‘Animal Cruelty’ and ‘Graphic’ Violence: University Hits Dragon-Slaying Beowulf with Trigger Warnings

Illustration (by Anton Pieck), from Foeke Sjoerds' book 'Helden der Mensheid,' entitled 'Beowulf met de draak' (translated as 'Beowulf with the Dragon') and depicting a battle with a fire-breathing dragon, 1913. It was published by Utrecht-based W De Haan. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Old English dragon-slaying epic Beowulf has been hit with a wide variety of trigger warnings, including one in regards to “animal cruelty”.

The seminal tale of the hero Beowulf, which details in Old English the exploits of one of Britain’s most famous warriors in slaying a dragon, has been hit with a number of trigger warnings at one British University.

Contained within the curriculum of the University of Aberdeen’s “Lost Gods and Hidden Monsters of the Celtic and Germanic Middle Ages” module, the poem is one of many historic pieces of European literature hit with blanket trigger warnings to do with “animal cruelty”, “ableism”, “animal death” along with a host of other things deemed problematic.

According to a report by The Telegraph, more than 30 warnings in total are provided by the University, with Beowulf specifically being named as having “particularly graphic representations of violence (homicidal, genocidal and intra-familial)”, alongside other tales from Norse and Gaelic myth.

Meanwhile, the Gaelic tale of the two battles of Mag Tuiread is also singled out by the third-level institution as containing “an explicit depiction of sexual intercourse portrayed as part of behaviours that would today be identified with sadomasochism and eating disorders”.

In the tale, the deity known as the Dagda — frequently depicted as being somewhat oafish throughout Irish mythology — eats so much food somewhat force-fed to him by an enemy that he becomes so overweight that he is left impotent.

After being insulted and thrown about by a beautiful woman for his sorry state, he “let[s] go the contents of his belly” so as to be able to take the woman as a “mistress”.

The Telegraph reports that the University of Aberdeen has a policy mandating the use of trigger warnings, which says that — while the establishment reportedly espouses “the right of individuals to speak freely within legal boundaries”, pre-warning students is needed in order to honour “the spirit of inclusivity”.

“…it is therefore the duty of all teaching staff to ensure that students are aware of course content before they are exposed to it, so that they are prepared for anything they may find distressing,” the University’s policy reportedly says.

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