Beowulf- Culture of Anglo-Saxon
Beowulf is the beloved character of the most well known Anglo-Saxon literature. The story “Beowulf” is his tale of heroic feats and epic battles. Throughout the story the essentials of Anglo-Saxon culture, bravery, friendship, generosity and loyalty are displayed each is important to the Anglo-Saxon lifestyle. Since they lived in tight communities that often had to fend off invaders , friendship and loyalty were crucial to survival. Not only those but bravery to fight such attackers and generosity to help your fellow warrior out. These elements impacted Anglo-Saxon life and created their legendary stories today.
The Anglo-Saxons a culture best described in their literature as brave, loyal, generous and friendly.
The Anglo-Saxons governing system was built on the fundamental of Loyalty. It shaped the very tribal culture in which they lived. Without Loyalty the whole system would have crashed.
Loyalty as defined by the dictionary
“the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.
2. faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause,etc.
3. an example or instance of faithfulness, adherence, or the like: a man with fierce loyalties.”
The Anglo-Saxon’s valued loyalty as dearly as their lives. According to Micheal Delahoyde,
“The sense of identity came from the warrior community.” (Delahoyde)
Loyalty held a community together and bound them even across the seas.
Betrayal was rare and often met with a bad end. In the story Beowulf, the Geats loyalty to the Danes is shown through Beowulf’s answer to Hrothgar’s pleas of help: Beowulf “Heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king would sail across the sea to Hrothgar”
(Beowulf 112-115) It was Beowulf’s loyalty to the Danes that brought him to Hrothgar to defeat Grendel.
Grendel, a creature of hideous disposition had been pillaging and killing Hrothgar’s people, and as a result the very unity of the Danes was threatened. Unity being apart of loyalty and a foundation of Anglo-Saxon culture. Beowulf being loyal to an alliance his uncle had made with Hrothgar, sailed the seas to write his story: “ “ When we crossed the sea, my comrades and I , I already knew that all my purpose was to this: win the good will of your people of die in battle, pressed in Grendel’s fierce grip. Let me live in greatness and courage, or here in this hall welcome my death!””(Beowulf 364-369)
His act of loyalty was one of the leading cultural elements of both their lives and tales. Loyalty was what kept a community together.
In the Anglo-Saxon culture Loyalty was the unifying factor for the tribal communities,
“After Hrothgar became king he won many battles: his friends and family willingly obeyed him;
his childhood friends became famous soldiers.” (David Breedan) However, loyalty is seen on both sides. Grendel, the villain of this tale and his mother were loyal to each other as family is. After her son is killed, Grendel’s mother brought her wrath upon Hrothgar’s people, “Grendel’s monstrous mother, in grief for her son, next attacks Herot, and in her dripping claws she carries off one man-Hrothgar’s closet friend.” (Burton Raffel) Beowulf was called on his loyalty once again, to go and kill the monster’s mother. Which he did. For his loyalty Hrothgar was generous in his gratitude. Beowulf’s legend grew to kingly status. What better reward is there for an Anglo-Saxon warrior, but glory and honor.
Generosity is another element of Anglo-Saxon culture as reflected in Beowulf when Hrothgar promised great riches to Beowulf for saving the Danes. Living in such harsh war ridden times, a little generosity went a long way. The Anglos-Saxons believed that a king should be generous and not selfish, “The king must be a generous "ring-giver" too -- that is, he must dish out the spoils of war to his thanes rather than hoard the treasures won in tribal warfare”
Thanes were also warriors. The Anglo-Saxons were known by their friends for their generosity.
This trait not only was the mark of a good leader but also a good warrior. Generosity also showed honor among warriors like the way Hrothgar honored Beowulf just for coming to see him, “But to table, Beowulf, a banquet in your honor: let us toast your victories and talk of the future.” (Beowulf, 223-224) celebrating guests was another part of Anglo-Saxons culture of generosity which also included hospitality. One of the key elements of their success as a society.
Bravery is the next element of the Beowulf tale, it echoes the Anglo-Saxons culture and life style..
Beowulf boasted of his feats, “but fate let me find it’s heart with my sword, hack myself free; I fought that beast’s last battle left it floating lifeless in the sea.” (Beowulf, 288-291)
Boasting of grand battles and amazing feats of strength to beat a foe were common. It showed a warriors bravery and courage. There was always a fine line of whether or not a warrior was making it up or if he actually did what he told of. Often Bards and poets would go ahead of a warrior and tell their tales. That’s how most credit of the alleged doings were proved, by bard’s and witness account. That is how warriors became kings or chieftains of their tribal community through being the best warrior of his tribe, “Kings should display the heroic ideal and be known for an extraordinary and courageous feat or for success in war, all preceded by some boasting.”
(Delahoyde) In the story after Hrothgar’s older stronger brother died, he became king and proved himself. Same thing with Beowulf after he defeated Grendel and his mother, Beowulf was made king of the Geats. It’s safe to say that Beowulf’s bravery was best shown by his actions.
“ ....He leaped into the lake, would not wait for anyone’s answer” (Beowulf, 570-571)
he went against monsters with his bare hands. He was brave until the end. This reflects the ideals of Anglo-Saxon lifestyle.
Friendship, an element seen throughout this tale and in the Anglo-Saxon culture.
Friends are what made going to battle worth it. Who else would sit around the mead-hall drinking and regaling war tales if not your friends. Beowulf valued his friends. Especially at the end of his life.
Your friends were most often your strongest and most loyal warriors if you were king.
“then that brave king gave the golden necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf, gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings, and his mail shirt, and ordered him to use them well” (Beowulf 817-820)
A warrior would be put to shame if he returned without his comrades. It was better to die in battle with them or survive with them. A warrior would be ashamed to have been the only survivor of a battle. Your friends were really the ones who, after your death told your stories. “....And then twelve of the bravest Geats rode their horses around the tower,
telling their sorrow, telling stories of their dead king and his greatness, his glory.”
They did this so that, their legend may live forever on the shore of life being kissed by the sea of eternity.
Anglo-Saxon culture seeped through into their literature. Like when blood stains the perfectly white shirt of an enemy once the blade has been pulled from his chest. Their culture is what made the stories the way they are. The friendship, generosity, bravery and loyalty are what the Anglo-Saxons were and what better way to show that then in the tales they told.
Breeden, David. "Beowulf Legend." Austin Web Design Company - Austin Website Hosting - Lone
Star Internet. 5 Mar. 1999. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <http://www.lone-star.net/literature/beowulf/beowulf.html>.
Delahoyde, Michael. "Anglo-Saxon Culture." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. 2002. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. <http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/medieval/anglo-saxon.html>.
Raffel, Burton, trans. "Songs of Ancient Heroes." Elements of Literature. Austin [Tex.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2000. 21-46. Web.
"Loyalty | Define Loyalty at Dictionary.com." Dictionary.com | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011., 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2011. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Loyalty>.