What is the lesson in morality in Beowulf?

One of the main purposes of Beowulf is to communicate a system of cultural values. Beowulf himself embodies the characteristics his society revered in a great leader; he continually seeks to demonstrate bravery and loyalty. In this time, people equated great leadership with the qualities of a great warrior, one who is strong and courageous in battling evil.

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The moral lesson I'm always struck with in Beowulf is selflessness. Hrothgar has been plagued by the ravages of Grendel for a long time; when Beowulf finally hears of it, he simply gets ready to leave.  He gathers some men, tells the King--to whom he owes his allegiance, his time, and his talents--he's...

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The moral lesson I'm always struck with in Beowulf is selflessness. Hrothgar has been plagued by the ravages of Grendel for a long time; when Beowulf finally hears of it, he simply gets ready to leave.  He gathers some men, tells the King--to whom he owes his allegiance, his time, and his talents--he's going to go.  His explanation and his motivation are simple:  I can defeat this marauder and rescue Hrothgar's kingdom, so I will.  That is the pinnacle of selflessness. 

Beowulf has a distant connection to Hrothgar, through his father, but this is not a place or a people he owes anything to for any reason.  Yet, he goes because they are in need and he knows he can help.  He is rewarded at the end, it's true; however, it's just as likely he could have lost his life in the effort.  (He does lose one of his men, and Beowulf himself ends up battling both Grendel and Grendel's mother--an unexpected and fierce opponent.)

When I think of Beowulf, I think of the selfless civil servants--those who serve as firemen, policemen, EMTs, and so many more--all over the world who do such brave things daily without the promise of anything but a thank-you and their normal (and certainly not grand) paycheck in return. Loving one's fellow man more than one's own self is the epitome of moral thinking and action.

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Beowulf is an epic that came out of a warrior culture and was used not solely to entertain but also to teach the values of this culture.  The Anglo-Saxons valued bravery, heroism, strength, loyalty, fame through glorious deeds, and the desire to fight evil.  Their leaders were their best warriors.  Beowulf himself embodies all of these qualities, and you can find examples of these throughout the text.  He is the strongest and best warrior in his country, and after he defeats Grendel and his mother (among other victories) he becomes king.  Wiglaf, who becomes Beowulf's successor, also embodies these traits.  When all of the other soldiers abandon Beowulf in his fatal battle against the dragon, Wiglaf does not.  He displays courage and loyalty in helping Beowulf defeat the dragon, which is why he is named the next leader.  It is true that Beowulf fights these monsters to help his tribe and the Danes, but he also does so for fame and glory and hopes to be remembered for such deeds, which is why, on his deathbed, he requests that a monument be erected to remember him and how great he was.  In seeing this monument, future generations will remember Beowulf and the qualities he embodied, reminding them to fight evil forces with courage and strength and to always be loyal.  Anglo Saxon culture did not value humility.

Another interesting aspect to note is the idea of Christianity.  By the time Beowulf became a written text and not just an oral story, Christianity had begun to spread through Britain.  As such, certain Christian ideals and language are sprinkled throughout the text we read.  The most significant Christian value in this text is the connection between God and good.  When battles against evil are won, the characters praise God and rely on him to help.  However, the idea of faith is at odds with the pagan concept of fate, which is often associated with unfavorable conditions and results in the text.

So, to simply answer your question, a moral person in Beowulf is one who bravely and courageously fights evil for the sake of his people (and others) and for fame, someone who strives to be strong and is loyal to his leaders/followers; increasingly, over time, this morality also began to include a faith in God's help to win battles against evil.

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