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The Relevance of Beowulf to Modern Society

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Words: 1591 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Words: 1591|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

The story of Beowulf has been around long before the period of migration. It is said that the actual events of this epic poem occurred around 500 A.D. and that many of the characters that were written into this story, the Swedish and Danish royal family members, represent actual historical figures. The time period that Beowulf was created in had a lot of historical background that affected the outcome of the poem. Around this time, “…Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian peoples had invaded the island of Britian and settled there several hundred years earlier, bringing with them several closely related Germanic languages that would evolve into Old English” (Sparknotes). Beowulf was and still is a pagan traditional story, but later was told by a Christian narrator which poses a problem because a majority of the plot in this poem is Scandinavian. It is very rare to find a pagan story told by a religious narrator. This story was also born in a bygone era which is basically referring to how the values that it originally represented disappeared in the later eras.

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This era consisted of heroic codes, warrior culture, strong kings, bravery and loyalty. For multiple centuries, Beowulf was not looked at as a poem for enjoyment or entertainment but merely a source of information for what happened in that era; most people looked at it for strictly historical purposes. Heroism is one of the main themes in this epic poem along with Germanic heroic code. Heroic code involves major values including “…strength, courage, and loyalty in warriors; hospitality, generosity, and political skill in kings; ceremoniousness in women; and good reputation in all people” (Sparknotes). These cultural views and values are expressed heavily throughout the story. For example, Beowulf proves his bravery in just about everything he does.

Before he stands up to Grendel, Beowulf “took off the helmet and handed his attendant the patterned sword” (Lines 672-673). This shows that he believed that using assistance of a weapon or protection would make the fight between the two too easy. He then goes on to say that “When it comes to fighting, [he] counts [himself] as dangerous any day as Grendel” (Lines 677-678). The fight between Grendel and Beowulf alone shows the courage that Beowulf has and how those tie in with his values, but his actions prove even more. To not wear protection or use any type of weapon is bravery at its finest along with courage.

It is argued that we as a society have grown far away from how we used to be back in the day when violence, drinking and superiority were a major part of how we lived. But the further I look into Beowulf and how we are today as humans and different races, we have not changed at all. The only major difference between this society and the one of Beowulf is technology. Pretty much every other characteristic of this poem, I can find a characteristic in our society that closely relates to it. The concept of drinking dates all the way back to 4000 B.C. when wine was first created. In Beowulf, King Hrothgar made a “mead-hall” to accommodate the celebrations of

Heorot. Honestly, Heorot was just a massive bar that was used to celebrate anything. Throughout the entirety of Beowulf, drinking is a large part of bringing people together whether it be for a good thing or bad. In modern day society, we use alcohol for a number of things; birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and even just to have a more relaxing night in with friends has been a pretty regular thing today especially among younger adults. It is just as present today that it was thousands of years ago. The warriors of Beowulf’s time seem to spend a majority of their time in a local bar or pub. In the U.S. alone, we spend over 23.4 billion dollars as a nation in bars, taverns, and night clubs (Statista).

If that does not show how prevalent alcohol is, I do not know what would. There are not really many good things I could say about alcohol and how it has changed our nation for the better. In fact, I would say that the negative completely outweigh the positive. Alcohol can help you relax and have a good time and it really does bring people together, but would we have a law set on it if it was not dangerous in even the slightest? In Beowulf, alcohol seemed to bring people together, but in our world today it seems to make a lot of situations a lot worse. To drinking and driving, intoxicated sexual acts, and just violence in general, we took this great thing and changed it into something bad.

Speaking of violence, this was another similarity that I found. Beowulf would not be an epic poem without violence but this is just one of those things that is an underlying factor in most things in our world today. The only way to be respected and hold a status of dominance is for the warriors of Beowulf to be violent and to not back down when someone tries to tear either of those qualities down. The only way for a warrior to prove his worthiness is by winning a battle or just violence in general. In this poem specifically, the character Unferth could not win battles so none of the other warriors respected or looked up to him. So instead of learning how to fight or make attempts to become stronger, he attempted to find the flaws in Beowulf to boost his own moral and self-confidence. He never engaged in battle which ultimately led to no one liking him or following him. Now in our modern society, violence is everywhere.

A majority of us probably do not even realize just how much there is. It is very unfortunate, but we see violence in schools (college, high school and even elementary), in the workplace and even at home. The worst part is that we even see these kinds of violent acts in our media which in some cruel kind of way, lets people believe that it is okay to do the same in our day to day lives. The frustrating part is that it is more difficult to find a movie that does not have any violence in it than it does finding one with violence in it. Some of the most violent movies in the more recent years include all the “Kill Bill” movies, “City of God”, “13 Assassins”, and “Inside”. The violence does not stop at appearing in films. Music, games and all types of media has at least some type of violence in it. Whether it be rap music that has vulgar lyrics or obscene videos that go with it or video games that are made to let teens walk around in a virtual world and kill other human beings for points, it is very obvious that our society thinks that this kind of violence is okay.

But is it really wrong to have these kinds of things in our media or are we making it wrong? I do not think violence should be one of the biggest factors in what we do and say as a culture, but I think it plays a little bit into our original upbringings as humans. Beowulf could only prove himself based off of how he won battles. So if that is the case in our society, we could honestly say that violence is not bad but I believe that it has changed us for the worse. It seems to have caused a lot more crime and violent things due to the fact that it is widely spread across our nation. If people see it on a daily basis, it makes sense as to why people would think it is okay.

The last similarity that I found was superiority. In Beowulf, there are plenty of examples of the relationship between a king and the subordinates that he has underneath him. This is seen very clearly in Beowulf when he is speaking to Hrothgar. In our society, superiority is seen absolutely everywhere. Whether it is in the workplace in a boss to employee relationship or in a military profession in an officer to enlisted relationship, superiority is important. I believe that this is probably one of the only ones that did not change for the worse; it changed for the better. As a society, we tend to like to follow instead of lead and if everyone is doing one thing, most others will follow along because most people do not like change. On the flip side, this is a great thing because it is not only our natural instinct to follow, but those in leadership or “king-like” positions do the right thing and it improves us as a society.

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So for those who believe that history and stories like Beowulf are long gone in this day and age, they are way wrong. We may not see just how similar we are to those characters and warriors in this epic poem, but all of the habits and values that are presented in this story are still here in our world and are still relevant. Regardless of the year, we are all still the same on the inside. A lot of us would like to think that we have grown as a human race, but after reading Beowulf and comparing myself and my society to it, I do not think we have come far at all.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

The Relevance of Beowulf to Modern Society. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/should-we-believe-in-history-and-stories-like-beowulf/
“The Relevance of Beowulf to Modern Society.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/should-we-believe-in-history-and-stories-like-beowulf/
The Relevance of Beowulf to Modern Society. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/should-we-believe-in-history-and-stories-like-beowulf/> [Accessed 19 Jun. 2024].
The Relevance of Beowulf to Modern Society [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 26 [cited 2024 Jun 19]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/should-we-believe-in-history-and-stories-like-beowulf/
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