"Created from mine. I've worn this crown for fifty winters: no neighboring people have tried to threaten the Geats, sent soldiers against us or talked of terror. My days have gone by as fate...

"Created from mine. I've worn this crown for fifty winters: no neighboring people have tried to threaten the Geats, sent soldiers against us or talked of terror. My days have gone by as fate willed, waiting for its word to be spoken, ruling as well as I knew how, swearing no unholy oaths, seeking no lying wars. I can leave this happy life; I can die, here, knowing the Lord of all life has never watched me wash my sword in blood born of my own family. Beloved."

Note that Beowulf summarizes his 50-year reign in the lines above from Beowulf. What ideals are reflected in Beowulf's speech?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf recounts the exploits of the epic hero Beowulf, the man who killed Grendel and Grendel's mother and eventually became king of his land. After a fifty-year reign, Beowulf is called upon to save his country from a dragon. 

Before he fights his final battle, Beowulf summarizes his reign this way:

"I've worn this crown for fifty winters: no neighboring people have tried to threaten the Geats, sent soldiers against us or talked of terror. My days have gone by as fate willed, waiting for its word to be spoken, ruling as well as I knew how, swearing no unholy oaths, seeking no lying wars. I can leave this happy life; I can die, here, knowing the Lord of all life has never watched me wash my sword in blood born of my own family."

In this speech, Beowulf outlines all the things that are important to him, the things he values in his life.

First he is proud to say that he has kept his people safe, and no neighboring countries have tried to make war with the Geats. Second, he did his best to be an honorable man. He made no "unholy oaths" and he did not seek out false wars (wars without cause). Third, he never shed the blood of his own family, something we know happened often in this time. Finally, Beowulf lived his life "as fate willed" and can die content in the fact that he has done what he should have in the best way he could.

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Over the course of the epic poem, Beowulf is depicted growing from being an impulsive and sometimes reckless hero to becoming a well-respected and excellent king and ruler. When he summarizes his long reign, he explicates a number of the factors that have helped him in being a successful king, many of which align with the ideals of his heroic society. 

Chief among these ideals is that Beowulf has never willingly involved himself in "lying wars"—he has not drawn his people into battle for no reason or for poor reasons. He has not "wash[ed] his sword" in the blood of his own family or drawn his family into his battles without good reason. Furthermore, he depicts himself here as a good, pious man—it is usually believed that Beowulf was originally a pagan epic that was adapted, for better or worse, into the new Christian context of the Anglo-Saxons. Beowulf here does not specify which "lord" he has made "no unholy oaths" to, but in any respect, he has remained true to whatever lord he follows. He also is pleased that he has been an honorable king and has protected his people as a good ruler should.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This speech looks both backwards and forwards, backwards over his kingship and forwards to death. Thus the first ideal reflected in this poem is that one who lives a good and moral life does not fear death but approaches it calmly, seeing it as the natural completion of human existence. This calm in the face of death emphasizes that the moral person is brave and steadfast, with religion providing certainty and solace even in the face of dire perils. There is a sense that fate is ordained by God or gods and that accepting one's fate calmly and with dignity is a virtue.

Next, he suggests that the good king is a protector to his people, neither engaging in nor provoking unjust wars. Thus both his strength and his avoidance of injustice and greedy pursuit of conquest for his own sake keep his people safe. Thus another ideal seen here is that of the best warrior as one who protects his people and keeps them safe. He also describes never harming a member of his own family as a virtue.

Next, he avoids lying and swearing "unholy oaths," suggesting that truthfulness and piety are important ideals.