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Important Factor in The Anglo-saxon Culture: Beowulf

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Words: 878 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

Words: 878|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

“Vengeance and feud were an essential part of medieval England and Iceland; revenge was considered both a right and a duty and was legislated and regulated by social norms. It was an important tool for obtaining justice and protecting property, family, and reputation. Accordingly, many medieval literary works seem to accept revenge without question”. One of these medieval literary works is the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. Moreover, the heroic story of Beowulf continues to live on the consequences of revenge. Revenge is the main motivation for many characters. Through many feuds among the Germanic tribes represented in the poem. In the epic poem Beowulf, the idea of vengeance is illustrated through the actions of King Hrothgar, Grendel’s mother, the fiery dragon, and even Beowulf himself. Revenge can be necessary, but also very destructive.

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Vengeance was an important element in Anglo-Saxon society described in the actions of several characters throughout the poem. The anonymous poet mentioned the word “revenge” for the first time after the slaying of Grendel. Grendel dies when Beowulf breaks his arm, and then he bleeds to death. Thus, Beowulf wants to seek revenge to help King Hrothgar and to avenge for the death of his own people killed by Grendel. The poet tells us “But now his mother / had sallied forth on a savage journey, / grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for revenge”. Moreover, Grendel's mother wants to avenge the brutal death of her son. She attacks Heorot and kills Aeschere, Hrothgar’s trusted advisor. At that point, Beowulf says to Hrothgar at the death of Aeschere, in perhaps his clearest pronouncement about the morality of revenge “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better / to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning”. Therefore, Beowulf has committed himself to avenge Aeschere for his adopted lord King Hrothgar. He heads to the mere where Grendel’s mother lives in, and he kills her. Indeed, comparing the actions of Grendel’s mother and Beowulf, Grendel’s mother seems to appear more justified in her revenge than Beowulf. She acts out of her grief over the death of her son.

The last battle between the dangerous dragon and Beowulf is the final battle in Beowulf’s life. It is also the result of vengeance. The dragon seeks revenge because the unnamed thief has stolen a goblet from the dragon’s hoard of treasure. The dragon behaves as an attacker firing the countryside and destroying a lot of buildings including Beowulf’s house. Thus, Beowulf, in his old age, decides to seek revenge. He says, “the fire-dragon / had razed the coastal region and reduced / forts and earthworks to dust and ashes, / so the war-king planned and plotted his revenge”. All of these examples represent the treatment of vengeance in medieval literature and although revenge is necessary for obtaining justice and protecting property, family, and reputation, it is also very destructive. It led to the murder of everyone who sought revenge.

Vengeance has been also a motivating factor for many feuds that the poet refers to in the poem. It is a way of life and death for the Anglo-Saxon culture. Blood feuds mean the cycle of fights between two tribes. Beowulf’s fights are related to the story of Finnsburh. Beowulf deals with the conflict between the Danes and Frisians. In Beowulf, Grendel, who is descended from the Biblical Cain, represents the Frisians and the fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother also represents the concept of the blood feud between the Germanic tribes. Rosenthal argues that the role of the women in the heroic society is an example of a feud healer or a peace weaver. He reports:

One of the prominent roles of a woman was, through her marriage,

that of acting as feud-healer or alliance-binder. This use of marriage

either to heal an open blood feud or to create an alliance so as to prevent

future feuds was an obvious and sensible policy. But, since the ironic

ends of marriage frequently were unrealized, at least in the literature

of the day, women became almost sacrificial victims to good but vain

intentions. 

For example, Hildeburh and Freawaru were women who were married to a member of an enemy tribe for the purpose of establishing peace between fighting groups. The stories of Hildeburh and Freawaru, as told in Beowulf, illustrate the negative results that happen when women are married off as peace-weavers. In the case of Hildeburh, she marries someone from another tribe and has a son with him, blending together the blood of the Danish and the Jutes. However, this union did not last long, since she was forced to witness her son and brother killed during a battle between the Danish and the Jutes. Unlike Hildeburh, Freawaru and her marriage to the prince Ingeld does end in a bad way, with the fight between Freawaru’s father and husband. These examples illustrate that establishing peace between fighting tribes and using marriage as a tool did not give the appropriate results to resolve the fight between the Germanic tribes.

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In conclusion, vengeance is an important factor in the Anglo-Saxon culture, and it also works as a motivating factor for many feuds in Beowulf. One of the most important aspects of vengeance in Beowulf and many other characters in the poem is the importance of honoring the bonds of family relationships and companionship.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Important Factor In The Anglo-Saxon Culture: Beowulf. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/important-factor-in-the-anglo-saxon-culture-beowulf/
“Important Factor In The Anglo-Saxon Culture: Beowulf.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/important-factor-in-the-anglo-saxon-culture-beowulf/
Important Factor In The Anglo-Saxon Culture: Beowulf. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/important-factor-in-the-anglo-saxon-culture-beowulf/> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
Important Factor In The Anglo-Saxon Culture: Beowulf [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/important-factor-in-the-anglo-saxon-culture-beowulf/
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