I need help writing an essay for the following assignment:   The pagan Germans, Greeks, and other ancient peoples believed that fame and glory are the only things that will survive a human being’s death. What evidence do you find in Beowulf of the importance placed on a person’s public reputation? Write an essay in which you use examples from the poem to support your answer.    

In Beowulf, reputation is paramount. Fame and glory are the things that survive a human's death. The poem's main characters place great value on their reputations.

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Beowulf derives from an oral tradition and describes a time several centuries earlier than the one in which it was finally written down. As such, while the "Beowulf-poet," or Beowulf scribe, writes in a Christian context, the Christian elements in the poem often seem to sit uncomfortably with its overwhelmingly pagan concerns, among which reputation is key.

To Beowulf and his soldiers, reputation is paramount. When Beowulf first arrives at Heorot, he establishes his right to be there and to take on the fearful monster Grendel by telling stories of his previous heroic feats. Unferth takes issue with these; many have wondered whether this is a case of "ofermod" in Beowulf, with the great hero exaggerating what he was capable of (holding his breath under water for many hours while fighting sea monsters, for instance). This kind of exaggeration was permitted under the rules of the heroic boast, provided that the hero is able to defend his reputation by continued success in battle. In killing Grendel, Beowulf maintains his fame as a great warrior.

At the end of the poem we certainly see strong evidence that reputation is considered far more important than treasure or material wealth: Beowulf, no longer a young man, sets out to kill the dragon in order to secure his everlasting glory. Before he dies on the beach, he tells his companion the story of his life, in the hope that it will be remembered. By contrast, after Beowulf's death, his treasure is buried with him, "as useless to men now as it ever was." But your question asks about surviving, on-going fame and reputation, and perhaps the best illustration of this in the poem is in the poet's continued use of digressions, or related anecdotes, in order to illuminate his words.

Anglo-Saxon culture placed huge emphasis on storytelling, and for a person to make it into a much-retold story was evidence that the person had not been forgotten. Memories of ancestral good deeds would also sustain a person in their own attempts to match them. As he is about to help Beowulf in his final fight, Wiglaf recalls his father, the noble shield-fighter (ll. 2602) and resolves to do his best for his liege-lord, spurred on by the memory of Weohstan's reputation. Elsewhere in the poem, much longer anecdotes, such as the story of Heremod, are utilized as comparisons to the characters in the main story. Reputation may be good, as in the case of Weohstan, or evil, as in the case of Queen Modthryth, and it is of paramount importance to the characters in Beowulf—and to the original Anglo-Saxon audience—that they be remembered the right way.

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Here, you may want to distinguish between the ancient Greek notion of reputation (kleos) which is the only thing that survives after the death of a person, other than a pale and miserable shade in Hades, and the more complex model of Beowulf, which blends pagan and Christian themes. At times Beowulf does invoke a Christian notion of Heaven and Hell, but at other points, the poem seems to reflect a notion of fame derived from the tradition of heroic epic. 

Perhaps one of the more striking literary ways the poem emphasizes fame is through its use of boasting. Both when introduced to new people and situations, the heroes boast about their deeds and ancestry and before fights boast about how they will overcome their opponents. The verbal contest between Unferth and Beowulf before Beowulf's fight with Grendel is an example of this sort of aggression in establishing and defending reputation. The boasting is not superfluous, as it functions as a form of reputation management, as important to the eventual goal of winning fame as the fights themselves. 

A second major example of the importance of fame occurs in lines 485-495 in which Beowulf is described as motivated to fight through pain by his desire for fame. His acts are described as of the sort that make men famous and he is thinking of fame in this part of his battle with Grendel's mother. 

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