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Helen Damico presents the first concentrated discussion of the initiatory two-thirds of Beowulf’s 3,182 lines in the context of the sociopolitically turbulent years that composed the first half of the eleventh century in Anglo-Danish England.

Damico offers incisive arguments that major historical events and personages pertaining to the reign of Cnut and those of his sons recorded in the , and major continental and Scandinavian historical texts, hold striking parallels with events and personages found in at least eight vexing narrative units, as recorded by Scribe A in BL, Cotton Vitellius A.xv, that make up the poem’s quasi sixth-century narrative concerning the fall of the legendary Scyldings.

Thoroughly researched and cogently argued, Damico's revolutionary thesis and supporting documents demand the attention of all serious students of and Professor Emeritus, University of Kentucky “Damico demonstrates that historical allegory need not be a passively reflexive or coyly cryptic mode of poetic invention, but can also serve as an imaginative technique of active political thought and critical analysis.” Craig R.

(Nota: Every one of these comments should probably be equivocated six ways from Sunday, but I'm going to leave them simple.

Helen Damico is Professor Emerita of English Medieval Language and Literature at the University of New Mexico, where she was twice selected as Outstanding Teacher and honored as UNM Presidential Teaching Fellow.

She is also an Honorary Member of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists.

She edited the three volumes of has raged among scholars for many years, and it shows no sign of abating. ." Simon Keynes, Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Cambridge “Damico makes an elegant and thought-provoking case for as a political allegory of late Anglo-Saxon England.

The suggestion advanced here, with control, commitment, and clarity, is that the poem incorporates passages that can be read as allegories or reflexes of the period beginning with the Viking raids on England in the late tenth century, leading to the Danish conquest in 1016, and, following Cnut’s death in 1035, to the emergence of Queen Emma in a role that animates the joint and separate reigns of Harald Harefoot and Harthacnut. She weaves a subtle argument for her provocative thesis, and in doing so she illuminates not only the poem but the eleventh-century world of Cnut, Emma, and their offspring, the original audience for .

Now Helen Damico has bravely ventured forth with the first book-length study of how the historical context of the manuscript might have influenced the making of the epic poem.


Damico illustrates the poet’s use of the tools of his trade—compression, substitution, skillful encoding of character—to reinterpret and transform grave sociopolitical “facts” of history, to produce what may be characterized as a type of historical allegory, whereby two parallel narratives, one literal and another veiled are simultaneously operative.

, not as a monster narrative nor a folklorish nor solely a legendary tale, but rather as a poem of its time, a historical allegory coping with and reconfiguring sociopolitical events of the first half of eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon England.


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