AngloSaxon Culture And Beowulf Essay Research Paper

Anglo-Saxon Culture And Beowulf Essay, Research Paper

It is commonly accepted that the Beowulf epic was from the Anglo-Saxon period.

It is so commonly accepted because of the strong evidence in the story. Then,

because of all of these parallels that can be drawn it is safe to say that a reader who

is unaware of Anglo-Saxon society cannot fully understand this epic. That is why I

plan to explain the basic principles of this society to better comprehend the epic at

another level.

There is obviously very little reference to women in this story. In class it

was discussed that it may be due to the little importance of women during the time

period. However, I have found that during the Anglo-Saxon period females were

not of little significance. They believed that in women there was an element of

holiness and prophecy. They even asked advice of their women. It is also true that

women were often arranged in marriage to keep peace. This may seem insulting

but isn?t it a compliment to believe that a woman can turn anger into an armistice.

It is argued that perhaps women were mostly left out of the story because the poet

chose instead to develop the meaning of male to male friendships. This is

supported by many works of the era while many of them centered around male

characters. The warriors in Beowulf did have wives and families but it is

suggested that this was insignificant to the story. The male friendships were

highly valued at the time. Beowulf was surrounded by noble warriors who would

have protected him with their lives. This sort of brotherhood is formed that is

worth more than gold.

One of the biggest debates surrounding Beowulf is that of religion. Did the

poet intend for this to be a Christian based work. While I will not be discussing

the issue in depth there is one aspect of it that had been bothering me. It is that of

the strong emphasis of revenge in the text. This makes it seem as though Beowulf

does not fit the Christian value system at all. Yet I found that the tooth for a tooth,

eye for an eye was not so literal at the time. It was strongly encouraged that

instead of avenging the death of your kin by killing the one who had committed the

crime that the killer should pay a werglid or ?manpayment?. These werglids were

based upon the deceased?s social standing. An eorl or nobleman was worth twelve

hundred shillings, a ceorl or ordinary free man was worth two hundred shillings,

and a slave whether he was killed or just damaged beyond repair was worth only

one pound. The church also declared that priests were equivalent to nobleman in

these cases and their monasteries received any compensation.

Anglo-Saxon culture placed value on public esteem. Many believe that

treasure was very important. However, to be respected and loved by everyone was

a man?s worth. Treasure seemed to be accumulated from this love and respect.

But this treasure was not meant to be hoarded. Often a gift was given away. This

helped a hero to stay well-liked. It is pointed out that in Beowulf he is buried with

his treasure. This does not mean that the people placed importance on this. They

were simply making a point that a priceless ruler had just died. The hoard could have easily been used to buy peace. It was so hard in the 7th and 9th centuries to

keep out of war that a peaceful king was the greatest wealth. Beowulf?s people

recognized this and that is why they buried his riches with him. Because they

knew that he was worth it tenfold.

All of these aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture make Beowulf a more credible

and maybe even more interesting story. It is a sort of James Bond. The hero is

placed in an existing place and precise historical context which makes it easier to

swallow. Since most people are aware of modern culture, James Bond is easily

interpreted. Just these few Anglo-Saxon facts that have been discussed can also

develop a better understanding of Beowulf.


Chickering, Howell D. Readings on Beowulf. pgs. 38-44

San Diego:Greenhaven Press, 1998

Robinson, Fred C. Readings on Beowulf. pgs. 49-54 San Diego:

Greenhaven Press, 1998


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