How have Beowulf's men, with the exception of Wiglaf, changed?

In his youth, Beowulf was surrounded by faithful warriors, but by the time he is an old man, the new generation of warriors lack the same loyalty and courage.

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In Beowulf 's youth, he is surrounded by faithful and brave warriors. His fellow Geats accompany him to Denmark, where they give him support in the battle against Grendel, even though he ultimately fights the beast alone. Such behavior is a reflection of the ideals of Anglo-Saxon culture: warriors must...

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In Beowulf's youth, he is surrounded by faithful and brave warriors. His fellow Geats accompany him to Denmark, where they give him support in the battle against Grendel, even though he ultimately fights the beast alone. Such behavior is a reflection of the ideals of Anglo-Saxon culture: warriors must show loyalty to their leaders, even in the face of death.

In the final third of the poem, Beowulf is now an old and respected king. The warriors he surrounds himself with are of a younger generation. When Beowulf faces the dragon, he initially has the warriors stand by while he does battle alone, but once he is injured, he needs their help. Unfortunately, most of the men turn and flee, frightened for their lives. Wiglaf is the only one who goes to help his king.

The difference between the warriors of Beowulf's youth and those in his old age suggests a decline in quality between the generations, or at least a decline in faithfulness to the old ways. This decline ties into the poem's elegiac tone and despairing ending. Beowulf's people mourn their king's passing not only because he was a great king, but because they believe they will be destroyed by neighboring tribes without him there to protect them. The sense that the newest crop of warriors is not up to the old standards reflects the poem's lamenting the passage of the best parts of Anglo-Saxon culture, so the warriors abandoning Beowulf might be intended to evoke the end of an era.

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Like most epic poems, Beowulf tells modern-day readers about life during the Anglo-Saxon time. During this point in history, loyalty to your king above everyone else was a guiding principle. Beowulf is often referred to as “Higlac’s follower” reminding us that while he is the brave hero, he still remains loyal to his current king.

In the early sections of his journey, we see the Geats’ loyalty to Beowulf as they travel across the seas to Denmark with him just to fight Grendel. Here his men set the trap for Grendel as they lay in Herot waiting for Grendel.

Fifty years later, Beowulf is now the king of Geatland and needs one more battle to ensure his fame and memory in his people. Luckily, a dragon is laying waste to the Geats in retaliation for someone stealing his jeweled cup. Beowulf prepares for battle bringing along the strongest and bravest soldiers in his country; however when it’s time to fight he tells them to stay behind and let him fight the dragon alone.

Wait for me close by, my friends. We shall see, soon, who will survive This bloody battle, stand when the fighting is done.

When Wiglaf sees his king in trouble he knows that it is his duty to protect Beowulf. The soldiers see their brave, strong king struggling and begin to run afraid for their own lives. Wiglaf reminds the other soldiers of all their history and of all good times they had together. He reminds them how they promised Beowulf that they would always be there for him and would be willing to pay him back with their lives if that was what was needed.

I remember how we sat in the mead-hall, drinking And boasting of how brave we'd be when Beowulf Needed us, he who gave us these swords And armor: all of us swore to repay him, When the time came, kindness for kindness —With our lives, if he needed them.

However, the soldiers are unmoved by Wiglaf’s words, and they run away, leaving Wiglaf alone to aide Beowulf.

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Throughout the majority of the story of Beowulf, Beowulf's followers are supportive and helpful to their leader. After all, Beowulf is a paragon of an Anglo-Saxon-era warrior. When, for instance, Beowulf and his men travel to Herot from Geatland to defend it against the monster Grendel, Beowulf's men attempt to help their leader fight the monster. Although their swords are ultimately useless against Grendel, they do try to help their then undefeated leader in any way that they can.

However, the point of the story at which Wiglaf comes into the narrative in an important way is at the end of the epic. Beowulf is now king over his own land and has been for fifty years when he is called upon to fight a dragon. He chooses twelve choice warriors to accompany him, though he asks them not to fight, a last attempt at proving himself the "unbeatable warrior" that the reader is used to seeing. Obviously, Beowulf is an old man at this point and is therefore in the most need of help that he's ever been. Once the battle ensues, Beowulf is quickly wounded. Rather than gather to defend their king and captain, the men disband and run—all except for Wiglaf. Wiglaf berates the men for their lack of courage before joining Beowulf in slaying the monster. For his faithfulness, Beowulf rewards Wiglaf with his golden collar, a symbol of bequeathing the kingship.

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