Anglo Saxon Values in Beowulf

Subject: Literature
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Word count: 1156
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The Swedish and Germanic tribes, Anglo-Saxons, originated from Sweden for the Angles and Germany for the Saxons and settled after conquering Eastern, Central, and Southern Britain. The cultural group settled in tribes and tightly knit villages loyal to their leaders and antagonistic to each other. This loyalty and rivalry among villages and tribes raised constant war (Nediceyuva, 2015). However, some highly esteemed heroic values, such as loyalty, bravery, honor, and sacrifice in duty, surfaced and identified this cultural group (Blair, 2018). “Beowulf” is an English poem with the closest link to the Anglo-Saxons, as evident through the central character Beowulf. In the anonymously authored poem, the heroic protagonist loyally and bravely sacrifices himself while on duty which earns him honor from his leaders and people, epitomizing the fundamental Anglo-Saxon values.

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Loyalty

The poem “Beowulf” conspicuously mirrors the Anglo-Saxons’ characteristic of highly esteeming loyalty. This mirroring is through the character Beowulf the Geat, who epitomizes loyalty throughout the poem. After his father mends the feud between the Danes and Geats, Beowulf offers to help King Hrothgar fight Grendel, the demon that terrorized the Danes for twelve years (Risden, 2016, Lines 370-375). Beowulf’s loyalty to king Hrothgar drove him to counter a monstrous creature since the Geats and Danes were friends. The second rising of a monster, Grendel’s mother, against the Danes made the king seek Beowulf’s help again (Risden, 2016, Lines 1875-1885). Beowulf demonstrates loyalty to his father’s friend, King Hrothgar, by helping the Danes again. He embodies the Anglo-Saxon value of loyalty, which tightly packed the people together in unity.

Further, after his heroic victory in Danish, he travels back to Geatland and offers rewards to King Hygelac and queen Hydg as a sign of loyalty. After King Hygelac of Geatland dies, Beowulf’s heroism makes the queen offer him the throne since the prince was young (Risden, 2016, Lines 2010-2015). Since taking the throne would disrupt the succession, Beowulf, in the loyalty of the late king, rejects the throne but promises to hold the kingship baton for the prince until he becomes of age. Although he rejects the throne, the prince later dies, and Beowulf receives the throne. In Beowulf’s kingship, a dragon terrorizes Geatland, but Beowulf fights it to death. These acts demonstrate loyalty to his people, a highly valued Anglo-Saxon value.

Loyalty was a valued trait of heroes that fueled their drive to protect their people, raising leaders among the Anglo-Saxons like Beowulf in the poem. This code is one of the Anglo-Saxons’ cultural features, as it was necessary for their survival among the antagonistic villages and tribes (Nediceyuva, 2015). The leaders and warriors were loyal to each other and their people, as shown in Beowulf’s case. With that understanding, loyalty remains a key value among the Anglo-Saxons, as evident in the poem through the character Beowulf.

Bravery

Loyalty and bravery go hand in hand among the Anglo-Saxons, as evident in the poem “Beowulf.” The war nature of the Anglo-Saxons’ lives demanded brave warriors that fought for their tribes and villages to protect them (Douděra, 2016). Similarly, the character Beowulf and his men demonstrated bravery that warriors in the Anglo-Saxon villages similarly admired. Beowulf decides not only to fight the terrorizing demon in Dane but also to fight it unarmed (Risden, 2016, Lines 350-355). This decision is Beowulf’s way of demonstrating bravery never seen before among the Danes. Beowulf further demonstrates bravery and fearlessness when he solely fights Grendel’s mother, the sea witch, whom the Danish warriors feared.

Additionally, he defeats eight sea monsters during a swimming competition, an adventure his competitors could not have survived (Risden, 2016, Lines 410-415). These deadly endeavors that Beowulf undertakes bravely make him a true warrior, demonstrating Anglo-Saxon heroic values. His loyal man, Wiglaf, also demonstrates bravery by aiding him during the dragon encounter in Geatland while the other soldiers hide. Noteworthy, the emphasis on the ferocity of the monsters throughout the poem makes the Anglo-Saxons’ value of bravery in Beowulf and Wiglaf outstanding. In a nutshell, Beowulf and Wiglaf typify bravery, an Anglo-Saxon value highly esteemed alongside loyalty.

Honor

The Anglo-Saxons were loyal and brave in protecting their people partly due to the honor of possessing these values. Like the poem, the patriarchal society that identifies heroes as sons of heroes existed among the Anglo-Saxons (Douděra, 2016). Beowulf was a hero’s son, so he had to honor his father’s heroic legacy by being a more renowned hero. To receive the honor, Beowulf poses as a more heroic warrior than his father via the victories and daring spirit he cultivates. With this fierce and heroic spirit came great honor known beyond Geatland.

For instance, Beowulf decides to offer help upon hearing that the Danes are under the torment of Grendel. The victory he brings the Danes earns him great honor from King Hrothgar and his wife. Also, king Hrothgar’s scops sing songs, like the Saga of Finn, to praise the warrior. Singing the Saga of Finn is an Anglo-Saxon cultural practice of honoring warriors and leaders like Beowulf in the poem (Risden, 2016, Lines 1005-1065). King Hygelac does an act of honor by gifting Beowulf land and treasures for his victory. Honoring bravery and loyalty was a value among the Anglo-Saxons, which many sought since it defined one’s social status. In this respect, Beowulf requests a barrow in his honor with the name “Beowulf’s Barrow” after defeating the dragon and securing the hoard of treasures from the Dragon (Risden, 2016, Lines 2360-2365). The poem “Beowulf” shows the Anglo-Saxons’ value of honor through the gifting and praising of victorious warriors like Beowulf.

Sacrifice in Duty

The Anglo-Saxons also valued sacrifices that went to the extremes of death while protecting the people. That is, warriors dying for their people in battle was a sacrifice, as Beowulf demonstrates, was a noble, heroic act the Anglo-Saxons highly valued. For instance, the king and queen of Geatland advise Beowulf not to take up the ferocious challenge of fighting the monsters in Dane. However, Beowulf takes the challenge in a sacrificial spirit and emerges victorious (Risden, 2016, Lines 1330-1335). Likewise, before going undersea to fight Grendel’s mother, Beowulf requests that the king protects his people back home if he dies in the battle. Again, this action demonstrates a sacrificial spirit in pursuit of saving the people of Dane.

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Further, as King, Beowulf opts to die despite receiving a premonition of his death on his way to fight the dragon. He sacrificially goes to war with the dragon in pursuit of protecting his people (Douděra, 2016). The Anglo-Saxons valued sacrificial death in duty and honored it more than life as “Beowulf” mirrors.

Conclusion

The old English piece of art is the historical archeology of the Anglo-Saxons representing the group’s approbated values, as shown above. Among the multiple values this cultural group esteemed, loyalty, bravery, honor, and sacrifice in duty sit at the center. “Beowulf” harbors these values richly, making it a close embodiment of the Anglo-Saxon famous values. The identity of the Anglo-Saxons of esteeming these heroic values remains a crucial point of fame while referencing them.

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  1. Blair, J. (2018). Building Anglo-Saxon England. In Building Anglo-Saxon England. Princeton University Press.
  2. Douděra, L. (2016). Free subjects: kingship,” comitatus,” and loyalty in” Beowulf” through the lens of Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology. Acta Philologica, (49), 69-77.
  3. Nediceyuva, Ş. (2015). Reconstructing the Hero: Representation of Loyalty in Late Anglo-Saxon Literature. Manisa Celal Bayar Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi13(3), 1-20.
  4. Risden, E. L. (2016). JRR Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, ed. Christopher Tolkien.
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