Epics reveal much about the culture from which they arise, and in particular, the epic hero demonstrates to readers what traits and virtues were most highly prized in that culture. Beowulf is no different. In the epic poem, our titular epic hero embodies all of the best qualities of Anglo-Saxon...
Epics reveal much about the culture from which they arise, and in particular, the epic hero demonstrates to readers what traits and virtues were most highly prized in that culture. Beowulf is no different. In the epic poem, our titular epic hero embodies all of the best qualities of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture.
As the epic hero, Beowulf is a larger-than-life figure with superhuman strength and bravery. This tells us that the Anglo-Saxon culture celebrated warriors who were physically adept as well as courageous. These characters are willing to put their own lives on the line to protect others. We recognize, of course, these same qualities as heroic in our culture. Beowulf fights two of the most fearsome monsters in the world in Grendel and his mother. He also willingly leaves his homeland to go to Hrothgar's kingdom with his men to try to save that land from Grendel's violence. These examples in the poem clearly demonstrate his physical strength and his bravery.
Further, Beowulf follows the code of comitatus, a Germanic term that basically means an agreement between a lord and the men who serve him. It is like an earlier version of chivalry. The lord, in this case Beowulf, and his men enter into a spoken contract under which it is understood that the lord will protect the men and the men will loyally serve their lord. Beowulf asks his men to accompany him to Hrothgar's kingdom, and they agree. When Beowulf volunteers to fight Grendel, he asks Hrothgar to take care of his men should Beowulf be killed in battle. Beowulf also acts as the lesser party in terms of comitatus when he approaches Hrothgar's kingdom; since this is Hrothgar's jurisdiction, Beowulf must ask permission to come ashore and to fight the monster. Hrothgar allows him to make his case, and Beowulf gives this king his heroic resumé. Hrothgar then agrees to let Beowulf fight Grendel in Hrothgar's mead hall. Beowulf is not afraid to flaunt his accomplishments, as he is proud of them, but he also defers to Hrothgar's authority.
At the end of the epic, Beowulf has been king of his own land for years, and a dragon threatens his kingdom. He volunteers, though he is much older, to defend his people against the dragon. He is mortally wounded, but one of his men steps up and kills the dragon, fulfilling his promise to be loyal to his lord. The men also build Beowulf an elaborate funeral pyre and a monument in his memory to pay tribute to their fallen king. In these examples, both parties are upholding their ends of the comitatus agreement. Beowulf is also still showing himself to be fearless, courageous, and willing to put his life on the line for his people.
Based on his bravery, strength, and loyalty, Beowulf exhibits many admirable traits valued by Anglo-Saxon warrior culture.