Diorama of Beowulf’s Burial: Analysis
The epic poem, Beowulf, written in the Anglo-Saxon time period by an anonymous poet, can be interpreted in many artistic ways. This diorama displays the poem’s important literary devices physically. Even though it is not a direct representation of the literal funeral, the diorama includes elements that are more symbolic. This piece relates to the poem through the burial of the protagonist, Beowulf, a few of his epithets, and some of his winnings in battle.
Beowulf’s funeral is the first way the piece connects to the poem. One important aspect to notice is its elaborateness. Beowulf is on a raised platform, showing his importance to his people and Geatland. He is dressed in his battle outfit, a coat of mail and a robe, along with his crown. His armor, made up of chains, symbolizes at first Beowulf’s tremendous strength as a warrior as well as a leader. The chains also symbolize comitatus, or friendship, and his relationship with Hrothgar and the Danes for helping them, and also his bond with Higlac and the Geats for saving them as well. He is holding his sword, showing how significant battle and fighting are to his culture. In addition, around the walls are important aspects of Anglo-Saxon values, like treasure. This includes Beowulf’s shield, swords, and gold pieces he had previously won in battles. The final way the diorama relates to Beowulf’s burial is by the place in which he was buried. There is an opening in the top that projects light onto Beowulf. In the actual translation, the burial is a lighthouse, shedding light “so sailors/ could find it from far and wide” (1.3157). This light is symbolic of Beowulf, for whenever he is described, words that depict brightness are often used. The light also signifies Beowulf’s fame. Beowulf’s goal was to have himself remembered eternally: “So sailors can see/ this tower, and remember my name, and call/ it Beowulf’s tower” (1.2805). Beowulf will always be associated with the tower by the sea that radiates for the sailors to find their way. It is clear by Beowulf’s burial that the diorama connects to the poem.
Another way this diorama relates to Beowulf is by the epithets used to describe kings, and specifically, Beowulf. The first epithet used for Beowulf and other kings is “ring-giver.” This term is a bond between kings and their thanes, and they are forever linked. This is portrayed in the diorama with the rings around the walls. “Ring-giver” is used constantly throughout the poem. Because of the importance of royalty and kinship, this phrase deserves a place in Beowulf’s burial. The next common epithet used is “protector of warriors.” This applies directly to Beowulf, since not only was Beowulf a great warrior, but he protected others as well. Physically, he used his sword and shield to protect the warriors and the people of Geatland and Denmark. Both of these are shown in the diorama, as they are important elements of Beowulf’s life. But even when not engaged in battle, Beowulf was a great king, keeping his people safe. This is shown discreetly in the diorama. The whole piece shows how honored Beowulf was alive as well as dead, and this is one of the reasons for it. The final epithet frequently used is “dispenser of treasure.” This is used to describe kings, but it is also relevant to Beowulf. Beowulf is a great and successful warrior, and from that he gained a lot of riches. In his final moments when Wiglaf knelt beside him, “that brave king gave the golden/ necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf,/ gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings,/ and his mail shirt” (1.2809). The armor is a form of treasure, and Beowulf was passing it on. That is just one example of Beowulf “dispensing” treasure to those below him. Another person who “dispenses” treasure is Hrothgar. After Beowulf helped him and his people defeat Grendel and his mother, Hrothgar repaid him with gold, horses, and armor. If a person or group of people does a large amount of service to another, they will be rewarded with whatever that king has to offer. This is why the diorama relates to the poem through epithets used repeatedly for kings.
The final way this diorama relates to the epic poem, Beowulf, is by Beowulf’s victories. One obvious reward from Beowulf’s battles is the treasure. The walls are covered in treasure, and Beowulf is even dressed in fine armor. Most of the treasure was won at the dragon’s lair, his final battle, and the most treacherous one. Another reward from his battles is Grendel’s head. He would have had Grendel’s arm if Grendel’s mother had not taken it back. When he went to fight Grendel’s mother, he needed another trophy to replace the arm and claw, so he “struck off/ [Grendel’s] head with a single swift blow” (1.1587). The head is shown mounted on the wall in front of Beowulf, displaying one of Beowulf’s finest battles. A final valuable reward that Beowulf won that is displayed in the diorama is the golden necklace given to him by Welthow. This is a very special piece of jewelry, as it was passed down through great Danes and was even worn by Higlac when he died in battle. This necklace is a symbol of union between the Danes and the Geats, and how they will always assist each other when another nation strikes against one of them. This is a direct connection between the poem and the diorama. Beowulf’s winnings are a strong connection between the diorama and the epic poem.
In conclusion, the diorama and the poem are closely related through Beowulf’s burial, some of Beowulf’s epithets, and a few of Beowulf’s rewards in battle. The lighthouse, treasures, Beowulf’s outfit, and the burial’s splendor are all examples of Beowulf’s burial that are portrayed in the diorama. The art piece displays Beowulf’s different roles as the “ring-giver,” “protector of warriors,” and the “dispenser of treasures.” Finally, the diorama depicts treasure, Grendel’s head, and the golden necklace as some of Beowulf’s most famous prizes in battle. This diorama clearly interprets some of the prevalent literary elements of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf.
Beowulf. New York: Signet Classics, 1963.
I would like to thank my teacher, Ms. Dodge, for reading a draft of my essay. She provided extremely useful comments that helped my paper get to this final product.