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Essential Quotes by Theme: Honor

Essential Passage 1: Chapter XXI

Beowulf, son Ecgtheow, spoke: “Do not lament, wise sire! It seems better that each man avenge his friends than to mourn them to no end. Each of us must await the end of his path in this world, and he who can, should achieve renown before death! That is the best memorial when life is past and a warrior's days are recounted."

Summary

Beowulf has successfully vanquished the monster Grendel. However, on the heels of this victory comes an attack by Grendel’s mother, bent on vengeance for the death of her son. Hrothgar, beginning to show his age, is feeling overwhelmed by this new challenge. The death and damage that Grendel inflicted on Heorot have drained the courage and purpose from his heart. Yet Beowulf steps in—reprimanding and encouraging—to say that this challenge is not beyond Hrothgar's depleted strength. A man’s life does not find fulfillment in rest, but in glory. Glory is achieved by meeting the trials and tribulations that life hands a man. Warning has been given of allowing a death to go unavenged, and this dishonor cannot fall on Hrothgar. His legacy to his people is the honor with which he meets such challenges, not his ability to avoid them.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter XXII

The life of the son of Ecgtheow, prince of the Geats, would have ended there underneath the wide earth if his armor of war, hard net of battle, had not aided him; and the Holy God, wisest Maker, wielded the victory. The heavenly Ruler championed his cause, and he soon stood on his feet again.

Summary

Beowulf has entered the cavern where Grendel’s body lies, guarded by his equally monstrous mother. Beowulf, in vengeance for the attack on Heorot and the death of Hrothgar’s most trusted advisor, must vanquish this new monster, though she herself is justified in her mind for avenging the death of her son. In the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf fights valiantly but not without challenge. The monster has hit him hard with her knife, but the blow is deflected by his mail shirt. The battle gear that he has brought with him, swimming down through the watery depths to Grendel’s cavern, was worth the effort. Yet it is not armor alone that has saved him, Beowulf acknowledges. It is the grace and mercy of God that has aided the warrior and his armor to turn back the attack.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter XXV

“Drive such evil thoughts from you, dear Beowulf, most excellent youth! Choose for yourself a better course of eternal profit, and do not tend toward arrogance, famed warrior! Your might is in bloom for only a while, but before long sickness or sword shall diminish your strength, either by the fire's fangs or the waves of a flood; by the bite of a blade or a wielded spear; by age or by the darkening of your eyes' clear beam. Death will suddenly take even you, oh hero of war!"

Summary

With the aid of a seemingly magic sword, Beowulf has defeated Grendel’s mother and returned to Heorot. Feeling great relief and gratitude that life can return to normal, Hrothgar commands that Heorot be repaired and that another feast be held—one where songs are sung, victories are remembered, and shame is recalled. The place of honor is enhanced by the proclamation that Beowulf is now numbered among Hrothgar’s heirs. This adoption into the Danes is his reward for saving the Danes. At the feast, the ruler praises Beowulf but also gives him warning: the quickest way to lose the honor one has earned is to succumb to pride. Humility is the better part of honor, and it is essential to recognize that life is brief and may quickly come to the end. If death comes not in battle, it will inevitably come through illness or age.

Analysis of Essential Passages

In Beowulf's world, honor is the highest goal. To have lived one’s life in virtue, faith, and trustworthiness is the legacy one leaves behind for posterity. For each station in life, these traits are lived out in different ways. For the warrior, honor is displayed in battle....

(The entire section is 1,280 words.)