The Pagan Germans, Greeks, and other ancient peoples believed that fame and glory were the only things that survived after death. Find evidence in Beowulf and other sources that support the fact...

The Pagan Germans, Greeks, and other ancient peoples believed that fame and glory were the only things that survived after death. Find evidence in Beowulf and other sources that support the fact that great importance was placed on a person’s public reputation during life.

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The old Anglo-Saxon Pagan religions did not envision an afterlife that included heaven the way modern monotheistic religions generally do. Because of this, people often tried to achieve a measure of eternal life by building fame and a memorable reputation during their lifetimes. In Anglo-Saxon life, this was often accomplished in war.

We see this in Beowulf as Beowulf battles with Grendel's mother in her underwater cave. As he struggles against her, the poet says:

But Beowulf

Longed only for fame, leaped back

Into battle.

In the Greek epic The Odyssey, we hear the hero Odysseus describe himself to the Phaeacians this way:

I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, who am known among men for all manner of wiles, and my fame reaches unto heaven. 

It seems like Odysseus is bragging, and sometimes he is (his weakness is an occasional lack of humility), but to Odysseus this is just the fulfillment of his goal—to be a man that is admired and respected because of his intelligence and ability.

It is interesting to note that, although Beowulf and the Odyssey were composed hundreds of years apart and in completely different cultures, they share this common theme—men long to live on after death in some form; if not in heaven, then in the minds of other men.