Kiernan suggests an eleventh century origin, and that thesingle extant manuscript is, in fact, the first composition of the poem in hisbook Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript and summarized in his essay The Eleventh-Century Origin of Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript.
In The Beowulf Poet he suggests that a singleauthor had combined two folk stories with some historical events as a backdropand some Christian doctrine to create a new form of heroic epic, or as Tolkiensuggests, an "heroic-elegaic" poem.
But this history lesson isn't just names, dates, and agricultural innovations. Instead, it's gleaming golden armor, straining sinews, and wild drunken parties that go all night because everyone would rather tell stories about past glorious victories than think about the fact that they'll probably die horribly tomorrow. It's a brutal world, but one that offers the possibility of fame – and maybe even fortune, if you're lucky.
In short, Beowulf is 100% dragons and demons and heroes and it'll make you seem improbably and stunningly well-read. After all, you will have read the first recorded epic poem written in English.
Beowulf, a great and glorious hero arrives from over the sea, clad in a shirt of shining mail, ready to do barehanded battle with a demonic monster. And if that leaves you wanting more, Beowulf is ready to deliver. Once the demonic monster bites the dust, his bigger, badder, even more demonic mom arrives to avenge her son's death. But that's still not the climax. Just in case anyone doubted Beowulf's prowess at this point, a dragon shows up to test him to the limit. This isn't dry-as-dust literature that you fall asleep over; (Although the recent goes just a little bit off-script.)
But here's the thing: Beowulf is also the oldest major work of literature in English. In fact, it's in such old English (technical name: "Old English") that it seems like a foreign language to us today, because our words have changed so much since it was written. It's a glimpse of an ancient Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian culture.
An understanding of the beginnings of the English people andLanguage are most fascinating and necessary to the full experience of BEOWULF.
comes from the OLDENGLISH or ANGLO-SAXON Literary and Historical period of what was then ancientBritannia.
Composed against a background of impending disaster, it describes the exploits ofa Scandinavian culture hero, Beowulf, in destroying the monster Grendel,Grendel's mother in his youth, and later in his elderly existence, afire-breathing dragon.
But it wouldn't be a classic work of literature if it followed all the rules. And that's why, while being an epic, it also questions a lot of the epic values: Is the death price a good system of justice? What are its pitfalls? What makes a good king? A hero? A monster?
But it's not all philosophizing about God and the price of death. Beowulf is an epic poem. That means it has the stuff that makes epic such —heroes and monsters! swords! dragons!—while proudly displaying and reinforcing all of the values that were important in Anglo-Saxon culture—like keeping your promises, choosing your words wisely, and being loyal to your lord.
The poem resemblesothers of the same genre such as The Battle of Maldon, and is quitedifferent from the epic form of Beowulf.
Still, Beowulf has come to be recognized as the foundational epic of English and British culture, in much the same way that the is a foundational epic for ancient Greece.
"The Eleventh Century Origin of Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript" in The Dating of Beowulf, University of TorontoPress, 1997.