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Heroic poem considered the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic. It deals with events of the early 6th century and was probably composed c. 700–750. It tells the story of the Scandinavian hero Beowulf, who gains fame as a young man by vanquishing the monster Grendel and Grendel's mother; later, as an aging king, he kills a dragon but dies soon after, honoured and lamented. Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically, and thematically to the Germanic heroic tradition but shows a distinct Christian influence.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Beowulf, visit Britannica.com.