Beowulf as a representation of Anglo-Saxon Society

Topics: Books

Telling stories, it is something that everyone can love and enjoy. This has been true for thousands of years. People would tell stories for different reasons such as to pass down traditions, legends, and knowledge to the next generations to represent the different cultures. One famous story in particular is the Epic poem of a young hero named Beowulf that was told in the Anglo Saxon society thousands of years ago.

In the Anglo-Saxon culture, the epic poem “Beowulf” was a staple in the society, but by analyzing contents of this poem and Anglo-Saxon cultural values, it can be explained exactly why his story is used as a representation of culture.

In order to begin, the story and characters of Beowulf must be analyzed. Beowulf, he was a great man of honor and with a pure heart. Like any brave person, Beowulf wanted to be known. Beowulf wanted to become famous for a great act of valor and courage that he would be able to do.

When the chance arose to become famed he took it.

He heard of a great beast that had been tormenting the Danes people for years and he was asked to defeat it. (Grummet, 50) As a great monster, Beowulf knew that defeating it would bring him great fortune by saving the people that were being tormented. Cheeps, peg) As a great and valiant warrior, Beowulf also believed in fair fights. Knowing that Greened would be fighting unarmed, Beowulf wanted a give him a fair fight. He believed that nobody should have the upper hand.

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Beowulf showed that he wanted to be fair to everyone, including his enemies. (Cheeps, peg. ) This did not only show fairness but it represented his courage because he knew well that the same monster that he was going to fight, single handedly and without armor or weapons, had killed hundreds before him. Beowulf s courage was immense he was not scared to do anything. He ought a great monster that had been able to kill hundreds of men, but Beowulf still stood strong. Even in his last battle, all odds stacked against him, Beowulf still had the courage to fight a dragon because he had the courage to do so even when all his men had left him to stand alone. Grummet, 1493) Beowulf had the courage to put his life on the line to save others. In a way of seeing this in a Man vs. Wild situation, Beowulf is a human filled with good while his foe, Greened, was the evil nature. (Chirurgic, 3) They are complete opposites because Beowulf is a great man with only good intentions hill his enemy is the great evil and the bane of all man and all that is good. (Duane, 1) Beowulf pureness is shown in this battle by removing all forms of protection, his armor and weapons, to fight the wild evil.

By defeating Greened, Beowulf shows that humans are capable of defeating all forms of evil without the need of external protection. (Chirurgic, 4) The only thing that is needed is pure intentions and man can overcome anything. Beowulf also had a great belief In pure fate. (Grummet, 1658) When Beowulf went out to fight the various enemies in his life time, he believed that he outcome was already decided and he could not change what the god wanted. (Duane, 2) In the same way, Beowulf believed that god was also protecting him and helping him.

If god decided that it was Beowulf s time to die, then so be it. (Grummet,1651) A way that Beowulf shows this belief in fate is when he fought Grenade’s mother in her cave. Just when all seemed lost, Beowulf found a giants great sword on a wall. (Duane, 2) For Beowulf, it was a gift and a sign that god was watching over and taking care of him. Using the sword, he killed Grenade’s mother because fate wanted it that way. Even n his end, Beowulf knew that he could not control the outcome of fate. (Duane, 2) As he fought the dragon he knew he would die. Everything was just out of his hands.

Out of all that was Beowulf, one of his greatest heroic traits was his strength. Beowulf was known as the strongest man in the world. (Grummet, 694) That is one great reason that he was able to be the hero he was. (Cheeps, 1) In no way would he have been able to take on Greened and his mother and won without his strength. As shown in the poem, Beowulf was able to take on and kill Greened without Weapons or armor when hundreds Of other men had already fallen to the beast. ( Murphy, 4) Another example is how Beowulf was capable of swimming for a full day straight to the bottom of the lake where Grenade’s mother lived. Murphy, 2) Inside the cave his strength saved him when he lifted the giant’s great sword so heavy that no normal mortal human could carry. (Murphy 2) All of the previous traits made Beowulf a great and powerful hero that lived on to become immortal. When moving on to the enemies of the poem, the first that comes up is the infamous Greened. When looking at Greened, it is said that he is a wild monster with no honor or wealth. Greened was evil In all aspects. The “sin stained demon… Was a vile creature and a decedent of Cain. ” (Grummet, lines 84-85) Greened was a monster who was detached from god in all ways.

Since Greened is a descendant of Cain, he cannot feel the love of god or other people. It is because of this reason that Greened hates every person his eyes fall on. This hatred leads to anger and evil. “Bearing Gods hatred/ Greened came hoping to kill”(Grummet, 393-394) Greened is also a coward. Like a bully, Greened picked on people and murdered them. He had no love and no honor. When Beowulf stood up to the evil, Greened was scared and “his mind was flooded with fear… ” (Grummet, 435) When he knew that he had met his match, Greened tried to run away. Grenade’s mother was the second monster to appear and fight Beowulf.

When Grenade’s mother heard of her son’s death, she wanted to avenge his death Beowulf decided to fight and kill her since she was also a decedent of Cain. Since she was a woman, Beowulf did not think she would be as strong as Greened himself. (Chirurgic, 2) That proved to be wrong due to the fact that she almost killed Beowulf and he was forced to use a paean compared to the fight with Greened, where he used nothing at all. Despite being stronger than her son, she too fell at the hand of Beowulf. (Crutch, 3) The final monster that Beowulf faced was the dragon.

This battle took place 40 years after the fight with Greened and Beowulf is now an old man. The importance of the dragon is to show that even though Beowulf was a great hero he could and was defeated in the end by the dragon. (Gunsmith, 3) Also, the battle with the dragon reveals that Beowulf is still strong and has morals and courage to stand up to the dragon even though he knows that he will die. The dragon is eventually defeated but at the cost of Beowulf life. At this point, analysis will shift to the Anglo-Saxon society, beginning with their social classes. Anglo-Saxon social classes were divided into four tiers. Blair, 1) At the very top was the king or lord. The king lived in estates with a large hall in the middle that was surrounded by other buildings. Inside the hall there would be lavish feasts that the kings followers would dine in. The lord was anticipated to be generous to his people and also be the war leader. The king was expected to bring glory and plunder to his “kingdom” and followers. Lambert, 1) Overall, the king Was seen as a great man and a symbol of power. Under the king was the upper class, known as the thanes, and the lower class, known as the churls.

The division in the two classes was strictly based on land ownership. (Blair 1) A man can only be a thane if he owns 5 hides of land, approximately 600 acres. ( Marino, 2) That said, a Churl can actually be wealthier than a thane in terms of money but still a lower class that him due to the lack of land. The bottom class in the Anglo-Saxon life is being a slave. (Blair,l) Long ago, the Anglo-Saxon feudal system was not organized by any means. Marino, 2) As long as a person was rich and had plenty followers, he was a king. During that time there were kings everywhere and not much of a system was put in place.

Within the years to follow, the British Empire influenced the culture and a new and much more efficient system was made. (Marino,2) This system was the more popular medieval system. Land was more organized and closer communities were made. Many older kingdoms were absorbed and there came to be less and less kings. (Marino,2) Not only did the feudal system evolve but the religion did too. In the early Anglo-Saxon society, the religion was all Pagan. Ross, 1) In the pagan religion people worshiped many gods. In this religion, the goal was not too look to the gods for spiritual purposes but worshipping them was a way of ensuring success.

For example some people would pray to a particular god in order to be victorious in battle or have a successful harvest. (Ross, 1) These gods are believed to be the same gods that the Vikings worshiped. (Ross,1) As time passed British influence came to pass and Christianity started to spread and take over the Anglo-Saxon religion. When it came to getting into and solving conflicts, the Anglo-Saxons nearly did not have a peaceful approach to solving them. Kings were usually war leaders which would leave historians to believing that they fought a lot and they were proud of strength and what one could achieve through war and battle.

In this society the greatest achievement any warrior could dream of would have been becoming immortal throughout time. (Lambert, 2) This was achieved by doing great deeds and being the hero of battles. Law in Anglo-Saxon culture was also not so peaceful either. One big belief in the society was the law of revenge. (Marino,l ) If someone would be killed in society, it was expected that a relative or a close friend would avenge that death and that death would also be avenged and so on. This was expected to go in a cycle until there was nobody left to take out the revenge.

This was perfectly legal and fair game. Besides having to kill each other in order to avenge ones death, the church introduced a system where a person could pay a fee to repay that family for the death of their family member. (Lambert, 1) This was very similar to Germanic law in that people have a price. If you kill a Churl you would have to pay less to the family compared to killing thane which was more expensive. (Lambert, 1) When comparing the Epic Poem and the life and beliefs Of Anglo-Saxons it is seen why the story is held in such a high regard and why it represents the culture.

The first comparison can be seen through the religious standpoint. Beowulf had a great deal of faith that god would protect him. This goes back to the belief in Paganism where the point in worshipping the gods was to ensure a great success and victory. Throughout the story Beowulf believes in the fact that god brought him victory. Another religious point in the poem is here it is stated that Greened is the spawn of Cain. This point is from a Christian belief because the story of Cain and Able is from the bible. Greened cannot have love from god because of the evil and sin in his soul.

Knowing this, it can be said that this poem was written at the time when the Anglo- Saxons were in the midpoint of converting to Christianity. (Blair, 1) Another concept that makes this story a representation of the culture is the concept of revenge. It was well known that when a person was killed, a family relative can take revenge until there is no one left to carry out the cycle. In the Poem, Beowulf successfully killed Greened and when his mother found out, she wanted to avenge her son. When she rejected the money that Beowulf offered her for the death of her son, Grenade’s mother rejected it.

In turn, she challenged Beowulf and fought him. When she died, no one else was left to avenge Grenade’s mother and the revenge cycle ended. (Murphy, 2) The biggest reason the poem was held in such high regard was because of Beowulf himself. Beowulf was a hero amongst heroes in the Anglo- Saxon society. He was the perfect role model. (Marino,3) Beowulf was a handsome prince with plenty fealty. In social classes having wealth and land was everything. Beowulf was also very strong and COLI rages, both very admirable qualities that were desired by Anglo-Saxons.

In Anglo-Saxon society, a warriors dream was to become immortal after their death and that was achieved through great deeds. (Ross, 1) Beowulf also had that hunger form fame. In the beginning of the poem, he decided to fight Greened and ask for nothing in return because he knew that the fame from it would be enough. Not only does he represent the desires of Anglo-Saxons, but he actually became immortal through fame because of the poem itself. Schleps, 2) An ideal hero for Anglo-Saxon culture had to be a man with excellent leadership qualities and had the ability to make other people have a great sense of security from him.

That is why Anglo-Saxon heroes were usually kings or thanes because of the fact that they were capable of being distinguished from others by doing great deeds. Beowulf is this kind of hero because he did many great deeds for others and did not ask for anything in return. He excelled to greatness up to the point where he actually became a king. People felt safe around him. Beowulf knew that and he did his best to aka sure he did not let his people down. Up until the end, Beowulf stood strong full of courage, against the dragon so he can protect his people.

That battle and his death marked him as a legend. Beowulf achieved immortality through greatness and his courage. (Duane,3) Anglo-Saxons admired the accomplishments that Beowulf was able to achieve and that made him the role model in that society. When the Anglo Saxons look at the story of Beowulf, they see a story about a great hero that they want to be. That hero lived in their culture and he believed in the same things that they did. The Anglo-Saxons story of Beowulf is capable of representing them because it is what they wanted to be.

The story is what they believed in. This story is an accurate representation of the culture and that is why it will also remain a staple in the society for years to come.

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Beowulf as a representation of Anglo-Saxon Society. (2018, Apr 05). Retrieved from

Beowulf as a representation of Anglo-Saxon Society
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