THE HEROIC NOTE OF THE ANGLO-SAXONS
English philology IIIyear
The greatest Old English poem, ‘Beowulf’, is a story over 3000 lines. It gives
a picture of the culture and society of the heroic age of the Germanic peoples.
This poem is a good example of the combination of heroic idealism and the
fatalism which seems to have been part of the Germanic temper. This fatalism
results from the hardships of their life, combined with the fact that they did not
believe in an afterlife, at least not in the Christian sense. Beowulf is a hero in his
own right, an example of individual heroic virtue and generosity. His character
and actions are hold as a model of aristocratic virtue for all.
In ‘Beowulf’ there is a great courtesy with which men of rank, i.e. warriors
and kings, are received. Beowulf is a warrior. He is a youthful who has nothing
to loose and fights for personal glory, while Hrothgar as a king is responsible for
his people. But also Beowulf is loyal to his king. So he is rewarded for his
service with gifts and praise. So later he becomes a wise leader of his tribes.
That was the tradition- kings used to be great warriors in their youth.
As a warrior, and later as a king, Beowulf should fight with monsters. The
monsters in ‘Beowulf’ are an alien presence and society should get rid of them
in order to be in safety. The monsters are not part of any society. On the contrary
they are outsiders. They are not part of the real. Grendel’s and his mother’s
infringement upon human society forces Beowulf to kill them to restore the
peace. To many readers and to me, the three monsters that Beowulf kills all
seem to have a symbolic or allegorical meaning. For instance, since Grendel is
taken from the biblical figure Cain, who killed his own brother, Grendel has
often been understood to represent the evil in Scandinavian society of slaying
others. A traditional figure of medieval folklore and a Christian symbol of sin,
the dragon may represent a malice that must be fought to prove a hero’s power.
Because Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon ends in mutual destruction, the
dragon may also be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the inevitable
encounter with death itself. All these battles show and prove Beowulf’s bravery
in the battles and his fidelity to the king. All his deeds establish his reputation as
The poem depict Beowulf from two points of view. In the first part of the
poem Beowulf is a youthful. He fights with Grendel and wounds him mortally.
But Grendel’s mother comes to take revenge for the death of his son. Beowulf
follows her to her underwater den and slays her after a desperate struggle.
Beowulf and his companions the leave for home with honours and presents from
the Danish king who is thankful that his society will no longer be bothered
by the two monsters. The second part of the work deals with what happens fifty
years later. Beowulf has now long been the king, and as an old man he has to
defend his people from the dragon who attempt to destroy the country. He fights
the dragon with his warriors, and though he succeeds in killing it he is himself
mortally wounded. The aim of this two layer construction is to show that
Beowulf is a soldier that is a real hero who is loyal to his king and later to his
people. Time cannot change the souls of true and devoted warriors. It only
makes them more respectable in the eyes of the others. Beowulf possesses the
generosity of a ruler who rewards with presents the courage of his men. Even
dead he will be remembered as a great warrior. Then it was a tradition to
preserve the memory of the dead by saying that they are son of somebody. It is
also important to note that there is a sense of the shortness of life and of the
passing of all things, except for the fame which a man leaves behind and
through which he might gain some sort of immortality among the living. The
legacy that Beowulf leaves may give models for behaviour but that is not
enough. If we want to resemble our ancestors we have to establish our reputation
as loyal and strong people. We should show hospitality and hospitality.
Beowulf is to be remembered as a great hero because he was loyal and
proved to an honourable person who defends his people. He restored the peace