What values are conveyed in lines 691-696 of Beowulf, and what message do they give?

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The values of ancestral homage and bravery are the implied values in lines 691-696. The message conveyed by the lines is that heroism is achieved through death for a noble cause.

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Considered the first piece of formal English literature, Beowulf is an epic poem that recites the grisly tale of a warrior’s magnificent battle with monsters.  Central to the poem’s structure, which is divided into three parts entitled, “Grendel,” “Grendel’s Mother,” and “The Dragon,” is the theme of heroism and its ability to transcend time and cultures.  The poet, as an artist, deliberately guides the reader through the “Grendel” and “Grendel’s Mother” sections to explore the relationship of kingship and bravery.  Beowulf himself provides a brief description of the Anglo-Saxon heroic code, stating “wyrce sé þe mote / dómes aér déaþe þæt bið drihtguman, / unlifgendum æfter sélest” (1187-1189).  This is translated into, “Gain he who may / glory before death; that is for the warrior, / unloving, afterwards the best.” Here, heroism is defined as achieving honorable immortality prior to death. 

Lines 691-696 uphold these values of heroism.  Translated from the original text, these lines read as follows:

none of them thought that he thence would

 his dear home again ever visit,

 his folk or his noble citadel, where he was nurtured

for they had heard that far too many of them already

in that wine-hall slaughtering death had carried off

of the Danish people.

In this excerpt, the poem’s persona conveys the fear and sorrow many of the Geats possessed for they believed as soon as they stepped foot in the “wine-hall” and waited for Grendel, they would never reemerge.  The Geats reflect on their homes, placing an emphasis on the value of family and origin.  By using the diction of “dear,” “noble,” and “nurtured,” they convey a deep-rooted love and fidelity for their legacy and ancestry.  There is also an intrinsic value placed on courage, for the Geats are aware that many of the men who have gone before them have been killed, yet they remain steadfast in their ambition to slaughter the terror-reigning monster.

Thus, the combined values of ancestral homage and bravery convey the message of heroism, for as previously mentioned, an Anglo-Saxon hero was an individual who achieved honor and fame for dying for a noble cause.  The Geats stand in Mead Hall with the understanding that they may die at the hands of the monster, yet they want to bring honor to their family, ancestors, and themselves. 

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In the Longman Anthology of British Literature (Fourth Edition), Lines 691-696 of Beowulf read as follows:

Not one of them thought he would thence be departing

ever to set eyes on his own country,

the home that nourished him, or its noble people;

for they had heard how many men of the Danes

death had dragged from the drinking hall. 

To paraphrase these lines in simple language, the Geats (Beowulf's men) believed that once they entered the mead-hall to wait for Grendel to appear, they would never leave it again because they had heard of all of the Danish men (also known as the Scyldings) who had lost their lives to Grendel. 

The values that are present in these lines are conveyed through the way in which their land is described. By calling their homeland "the home that nourished him," and their fellow Geats "its noble people," it places their native land upon a pedestal. Therefore, the values illustrated here are the love and loyalty to one's native land above all else.

There are many different ways in which these lines can be read to glean the message that is sent by the portrayal of these values. The "message" depends very heavily on how a given reader interprets it. For example, it can be inferred that because these lines do not make any mention of the warriors' individual mates or families,  the "noble people" of the "land that nourished them" are so deeply important that they are, in effect, the warriors' family. This is, however, only one way of interpreting these lines. Again, these lines may mean something different to any given reader, and it is important to learn to think critically about works and interpret them the way that you, the reader, see fit. To aid with this, I am attaching a link to our Beowulf reference page, which has a wealth of information that may aid in the reading and interpretation of this work. 

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