Approaches to Teaching Beowulf - Fortitudo and Sapientia

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Fortitudo and Sapientia

Sapientia and Fortitudo as the Controlling Theme of Beowulf R.F. Kaske


Fortitudo—brave; physical might and courage

Sapientia- - -practical' cleverness, skill in words and works, knowledge of the past, ability to predict accurately, prudence, understanding, ability to choose and direct one's conduct rightly.

Beowulf acknowledges the power of God and Wyrd - -words as the means of judging sapientia and deeds are the means of judging fortitudo.

Two great sources of spiritual ruin are avarice and pride.

Grendel is a perversion of fortitudo, freed from the restraints of sapientia, directed by malitia (eagerness to commit sin).

Grendel's mother represents the ability of defeated violence to spawn further violence.

Dragon "represents the greatest of internal evils, the perversion of the mind and  malitia..”  The dragon is closer to allegory than any other figure in the poem.

Violence is a perversion of fnrtitudo

Malitia is perversion of sapientia

External violence - -internal  Malitia - -two great poles of evil.

Killing the dragon has slain the growing evil among Beowulf's people - -goblet stealer default of Beowulf's followers in battle.

"In both Germanic and Christian terms the fact of death, of final physical defeat, is inevitable and relatively unimportant - -what is of desperate importance is having fought the good fight."

The dragon does not kill Beowulf - -Beowulf died fighting the dragon.                                                     He

He dies because he has reached his endogoeg—his final day.

"above the imperfection, the mutability, and in any case the final impermanence of human sapientia and fortitudo - -and heightening its poignancy - -there towers the Sapientia andFortitudo of God, Perfect, unchanging, everlasting.  In that contrast lies, at its deepest and
most inclusive, the tragedy of Beowulf."

Beowulf may be a hero, but God has the most fortitudo and sapientia.

Ask students to examine legendary heroes.  Achilles had great fortitude but little sapientia (wisdom).  Odysseus was considered the greatest Greek hero because he had both.

Heroes who returned to their people and related their great deeds are not bragging.  They are announcing by word (sapientia—courage of the word) their deeds.



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