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The landscape of Beowulf

Margaret Gelling

Anglo-Saxon England / Volume31 / December 2002

The landscape of the epic poem Beowulf is a fantasy construct in which incompatible features coexist, but while it is an unprofitable exercise to attempt a reconstruction of a coherent topography in which Beowulf’s exploits took place, the poet’s choice of individual landscape terms is not likely to be random. Where this choice is not influenced by alliteration, each term may have been intended to convey a specific image appropriate to its immediate context. Several of the landscape terms used in the poem are otherwise unrecorded or only found rarely in other literary sources. This applies to hliðhop and gelad; but by contrast with their rarity in literature these words are well evidenced in place-names, and an understanding of the place-name usage may have some relevance to the interpretation of their occurrences in the poem.

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