St George, Beowulf, and the Dragon
with Dr Sam Newton (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 23rd April, 2016.
A St George’s Day special investigating the ancient belief in dragons.
We begin with a look at the significance of the belief in dragons in the Old English and Old Norse legend.
We shall then examine the bejewelled and gilded dragon mount from the royal shield found aboard the great ship-burial Sutton Hoo, which has been described as, “the first dragon of English art.” We shall also look at related dragon designs in early medieval art.
The first dragon of English literature appears in the Old English epic of Beowulf, which provides us with the earliest authentic description of a dragon. We shall consider the history of the dragon, his mound, and his treasure, which he guards for 300 winters until, angered by the theft of a single cup, he awakes to wreak his vengeance on the neighbouring people of old king Beowulf. The scene is thus set for the hero’s battle with the dragon, which we shall then compare with one of the best surviving English accounts of St George’s dragon-fight, the Middle English poem of St George and the Dragon from the South English Legendary (c. 1400).
09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15: The Dragon of Northern Legend
11.15 – 11.40: Coffee break
11.40 – 12.40: The First Dragon of English Art
12.40 – 14.00: Lunch break
14.00 – 14.50: The First Dragon of English Literature
14.50 – 15.10: Tea break
15.10 – 16.00: St George and the Dragon
c.16.00: Thanks and Close
About Dr Sam Newton
Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald (2003). He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team. He is a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Bjork, R.E., & J.D.Niles (eds), A Beowulf Handbook (Nebraska University 1997, 1998)
Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)
Fulk, R. (ed.), Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology (Indiana University 1991)
Garmonsway, G., & J.Simpson, Beowulf and Its Analogues (Dent 1968, 1980)
Heaney, Seamus (tr.) Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, ed. J.Niles (Norton 2007)
Mitchell, B., & F.Robinson, A Guide to Old English (Blackwell 1986)
Mitchell, B., & F.Robinson (eds), Beowulf (Blackwell 1998)
Newton, S., The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (Brewer 1993, 1994)
Speake, G., Anglo-Saxon Animal Art (Oxford 1980)
Webster, L., & J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)