Beowulf @ Ellis

Julianna R.


Beowulf Project Analysis

            This artistic piece relates to the epic poem Beowulf in many interesting ways. The poem often describes ring-giving and generosity vs kings, and there are connections to God using the idea of light versus dark. This piece shows all of these elements through colors and symbolism.
            Color is an interesting part of the piece. The dragon himself is made of warm hues, mostly reds and oranges. The shadows, however, are the opposite: instead of using black or grey they are made with green, blue, and purple. This can symbolize the theme of light versus dark that is shown in the epic poem. Light and dark are compared in Beowulf's first fight with Grendel: "…only fire, they had planned, could shatter what such skill had put together… screams of the Almighty's enemy sang in the darkness" (lines 779-86). The two types of colors on the dragon show how Beowulf will fight him, but since there are more of the warm colors, good will always prevail over evil. The grey in the background shows how the poem's plot progresses; in the beginning, all of the humans are happy that Beowulf is there to fight off the evil monsters that are attacking Herot because he is so strong. The farther right one goes in the picture, the darker the grey gets – as Beowulf gets older throughout the story, he slowly loses the vigor of his youth and eventually dies fighting the final foe, the dragon. These examples show how the many colors in the piece relate to the epic poem in interesting ways.
            Many details that reflect important parts of the poem are shown in the dragon. He is breathing fire, a prominent symbol throughout the poem. Fire is shown at the end of the epic poem: at the funeral pyre of Beowulf himself. The dragon's wings are spread upward, toward the sky, which symbolizes the importance of God in the poem. Herot is very tall; it is built to be closer to God in heaven. The dragon's wings can be compared to Herot since they are very large and higher than anything else in the picture. The dragon's arm is raised, as well, but that is to show that the dragon is greedy and always wants more gold and treasure, no matter what the cost may be. The dragon takes gold from many people, and Beowulf must avenge them: "The Geats deserved revenge; Beowulf, their leader and lord, began to plan it" (lines 2335-7). There is a great deal of symbolism about the dragon in the poem, just as shown in this artistic piece.
            There are also other smaller parts in the piece that relate to the epic poem as well as the dragon and the colors. The gold behind the dragon is the vast amount of treasure he has amassed, though you cannot see all of it since there is so much. In the poem, good kings are described as "ring-givers". These kings share their wealth from battles and raids with the rest of the community instead of keeping it all for themselves. The dragon, however, is not like the generous "ring-givers" – he hoards every last bit of the treasure and gold he collects, and will not let anyone else touch it. The dragon is shown breathing fire and protecting that treasure in the piece; most of it is behind him so he can kill any humans who would dare come near it. There are also swords in the picture; swords play an important part in the epic poem. Men in the time of Beowulf would name swords that they used often in battle – they would often be adorned with jewels or be crafted by an expert blacksmith, and were extremely valuable. Men would even give their swords names, as one would a newborn child – for example, one sword that Beowulf uses in the epic is named Hrunting. The swords shown on the ground in the picture are fairly plain-looking, though, which shows that the dragon does not value the same things as men. The dragon wouldn't name a sword; he would just throw it onto the pile with all of the other treasure he had gotten.  Even the smallest details in the picture, such as the swords, have many different meanings and relations to the epic poem.
            Just as there are many symbols in Beowulf, there are many symbols in the artistic piece that correspond with the poem. Through color, shapes, and other details, the piece shows ideas and themes that appear often in the poem. These themes, often to do with religion and generosity of kings, are easy to understand when comparing the art to the poem with examples and quotations.

Ms Dodge, for giving me an extra few days to work on this – I had so much other work to do, it really helped!

Works Cited:

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The Ellis School - 6425 Fifth Avenue - Pittsburgh, PA 15206