The Values of Old

Beowulf

The Values of Old

Books and stories can reveal much about the author who wrote them and the period at which they lived. Whether it be their dialect or actions, characters tend to reflect how people were during that time. In the poem Beowulf, one can learn the values of the Anglo-Saxon society. For example, the main hero Beowulf and others show strong characteristics of bravery, loyalty, and faithfulness to God.

In the first battle of the story, Beowulf fights the evil monster Grendel. He has come to the aid of Hrothgar, king of Danes. Beowulf announces that he will fight Grendel with no armor or weapons and leave his fate with God. He shows no fear, only bravery, confident that he will be able to vanquish this monstrous foe with his bare hands. Far later in his life, Beowulf is presented another fiend to kill. During his reign, there is a dragon plaguing his kingdom with fear. Beowulf is becoming old and senses that he may not come out of this battle that “for the first time in his life...[he] fought with fate against him...,” but he still strides calmly into battle (2573 – 2574). He's willing to lay down his life for the good of his people; this self-sacrifice is another way he has proven his bravery.

Another one of Beowulf’s traits is a firm loyalty to those he serves and later those who serve him. When Beowulf takes on Grendel’s treacherous mother, he asks that Hrothgar take care of his men saying, “[If I should die, be] the father and protector of all whom I leave behind” (1478 – 1479). He worries not for himself going into battle that he very well may lose, but the wellbeing of his soldiers. He also requests that Hrothgar send that treasure he earned from killing Grendel to his lord, Higlac. And, although Beowulf shows strong loyalty, some of his followers do not. During his battle with the dragon, Beowulf runs to meet the monster alone and come its fiery breath, all his men scatter. They showed cowardice, going against their loyalty to their king because they are overcome with fear. Only one man goes to Beowulf’s aid and his name was Wiglac. Wiglac scolds the men for running saying they are “branded with disgrace” and don’t deserve any of what Beowulf gave them (2892). He proved his loyalty standing at Beowulf’s side when the odds were against them and all others had run.

The characters in the poem are God-fearing. There is a lot of emphasis on the divide between good and evil and God’s judgment of them. This faith in God and knowing what is good and bad in the Lord’s eyes also outlines their morality. An example of this faith is shown when Hrothgar proclaims that “Our Holy Father has sent [Beowulf] as a sign of His grace... to help us defeat Grendel and that terror” (381 – 384). Beowulf also speaks his faith when he says that God alone will decide the outcome of his battle against the evil of Grendel. When the dragon comes to Beowulf’s kingdom years later, he believes that it is his fault. He accuses himself of breaking one of God’s laws. He thinks he has gone against faith, bringing this terror down on his people by angering God. And, on other numerous occasions, people say fate is controlled by God. All believe everything happens for a reason and it is what God has decided.

As one can see from reading Beowulf, the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture had values quite like our own. The central hero of this poem shows that they valued great bravery, fervent loyalty, and strong faith. Beowulf is the epitome of all heroes.

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Almárëa Laurësil

I'm an aspiring writer, artist, and musician.

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