Was Beowulf A Good King

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literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The characteristics of a good king, according the epic poem Beowulf, parallel the characteristics honored by the Anglo Saxon culture.

Anglo Saxons looked for their heroes, and therefore kings, to be great warriors, eloquent speakers, and renowned leaders. They should be of noble ancestry. Anglo Saxons also looked to their heroes to be generous, exemplify aristeia (battles should be of the finest and most noble challenging foes of only equal or greater ability), seek fame and fortune, and hold up arete (the bringing of virtue to perfection), and (of course) be courageous and strong.

The Anglo Saxons honored their kings with titles for the same reasons they honored their heroes with titles.


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sbrownfi's profile pic

sbrownfi | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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The Anglo Saxon Leader should be strong, wise, and generous. Beowulf, of course, as the Epic Hero, reflects all of these qualities.

Beowulf is obviously superhumanly strong. He vows to fight Grendel with no weapon, using only his bear hands since Grendel uses no weapon either. However, the fight also reveals Beowulf's cunning and wisdom inasmuch as he allows one of his men to be first taken so as to see the way Grendel attacks, and he uses Grendel's own strength against him. This is a recurring strategy in all 3 of Beowulf's battles, he uses Grendel's mother's own magical sword against her and uses the dragon's own size and power against him.

Beowulf also shows generosity, particularly to Wiglaf, who remembers the old king's former largesse when the time comes to fight the dragon. Generosity is underscored numerous times as the greatest trait a leader can have. Kings are called by the kenning "ring giver" and the very title of "lord" comes from the Old English "loaf giver." Often the narrator opines on the value of generosity. Speaking of Beow in the introduction he says:

So becomes it a youth to quit him well

with his father's friends, by fee and gift,

that to aid him, aged, in after days,

come warriors willing, should war draw nigh...