Heroism of Anglo-Saxon Culture in Beowulf
Most people within today’s society have heard about a group called the Vikings. However, not many people have heard about or are taught about a group called the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon group survived from around the early fifth century until about the year 1066. This group were immigrants who arrived in England from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. After arriving, the Anglo-Saxons ruled England for roughly the next 600 years. This group was extremely unique, fusing together several different cultures to create their own. Robert Hanning states in his article, “Its civilization demonstrates with particular clarity the uneven, sometimes traumatic process of assimilation whereby three cultural traditions—classical, Christian, and Germanic— were fused into the unique indigenous culture of medieval Europe.” In the time period that great epic poems were written, such as Beowulf, many stories or poems told by the Anglo-Saxons were not written down, but orally spoken. Because the stories were passed from person to person, allowing people to add their own insight into the story, this form of storytelling has led to a much larger and more dramatic story or poem than when they were first told.
The Anglo-Saxon society spoke in Old English, so the stories or poems were finally written down in Old English. Many famous stories use Anglo-Saxon attitudes within them. Angus Wilson quotes from the famous story Through the Looking Glass, “He’s an Anglo-Saxon Messenger-and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes,” (Wilson). One of the more famous of the Anglo-Saxon epic poems was Beowulf. Bibire says, “Beowulf itself is the longest surviving poem in Old English, at 3,182 lines.” This is incredibly impressive considering the time period in which it was written. Many people, such as Seamus Heaney, translated this epic poem from Old English into modern day English. Because of this epic poem being told and written down by several different people, the epic poem might not be the same version that was originally told. However, this famous epic poem is still read and studied even today.
The epic poem Beowulf takes a man who has supernatural strength and follows him along his journey of becoming a hero. This epic poem begins by a king inviting the mighty hero Beowulf to come and save his country from a ravaging villain that has attacked and killed thousands of people over the past twelve years. After defeating this monster named Grendel, another monster appears and is just as vicious as Grendel was. The monster that appears is Grendel’s mother, and just like any mother who finds out her child has been bullied, she wants revenge. After finally defeating the raging monster known as Grendel’s mother, the hero Beowulf arrives back to his home country where he becomes king of his own country. The mighty hero Beowulf finally relaxes as king and does not run into anymore villains for almost fifty years.
Nevertheless, a fiery dragon begins to stir up trouble within the kingdom. Beowulf realizes he must defeat this beast in order to save his country. Of course, Beowulf being the hero of the story, he defeats this dragon. The dragon was not the only one defeated in this battle. Beowulf is fatally wounded and dies peacefully knowing he saved his country from this deadly beast. Hundreds of people attended his funeral and celebrated this great hero’s life all night long. Beowulf’s story is still studied and praised even thousands of years after this epic poem is written. This epic poem is a great example and story of a hero within the Anglo-Saxon culture. The epic poem Beowulf teaches the readers about several virtues and values that are important to the Anglo-Saxon society such as bravery, loyalty, fate, generosity, perseverance, and strength.
Anyone who has ever read or studied the epic poem Beowulf can obviously tell the hero Beowulf was incredibly brave. Bravery was a very important virtue or value in Anglo-Saxon culture. Most of the stories or poems that were written or told during this time was told about a hero who faced many different trials but remained brave throughout the entire story. The epic hero Beowulf is an excellent example of this. Beowulf faced three different trials throughout this epic poem, and yet he did not falter or stumble. This epic hero remained brave through each test. Although Beowulf could have walked away and went home after the first battle, he chose to stand tall and take each and every battle bravely as they came to him. This type of characteristic and moral was extremely important and praised in the Anglo-Saxon society.
Not only was bravery a very important virtue or value in Anglo-Saxon society, but so was loyalty. Loyalty was stressed within the Anglo-Saxon culture in order to teach their heroes and soldiers to defend their home. Beowulf showed loyalty in many different ways throughout this epic poem. Although Beowulf traveled to a different country and defend them, he was not only loyal to his home country, Sweden, but he was also loyal to the country who he helped defend, Denmark. Although Beowulf was only prepared to fight Grendel, he was loyal to stay and help defend Denmark against Grendel’s mother. When Beowulf returned home, he loyally ran his country as king for over fifty years. Even as an old man, Beowulf fatally and loyally defended his home country of Sweden against a dragon. The epic poem Beowulf is an excellent example of the value of loyalty that was shown within the Anglo-Saxon culture.
Although bravery and loyalty play a major part in Anglo-Saxon culture, so does fate. Fate is the force that controls a person’s life, despite their actions. The Anglo-Saxons used fate to help explain why certain things happened to certain people. When reading the epic poem Beowulf, the reader can almost immediately predict that Beowulf is going to die in some kind of battle. It is almost impossible to believe that fate would just allow him to die in some mediocre way such as in his sleep. No, the great hero Beowulf would die in some tremendous battle after defeating some ferocious beast. Of course, that is exactly what happened. After boasting and bragging all his life about how spectacular of a hero he is, Beowulf’s fate finally catches up to him in his fatal battle against the dragon. This is a great example of how the epic poem Beowulf teaches the readers about Anglo-Saxon society.
Not only did the Anglo-Saxon society value bravery, loyalty, and fate, but also generosity. In this epic poem, Beowulf showed great generosity to the kingdom of Denmark by risking his own life by fighting two beasts, Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Showing that he is worthy, Beowulf is appointed king over his homeland of Sweden. Over fifty years later, Beowulf proceeds to show his generosity over the land. In his old age, Beowulf fights off a dragon evermore ending his own life so that the kingdom will survive another day. Showing how much the common people admired and liked Beowulf, one of the townspeople said after Beowulf’s death, “I would rather my body were robed in the same burning blaze as my gold-givers body,” (Crossley-Heaney 178-179). Another person who needs more credibility is Hrothgar. He is called a great king for being so hospitable to Beowulf and his men. He is also somebody worthy of the respect through where he gains it from being hospitable to people and showing generosity. The epic poem Beowulf shows several different examples of generosity shown throughout this story.
Not only did Beowulf show great generosity, but he also showed great perseverance. Perseverance is an extremely important value for a hero in Anglo-Saxon culture to have. If a hero does not have a lot of perseverance, he will lose in whatever battle is set before him. In this epic poem, the great hero Beowulf faces battle after battle. It seems that as soon as he defeats one beast, another one appears. Although he had somewhat of a break from monsters when he was king for fifty years, he still had to watch over and protect his country from other forces. Even then, he had to fight a dragon in his old age. Although he could have passed the task on to another person or army of people, he persevered and defeated this dragon even though it cost him his life. This is a perfect example of how an Anglo-Saxon hero is supposed to act and defend himself and his country. Beowulf showed great bravery, generosity, and perseverance throughout this epic poem.
Perseverance is not the only the only trait shown throughout this epic poem, strength also plays a major role. Strength is shown in several different ways, both mentally and physically. Beowulf, being the hero he is, shows superhuman strength when fighting the different beasts, he is faced with. Rumor has it, Beowulf has the strength of twenty men in just one hand. This epic hero takes down monstrous beasts by himself, which would normally take an army of men to take down. Physical strength is not the only strength Beowulf shows, however. He also shows tremendous emotional strength. Beowulf is challenged emotionally by having to take the lives of everyone within the country on his shoulders. He had to constantly remind himself that if he did not kill this beast, then the beast would kill everyone within the country. Flight said, “Beowulf, however, is concerned with those monsters that cross the physical boundary between where monsters and humans are supposed to live.” This is a tremendous amount of stress and pressure put on a person. This shows just how much emotional strength Beowulf had. The epic poem Beowulf shows just how much physical and mental strength the hero Beowulf has throughout this entire story. This proves just another way the epic poem Beowulf teaches about virtue of the Anglo-Saxon society.
Anglo-Saxon society was an incredibly heroic culture. People expected heroes to have a certain amount of values or characteristics to be considered a great Anglo-Saxon hero. In almost every story written throughout this time period, there would almost always be a hero within the story who showed all of these values it took to be considered a great hero. To be considered a hero in today’s times is almost the same in what it would take to become a hero in Anglo-Saxon times. The hero would still have to show a great deal of traits and values to be considered a hero. The epic poem Beowulf is an excellent example of this. This story takes a hero and magnifies his strength and humanity to become something people would now call a superhero. With the traits and values Beowulf shows, he would be considered a great hero in both Anglo-Saxon times and modern-day times.
The definition of a hero is someone who displays noble qualities and has outstanding achievements. Dan Simmons once said, “A hero. You want to be one of those rare human beings who make history, rather than merely watch it flow around them like water around a rock.” Almost everyone dreams of becoming a hero that saves a nation from an intimidating force at some point in their lives. People praise heroes that help save the lives of hundreds or thousands of innocent people. Many companies such as Marvel and DC have made billions of dollars off of the fictional aspect of heroes. However, most people do not realize that along with being considered a hero, comes many disadvantages and difficulties. Many heroes tend to falter or struggle in some point during a trial. Though, most of the heroes do not like to let other people see themselves struggle. Beowulf was an excellent example of this. Throughout his entire life, he tried not to let people see him struggle. Instead, he let other characteristics shine through, such as bravery, loyalty, generosity, and strength. These traits were an incredible part of Anglo-Saxon culture during the time this epic poem was written. The epic poem Beowulf teaches the readers about several virtues and values that are important to the Anglo-Saxon society such as bravery, loyalty, fate, generosity, perseverance, and strength.
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