Why does boasting seem to be so important in culture of Beowulf?

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Boasting is an important element of most forms of oral epic. It often occurs in agonistic situations in which characters use boasting as a form of competition. In some cases this form of competitive boasting serves as an alternative to fighting and sometimes it functions as a prelude to fighting.

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Boasting is an important element of most forms of oral epic. It often occurs in agonistic situations in which characters use boasting as a form of competition. In some cases this form of competitive boasting serves as an alternative to fighting and sometimes it functions as a prelude to fighting.

The main reason that it is important has to do with a combination of religious and cultural beliefs. Although there are some Christian elements in Beowulf, the main substrate is pagan, and rather than focusing on an afterlife of the soul, the poem assumes that a warrior lives on mainly as his deeds are recounted by bards. Posterity, in a sense, functions as an afterlife. This brings glory not only to the warrior himself but also to his family. Thus boasting is a way of perpetuating one's deeds.

Also, as recording technology did not exist, and Beowulf could not share videos or photos on social media, boasting-- like the social media posts of the twenty-first century-- serves as a way to share an account of important moments with other people.

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The previous educator answer gives an excellent overview of the role played by boasting in Anglo-Saxon and Norse societies. The so-called heroic boast is, in Anglo-Saxon, called a "beot" or "gilp," and the words did not carry the negative connotations that are attached to "boast" in Modern English. Rather, the heroic boast represented a sort of performative cultural obligation. A warrior would deliver his "boast" either to recount the deeds he had performed or to declare which new deeds he intended to perform, in which case he would have committed himself before his lord or king. The boast represented a promise, and also cemented a man's reputation. The boast was a means of justifying one's place in a society.

The heroic ethos was extremely important to the Anglo-Saxons, and we can see from the corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry that the idea of being exiled from that society was a significant fear. And yet, "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer" both depict exiles and demonstrate how easy it could be to become one. An Anglo-Saxon warrior was expected to die with his lord: to survive one's lord in battle was extremely dishonorable. The heroic boast was a means of inspiring others to perform heroic deeds, but also served to remind the gathered company what was expected of them. A heroic boast set an example for others to follow.

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The concept of boasting in the world of Beowulf does not really carry the negative connotations that it generally does today. Rather, it is seen to perform an important function in a warrior society such as that of Beowulf, where manly valour was so highly prized, and indeed quite necessary in a world full of constant feuds and battles. By talking up his achievements in battle and other feats, a warrior could make a strong impression, he could let his strengths be known, and cement his reputation.  The strong storytelling element involved also fitted in naturally into the oral culture of this society as a whole; there were no written records of a warrior’s deeds, nor of anything else. Boasting was a formal activity in this society, therefore, and certainly was not meant to be empty brag. On the contrary, a warrior would be fully expected to live up to his own claims, to bear out the reputation for strength and valour that he would establish through his boasting.

 In effect, boasting was a kind of career resume for warriors in this society. This is very much relevant to the career of Beowulf, the central hero of the poem. When first he comes to Hrothgar’s aid against Grendel, he offers to fight the monster all by himself and cites his own past feats of valour and strength as illustration of his fitness for such a task. He goes on to prove his bravery through his actions in defeating Grendel and ultimately when he loses his life in fighting the dragon; his words are fully borne out by his actions.

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