In Beowulf, what does the boar's head on Beowulf and his men's helmet symbolize?

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In Beowulf, the boar's head on the helmet of Beowulf and his men stood for a sacred animal whose primary characteristics were ferocity and loyalty to their king.

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The boar worn on the helmets of the warriors in Beowulf was no mere imagining of the poet. Boars were commonly worn on warriors' helmets in Anglo-Saxon and Norse culture because the boar was a very important symbol, representative of ferocity in battle and loyalty to one's king. In the poem, the boar symbol is "fah ond fyrheard ferhwearde heold / guthmod grummon"—fire-hard, full of life-protection, a summoner of war-spirit. This is what the boar stood for in the minds of these warriors.

Boars were sacred to multiple gods and goddesses in the Germanic tradition. Ing is represented by the boar; he rode a boar, Hildisvini, literally "battle swine." The early commentator Tacitus in his Germania said that the Germanic warriors he encountered in the first century AD wore boarskins into battle, thinking that this would afford them the protection of the "Mother Goddess." Tacitus was writing some eight hundred years before Beowulf was written down, but Beowulf is an older story than the copy we have, and these earlier Germanic tribes were the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons and shared the same cultural heritage. We don't know as much about Anglo-Saxon paganism as we do about other forms, but there are other references to a "mother goddess" or "great goddess" whose symbol was a boar and who was a goddess of battle and fertility, two concepts which often go hand-in-hand in Germanic pantheons. Boars have been found ceremonially buried and sacrificed, and the boar formed the centerpiece of most Anglo-Saxon festivals and ritual celebrations. The boar was intrinsic to their sense of themselves, and in wearing it on their helmets, Beowulf's warriors are reminding themselves what they are fighting for, and drawing strength from what it represents.

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The boar was a very important symbol in Anglo-Saxon times, and it was used to refer to the Norse goddess Freyr. These animals were esteemed in Anglo-Saxon times for their cunning and ferocious natures, and even after Christianity was accepted by the majority of Anglo-Saxons, the image of the boar was still widely used in order to refer to these qualities. Note how the author of Beowulf describes the helmet that his eponymous hero wears:

...wonderfully formed, beset with swine-forms so that it

then no blade nor battle-swords to bite were able...

The boars herefore, perhaps because they hark back to a more distant and primeval system of beliefs, have the power to imbue Beowulf's helmet with protection. As a powerful symbol, the boars stand for all the qualities that were prized in warriors and are used to suggest the superior nature of Beowulf and his men.

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