"I say what anyone who speaks the truth must say... too few of his warriors remembered to come, when our lord faced death, alone. And now the giving of swords, of golden rings and rich estates, is over, ended for you and everyone who shares your blood: when the brave Geats heat how you bolted and ran none of your race will have anything left but their lives. And death would be better for them all, and for you, than the kind of life you can lead, branded with disgrace!" What does Wiglaf's speech (lines taken from Beowulf) tell you about the importance of honor and the consequences of dishonorable behavior in Beowulf's time?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Anglo-Saxons desired and demanded very specific characteristics of their heroes. They upheld honor, courage, strength, glory, protection of others, and generosity. They knew that they lived a life of uncertainty which fate (wyrd) ruled). All they did was for God and their king. 

In regards to the lines taken from Beowulf, Wiglaf denounces Beowulf's men who ran from the dragon and from the side of their king (Beowulf). He is angered at the fact that the men, who have been treated very well by Beowulf, ran from a fight (one which took the life of their king). Wiglaf illustrates that the dishonorable actions of the men have brought upon them great disgrace. He states that the men should rather die than live a life of disgrace. 

Since Wiglaf denounces the men because they ran from the fight (not showing honor, courage, or protection of others), the lines in question illustrate the importance these characteristics hold within the Anglo-Saxon culture. Since ignored, the men only illustrate their own dishonor. The lack of honor, courage, and protection of others forces the men's essential exile from that of a true hero and men worthy of glory. Wiglaf's speech illustrates the importance of upholding the characteristics of the hero and the consequence of refusing to act. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial