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The Significance of Anglo-saxon Values in Beowulf

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Words: 1081 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Sep 5, 2023

Words: 1081|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Sep 5, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Overview of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf
  3. The Role of Heroism in Beowulf
  4. The Importance of Loyalty in Beowulf
  5. Conclusion

Introduction

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is one of the most significant works of Anglo-Saxon literature. Set in Scandinavia, Beowulf tells the story of the eponymous hero and his battles against three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. Through the adventures of Beowulf and the society in which he lives, Beowulf illustrates many of the core values of Anglo-Saxon culture. Values such as courage, strength, loyalty, generosity, and honor are embodied by Beowulf and other characters throughout the poem. This essay examines the representation of the key Anglo-Saxon values in Beowulf to provide an insight into the beliefs that defined their culture.

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Overview of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf

Beowulf emphasizes many Anglo-Saxon ideals that would have resonated with contemporary audiences. The Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic people who valued strength, courage, and loyalty to one's lord and kin. These traits allowed them to become fearsome warriors, and warfare was a constant fact of life. In their pagan origins, Anglo-Saxon society was very much a masculine, warrior culture that prized heroic deeds and mighty heroes. We see this clearly in the characters of Beowulf and the Geat warriors. Other important social bonds existed between lords and their warriors through the comitatus, an agreement that lords would reward loyal service with gifts and treasures. This value system is on display throughout Beowulf in the actions and interactions of the characters.

Specific examples of Anglo-Saxon values are found in the three battles of the poem. When Grendel terrorizes Heorot, Beowulf convinces King Hrothgar that he, as the mighty warrior from Geatland, will defeat the monster where Hrothgar’s own men could not. This shows Beowulf’s courage and determination to prove himself through heroic deeds. Beowulf later exemplifies his extraordinary physical strength in the climactic battle with Grendel by ripping off the monster’s arm using only his bare hands. Against Grendel’s mother, Beowulf again proves his valor as the only warrior willing to take on the deadly water demon. Even in old age when battling the dragon, Beowulf exhibits his commitment to protecting his people despite the impossible odds.

These examples demonstrate the great emphasis Anglo-Saxons placed on attributes like courage, loyalty, honor, and physical strength. The hero Beowulf possesses these traits in abundance, making him the epitome of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture. Throughout the poem, Beowulf and the Geats uphold their society’s values of masculinity, valor, and honor which are shown to be more important than life itself.

The Role of Heroism in Beowulf

Heroism is one of the most significant Anglo-Saxon values represented in Beowulf. The epic poem explores the concept of the hero within Anglo-Saxon culture and provides a portrait of the ideal Anglo-Saxon hero.

Heroism in Anglo-Saxon society had very specific meanings. A hero had to be strong, courageous, and willing to protect his people and uphold his honor at great personal risk. Heroes like Beowulf exhibited extraordinary valiance in battle against often supernatural monsters and beasts. They had to balance strength with virtues like generosity and loyalty to tribe. An Anglo-Saxon hero was duty-bound to hold up these cultural values or risk alienation from society.

As the embodiment of the Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf possesses remarkable traits that each reflect the heroic ideal. His superhuman physical strength is shown in his battles with Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon. Singlehandedly entering the dangerous waters of Grendel's mother's lake requires tremendous courage. Beowulf's loyalty and commitment to social obligations motivate him to defeat the monsters terrorizing Hrothgar’s people and later the Geats. Despite the overwhelming odds, Beowulf risks death for the greater good of society.

Beowulf fulfills his heroic duties until the day he died. His final battle with the wrathful dragon costs him his life, but he saves his people from the terror. Beowulf's death completes his hero's journey and further cements his legend across lands and ages to come. As an archetypal Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf comes to embody the noble virtues so central to their warrior culture. His larger-than-life deeds teach audiences what society valued in heroes - honor, valor, loyalty, and seeking glory through courageous action.

The Importance of Loyalty in Beowulf

In addition to courage and heroism, loyalty is one of the most highly regarded Anglo-Saxon values seen in Beowulf. Loyalty to one's king and tribe was imperative, as this bond formed the foundation of Anglo-Saxon society.

The concept of loyalty in Anglo-Saxon culture went beyond simple obedience to authority. It involved deep reciprocity and mutual obligation between warrior and leader. Warriors swore oaths to serve their lords, who in turn provided gifts, treasures, and banquets. This social contract connected the fates of every member of society. Both warriors and kings were expected to uphold their respective ends for society to function.

Beowulf provides examples of this loyalty throughout the text. Beowulf travels far from his homeland to come to the aid of Hrothgar, to whom his father owed service. His loyalty to Hrothgar’s tribe takes precedent over his duties as a Geat. When Beowulf later becomes king of the Geats, he remains loyal to his people, sacrificing himself to save them from the wrath of the dragon.

Wiglaf emerges as the ultimate example of loyalty in the poem. He is the only warrior to stand by Beowulf in the final battle, all the others having abandoned their lord in cowardice. Wiglaf’s steadfastness is sharply contrasted with the disloyalty of the other warriors to emphasize the importance of fidelity to one’s duties. In the end, Wiglaf is chosen as Beowulf’s successor, an apt reward for honoring this central Anglo-Saxon value.

Through these examples, the poet reminds audiences of the critical need for devotion and allegiance in their society. By exemplifying loyalty in characters such as Beowulf and Wiglaf, the poem provides a model of conduct for maintaining social order and cohesion.

Conclusion

Beowulf presents a vivid portrait of Anglo-Saxon culture and ideology through its emphasis on values like courage, loyalty, generosity, and honor. The characters of Beowulf, Wiglaf, Hrothgar, and others embody the warrior ethos and virtues that so characterized Anglo-Saxon society. Examining these values within their cultural context gives modern readers a window into the complex value system that defined Anglo-Saxon communities.

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The pervasiveness of ideals like heroism, strength, and fidelity in Beowulf clearly reflect what Anglo-Saxons found admirable and worthy of glorifying in epic poetry. As the oldest surviving epic in English, Beowulf provides unique insight into the Anglo-Saxon psyche. The world it depicts is fundamentally shaped by the Germanic value system of the Anglo-Saxons. Through the lens of its characters, Beowulf continues to tell their story and reflect the culture in which it was composed.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Significance of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf. (2023, September 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-significance-of-anglo-saxon-values-in-beowulf/
“The Significance of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf.” GradesFixer, 05 Sept. 2023, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-significance-of-anglo-saxon-values-in-beowulf/
The Significance of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-significance-of-anglo-saxon-values-in-beowulf/> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
The Significance of Anglo-Saxon Values in Beowulf [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 05 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-significance-of-anglo-saxon-values-in-beowulf/
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