics like aas 200

o Mnemonic devices to help the speaker with recitation

o Subdivision into sections suitable for recital during a single  evening

o Summaries of previous material in each section to help an  audience keep track of a complicated plot

o Episodic structure that allows the speaker to “ad lib” sections if a passage is forgotten

∙ Hagiography – stories of saints & miracles meant to testify to the grace & glory of God

o Focus on lives & miracles of men and women canonized by a  variety of churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental  Orthodox, Anglican)

∙ Didactic – intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as  an ulterior motive

∙ Litotes – ironic statement that says one thing & means the opposite ∙ Kenning – form of compounding in Old English, Old Norse, & Germanic  poetry to create a new word or phrase to describe an object or activity o “whale-road” aka the sea

o “bone-house” aka a body

∙ Wergild – “man money,” legal system of many Germanic tribes  (including Anglo-Saxon)

o Families were able to make amends for crimes by paying a fine  to the family of the other man who was injured or killed

o Price varied on the nature of the crime

o If the family could not pay, the family of the victim would have  the right to kill a member of the culprit’s family of similar  Don't forget about the age old question of serpentine receptor

rank/status, which often led to extended blood-feuds over  generations

∙ Comitatus – Latin “companionship” or “band”

o Described the tribal structure of the Anglo-Saxon & other  Germanic tribes in which groups of men would swear an oath  (“thegns”) to a hlaford (lord) in exchange for food, mead, and  weapons

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The General Prologue (p.238-263) ∙ Genre: frame-tale narrative – a collection of individual stories  combined under a larger story about a group performance or journey ∙ Estates satire – medieval genre in which the speaker lists various  occupations among the three estates of feudalism (nobles, peasants, & clergy) and depicts them in a manner that shows how short they fall  from the ideal of that occupationWe also discuss several other topics like contemporary of buddha and mahavira

∙ 3 highest Christian values

o Faith, hope & love

∙ 4 Cardinal Virtues

o Prudence, fortitude, temperance & justice

∙ 7 Deadly Sins

o Lust, sloth, greed (avarice, “root of evil”), pride, envy, gluttony,  ire (wrath)

∙ 4 Humors

o Blood (air, happy & generous)

o Yellow bile (fire, violent & vengeful)

o Phlegm (water, pale & cowardly)

o Black bile (earth, gluttonous & lazy)

Everyman (p.507-529)

∙ Morality play – genre of medieval & early Renaissance drama that  illustrates the way to live a pious life through allegorical characters o Characters are personified abstractions of vices & virtues o Ex) characters Mercy & Conscience may work together to stop  Shame & Lust from stealing Mr. Poorman’s box of gold labeled  Salvation If you want to learn more check out whatafinds
We also discuss several other topics like hist 391 class notes

o Does not contain specified Biblical material

o Takes place internally & psychologically in every human being o Protagonist often has a name that represents this universality  (Everyman, Mankind, Adam)

o Doctrine of the play insists that not grace alone but good works  as well are essential for salvation

∙ Allegory – describes any writing in verse or prose that has a double  meaning, acts as an extended metaphor in which persons, abstract  ideas, or events represent not only themselves on the literal level, but  they also stand for something else on the symbolic level

o Derived from Greek allegoria (“speaking otherwise”)

∙ Trope – a rhetorical device or figure of speech involving shifts in the  meaning of words

∙ Personification – trope in which abstractions, animals, ideas, and  inanimate objects are given human character traits, abilities, or  reactions

∙ Central focus: death of the Summoner

o Death is the spiritual income tax collector who wants a full  explanation of income, spiritual & temporal, and a full accounting of how it has been used

o As allegory, the play focused on Everyman’s pilgrimage  The latter embodies our disposition to repress the universal predicament: our inevitable & ever approaching morality

 Gifts of Fortune & Nature are presented in 2 groups:

∙ External gifts of Fortune – Fellowship, Kindred, Goods,


∙ Interior gifts of Nature – Strength, Discretion, Five  

Wits, etc.  

The Black Death

∙ Reached England in 1348, disappeared in 1350, returned in 1361  (known as Pestilence of the Children), 1368, 1374 & 1378

∙ 20-40% of English population died, heavily populated areas suffered  the worst (like monks of Westminster Abbey)

∙ Initial outbreak killed mostly adults but mainly reduced the shortage of  land & food

∙ When it returned in 1361 it killed mainly children since they were not  immune from the first outbreak

∙ All the outbreaks killed almost half of England (around 2 million  people), recovery didn’t start until close to 1450

∙ Shortage of labor led to a shift from labor-intensive farming to less  intensive pasture

∙ One of the worst aspects from the medieval Christian perspective is  that people died without last rites or a chance to confess their sins o Pope Clement VI was forced to grant remission of sins to all who  died of the plague

o People were allowed to confess their sins to one another  considering the circumstances, “even to a women”

Possible Topics for Shorter Essays:  

∙ The Venerable Bede  

o Preserved Caedmon’s Hymn bc Caedmon was an illiterate, oral formulaic poet

∙ Caedmon’s Hymn  

o Earliest surviving Old English poem (658-680)

∙ Heorot Hall (Beowulf)  

∙ Hrothgar (Beowulf)  

∙ Grendel (Beowulf)  

∙ Grendel’s mother (Beowulf)  

∙ “Good Deeds” in Everyman  

∙ “Knowledge” in Everyman  

∙ “Gifts of nature” in Everyman  

∙ “Gifts of fortune” in Everyman  

∙ Squire (CT, GP)  

∙ Knight (CT, GP)  

∙ Summoner (CT, GP)  

∙ Pardoner (CT, GP)

∙ Plowman (CT, GP)  

∙ Friar (CT, GP)  

∙ Prioress (CT, GP)  

∙ Monk (CT, GP)  

∙ History of the treasure guarded by the dragon (Beowulf)  ∙ Wiglaf (Beowulf)  

∙ Parson (CT, GP)  

∙ Estates satire in The General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales  (see notes on the work)

∙ Ways in which the Beowulf poet comments on the religion and  worldview of Beowulf and other positive characters in the poem  ∙ Beowulf’s three major battles with monsters (thematically significant  similarities and differences).

Possible Topics for Medium-Length Essay:

∙ The treatment of religion, including any criticism of corrupt church  officials and / or practices and any positive ideals suggested, in two or  more of the works listed; consider factors such as whether the work  includes any criticism of corrupt church officials or of religious practices that are not approved of; how the writer of the work establishes a  positive ideal for religion, and, if you believe that he or she does so,  what that ideal is; whether the religions of the writer of the work and of the characters differ and, if they do, the significance of these  differences; what, if anything, the characters learn about religion  during the course of the work, etc.

∙ Compare and contrast the actions, behaviors, character traits, and  values that allow Beowulf and Everyman to accomplish the goals  considered most crucial within their cultures; (for Beowulf base your  answer upon the definitions of heroism held by Beowulf and Hrothgar’s peoples [the Geats and the Danes, respectively]; for Everyman, focus  upon the views of the author of the play); consider major similarities  and differences between the two characters, whether and how much  each central character changes, and how differences you identify  relate to changing cultural and historical circumstances between the  times when the two works were composed.  

∙ I could create a longer comparative question by combining three or  more of the items listed separately above as potential topics for  shorter essays. (For example, I could ask you t discuss three or more of the pilgrims from The General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales  listed above.)

Discussion Questions: 

Caedmon’s Hymn

1. How & why did Caedmon’s Hymn become the earliest surviving poem  in English?

a. A later monk knew the old English version & wrote it down –  same poetic features

2. What were Bede’s purposes in preserving the poem?

a. Encouraging Christianity

b. Caedmon was illiterate, but during a dream he heard a voice  telling him to sing, so he produced a hymn – saw this as a  miracle & wanted to compose it to encourage it

3. How did Caedmon, an illiterate cowherd, compose poetry? a. Performed/recited it orally

b. Bede was the first to compose Caedmon’s Hymn in writing  4. What aspects of Bede’s account of Caedmon and his hymns did you  find most interesting or puzzling? Why?

a. The monastery where Caedmon is ruled by a woman instead of a man (she was the grandniece of the first Christian kin)

b. She instructed/promoted Caedmon to be a monk instead of a  cowherd after his dream, told him to teach the sequence of  history into songs/hymns


1. What seem to be the most important characteristics of a good king in  Beowulf? Why would these priorities make sense given the cultural and historical circumstances in Anglo-Saxon England described in the  NAEL?

(ll. 1-72, 924-955, 1019, 1044)

a. Courage, heroic, companions/warriors, greatness, generosity,  “ring-giver,” militaristic, not selfish

2. What does Heorot, the great mead-hall, seem to represent for  Hrothgar, for the other human characters, and for Grendel?  What does it suggest about the views of the good life and of  the good society for the human characters within the poem? (ll. 68-82, 88-90, 307-313, 491-498, 770-781, 1010-1017)

a. Safe haven, togetherness, sale place

b. Grendel attacked bc he hated all the happiness

3. Why is Grendel an appropriate villain, given the value systems of the  characters in Beowulf? Which aspects of the value system held by the  characters within the poem make Grendel’s attacks so devastating? (ll. 86-90, 100-144, 151-169, 710-735, 745-756, 804-811, 840-851)

a. Everything that Christianity isn’t – cowardly, hidden, dark,  jealous

4. What do the following lines suggest about the Beowulf poet’s own  values, his view of the characters and their religion, and his purposes  in writing the poem?

(ll. 2-3, 83-85, 170-188, 696-702, 1001-1007)

a. killer instinct, bravery, faith, morality

b. cursing those who don't worship only God, damning them to  hell

c. Almighty God rules over all forever

d. Death is inevitable bc we are all humans condemned to death  (prepare for Heaven)

e. Purpose of writing the poem: promote the will of God and  Christianity

5. What specific character traits define Beowulf as a hero? (ll.194-206, 260-266, 277-282, 377-385, 407-441, 824-835, 957-978) a. Highly respected, loyal, prestigious

6. What functions do the following speeches by Beowulf seem to serve? (ll. 630-640, 679-687, 757-759, 827-832)

a. “do what is takes to defeat Grendel or die trying”

b. Confidence gives others hope, God will be on his side 7. What does the portrayal of Wealhtheow (Hrothgar’s wife) suggest are  the characteristics of a model woman, wife, and mother in this culture? (ll. 621-628, 1161-1190, 1215-1232)

a. Well-manicured, put together, shows off husband’s prestige  b. Eloquent & well-spoken, high status, generous

c. Looking out for children incase husband dies

8. How do the motives and values of Grendel’s mother compare with  those of the human characters in Beowulf (ll. 1255-1287, 1383-1396)?  How does Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother (ll. 1441-1670)  compare with his earlier battle with Grendel (ll. 702-835)?

a. Grendel’s mother wants blood revenge for son (“don't grieve, get revenge”)

b. More of a struggle for Beowulf with Grendel’s mother than  Grendel

i. Grendel’s mother attacks him instead of Beowulf sneaking  up, not as prepared

ii. Beowulf chops head off Grendel as revenge for Grendel’s  mother attacking him after ripping his arm off after the first death (3 trophies)

9. What functions are served by Hrothgar’s speeches in lines 1700-1784  and 1840-1880? What do the speeches reveal about the culture’s  values, and which of the values affirmed in the speeches do you think  were shared by the poet who composed Beowulf?

a. Touches on “don’t be greedy bc it’s a sin”

b. Focuses on how Beowulf meets characteristics of a “good king” –  reinforces that it’s good to have those traits

10. What points do you think that the Beowulf poet wanted to make  by including Beowulf’s predictions of future conflicts between the  Danes and the Heatho-Bards (ll. 2020-2069) and the tale of the King  Hrethel’s two sons (ll. 2428-2471)?

a. Hrothgar’s daughter is married off to try to gain alliances,  Beowulf sees this marriage will not be successful

b. King Hrethel’s two sons – Cain & Able – one killed the other, King  was sad when Able died (so was Beowulf when Haribold died) 11. Compare Beowulf’s position at the time that the dragon attacks  the Geats (ll. 2208-2213, 2313-2353) to his position at the time when  he arrives to aid Hrothgar after Grendel has been attacking the Danes  near the opening of the poem and to Hrothgar’s position at that time.  How does Beowulf’s battle with the dragon (ll. 2510-2601, 2669-2719)  compare to his battle with Grendel? What major similarities and  differences do you notice, and what points do you believe that the  Beowulf poet tries to make by emphasizing them?

a. Beowulf kills Grendel, Grendel’s mom laves, Beowulf becomes  King after King’s son (Haribold) dies, Beowulf rules for 50 years  then attacks begin

b. Battle with Grendel vs. the dragon – the mood changed, plotted  revenge

i. Hrothgar needed help with Grendel & Beowulf needed help  with the dragon

ii. Beowulf wanted the glory & fame from winning

iii. Beowulf ends up needing weapons with Grendel but went  into it with weapons for the dragon

12. What “lessons” do yo think that the Beowulf poet attempts to  convey through his narrative of the history of the treasure trove  guarded by the dragons (ll. 2216-2286)?

(ll. 2745-2766, 2793-2801, 3047-3066, 3163-3168)

a. Worldly treasures won’t keep you happy, wouldn’t be happy  away from people no matter how much treasure he has

13. What is the mood in the final episodes of the poem? What major  points do you think that the Beowulf poet is making about the cultures  he depicts within the poem? What aspects of the cultures’ values does  he seem to find most & least admirable? Base your answer upon the  

following lines, and cite some of the quotes and examples that are  most important to your conclusions:

(ll. 2633-2667, 2729-2751, 2791-2808, 2813-2816)

(ll. 2819-2820, 2846-2854, 2864-2891, 2910-2929, 2998-3020) (ll. 3095-3100, 3028-3030, 3150-3155, 3169-3182)

a. Mood in final scenes of the poem: they should’ve supported him  more, didn’t live up to standards

b. Beowulf has unloyal followers (like Judas but opposite bc all  deserted Beowulf except one)

14. What do the following passages suggest about the  characteristics of good and bad queens in Beowulf (ll. 1925-1955,  1980-1983, 1925-1955, 2016-2067, 2369-2372)?

a. Good queen – thoughtful, generous, giving

b. Bad queen – torturous, terrible

Chaucer’s General Prologue

1. What do descriptions of the character’s physical appearance, clothing,  reported words (if relevant), and behavior suggest about the  character’s personality, values, and priorities or his or her “moral and  spiritual condition”? Do you see characteristics of “estates satire,  which sets out to expose and pillory typical examples of corruption at  all levels of society” in the description of the character? Please explain  & give evidence.

a. Knight (ll. 43-78)

i. Valiant, worthy, chivalrous (code of values), noble, good  manners, humble

ii. Has a good horse

iii. Decorated warrior – all wars participated in were against  non-Christians

b. Squire (ll. 79-100)

i. Knight’s son

ii. 20, handsome with curly hair, embroidered with flowers iii. Agile, strong, humble, good fighter

iv. Free spirit, always dancing & singing

v. Described more lightly than his father

c. Prioress (ll. 118-162)

i. Mother Superior/Head Nun

ii. Obsessed with table manners

iii. Loves animals

iv. Wants to be respected how an aristocrat would

1. Does things like speaking in French & singing

v. Doesn’t say a lot about spirituality which is weird  

considering her position

d. Monk (ll. 165-207)

i. Handsome, well dressed

ii. Loves hunting: pastime of aristocratic men, not something  monks do

1. Must have grown up aristocratic

iii. More interested in singing hunting rather than religious  duties

iv. Likes to eat a lot (gluttonous, deadly sin)

v. Questions rules in the Monk rule book

e. Friar (ll. 208-271)

i. Loves women (goes against chastity)

ii. Good beggar

iii. Knew all the bars/barmaids in the area

iv. Loves singing/playing the fiddle

v. Asks for silver when people confess for forgiveness

vi. Actively doing spiritual harm compared to the nun who is  just not spiritual

f. Parson and Plowman (ll. 479-543)

i. Parson – pastor/minister

1. Practices what he teaches

2. Poor but rich in holy thoughts/works (lives poverty  


ii. Plowman – peasant/worker

1. Good character

2. Loves God with his whole heart, loves neighbor as  


3. Better Christian than Nun/Monk

4. Gives everything he has to the Lord

g. Summoner (ll. 625-670)

i. Scars from STDs on his face – no chastity

ii. Calls people into church/court who are being tried

iii. Drinks a lot: loves wine more than concubine (where he  keeps the women he has sex with

h. Pardoner (ll. 671-716)

i. Sells fake relics (pillowcase saying it’s the Virgin Mary’s  veil, pig bones that he claims are Saint’s bones)

ii. Sold pardons for sins, says money would go to hospital for  the poor but he pockets it

iii. High pitch voice, no beard, quite feminine, Chaucer  

compares him to a “castrated animal”

iv. Greedy, most people he sold relics/pardons to were really  poor


1. What does Everyman’s initial encounter with Death suggest about the  typical spiritual condition of “Everyman”? Cite specific lines to support  your answer. Explain and cite examples of the central metaphor  of the “reckoning” in Everyman.

(ll. 101-114, 134-147, 501-511)

a. Everyman is unaware that he is approached by Death (doesn’t  know Death is Death), says he is not ready for “the reckoning” b. He tries to pay his way out of death

c. Good Deeds says Everyman is screwed bc his Book of Accounts  (book of judgements) has more bad deeds than good

2. What patterns do you notice in Everyman’s encounters with Fellowship, Cousin and Kindred, and Goods (ll. 205-462)? Do you find any humor in these sections? Explain and cite examples.

a. When Everyman is encountered by Death, he goes to his friends  and companions first (Fellowship, Kindred), then family, then  wealth)

i. Friends say they won’t forsake him but they leave him in  the end

ii. Family says they’ll do a lot & help how they can but they  leave when they figure out what they have to do

iii. Wealth provides no help when going into the reckoning iv. All are still sad when Everyman actually dies

3. Explain the symbolism of the initial condition of Everyman’s Goods (ll.  394-398) and of his Good Deeds (ll. 498-518).

a. Everyman is asking Good Deeds for help during the reckoning (in front of Jesus) but Good Deeds cannot help in this time of  distress bc he has done more bad than good, Good Deeds is “too  weak to stand”

b. Everyman has a lot of goods but very few good deeds to show  during the reckoning

c. Everyman has to ask all of his “characteristics” (friends/family)  for help, but Good Deeds already knows he wants her help, he  just has nothing to show for

4. Based on Everyman’s encounters with Good Deeds and Knowledge,  what sorts of actions counted as “Good Deeds” for the author of this  play?

a. Confession, repentance

b. Knowledge takes Everyman to confession in the House of  Salvation; there, Everyman physically punishes himself to save  him from purgatory

5. Do you see any significance to the order in which the characters in ll.  787-892 desert Everyman? What are God’s primary complaints about  humans in his opening speech (ll. 22-63)? How might Everyman’s  speeches in lines 580-606 be thought to respond to these complaints? a. Beauty leaves first, then strength, then digression  

b. Complaints: not thinking about God

c. Response: apologizing to get grace from God, remembering the  things God said they have forgotten (names of God – “the  Redeemer”)

6. Why do you think that the author includes the comments of both Five  Wits and Knowledge about Priesthood (ll. 705-769)? What overall view  of Priesthood is suggested by the play?

a. Knowledge is trying to guide Everyman

b. Five Wits says priests are more powerful than any ruler bc he has the keys to heaven

i. 7 Sacraments are only possible with priests

ii. Most people are illiterate so they rely on priest to learn the  Bible

c. Knowledge points out the corruption in the church (corrupt  priests, friar)

d. Overall view of priesthood is that everyone, Everyman needs  priests to get into heaven; whenever someone gets near death  or the reckoning, they need the church & sacraments to get into  heaven

7. Does Everyman actually deserve the greeting and praise he receives  from the angel near the end of the play: “Come, excellent elect spouse  to Jesu!/ Here above thou shalt go / Because of thy singular virtue. /  Now thy soul is taken the body fro / Thy reckoning is crystal clear: /  Now shalt thou into the heavenly sphere. . .”?

a. Everyman does not deserve praise bc he waited until the last  minute to repent

b. Catholic church says no matter when you repent, as long as you  do you’re good

8. Compare Everyman and Beowulf as protagonists. What major  similarities and differences do you note? Consider whether and how  much each central character changes, what major themes are  emphasized in the works, what qualities allow the character to  accomplish the deeds considered most important within his culture,  etc.

a. Both:

i. Go on a journey/quest for something

ii. Have characters who betrayed them and some who stayed  to help

iii. Have Christian values (implied or outspoken)

iv. Both had fear at one point or another

b. Beowulf wants to do everything himself, Everyman asks for help  constantly

c. Beowulf has a lot of good deeds, Everyman has next to none

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