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Germanic Culture Preserved in Beowulf

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Essay title: Germanic Culture Preserved in Beowulf

Germanic Culture Preserved in Beowulf

Many differences can be found between early Germanic culture and our culture today. Beowulf,the story of the triumphs of a great warrior over near impossible feats, takes place in Scandanavia during the 450s. In this tale, the war obsessed men exhibit values important to the early Germanic culture. Recording such an epic tale not only immortalizes the hero of the poem, but in turn also makes certain that these Scandanavian ways of life will never be forgotten. Their morals, while on the surface seem wrong compared to those found in society today, make sense to them because of the unwritten rules they have set up. The differences in these cultures make it difficult for people today to find interest in the values found in early Germanic times. Including Germanic values of courage, loyalty, and revenge in the story of Beowulf both teaches and preserves the early Germanic culture for future generations to learn from.

An important aspect of life for the people in the poem, courage, made clear by the heroic deeds of Beowulf and later, Wiglaf, as well as the contrasting Unferth. Often looked at as a savior of the kingdom of Hrothgar, Beowulf represents the highest level of valor as a result of his accomplishments. Making the character so loved by the people he has saved shows the impact that courageousness has on the people of this time period. When facing his various challenges, where cowardly men would crack under pressure, he succeeds by summoning up the courage to continue, despite the odds that go against him. Later, the earl Wiglaf exhibits the same level of bravery as Beowulf once did, saving his king from the mighty dragon. Unlike the other men who refuse to help in the matter, Beowulf makes sure that rewards of fame, fortune, a promotion in rank, and the verbal trophy of becoming immortalized through story present themselves to Wiglaf. Just as the inclusion of courage in the repertoire of a warrior has a great positive effect on a man, the absence of courage, represented by Unferth, shows to have just as powerful a negative reaction. Unferth, described as a man who

“would not allow. . .any other man of middle-earth. . .(to) ever achieve more glory under the heavens than himself” (10).

This jealousy of the courage Beowulf possesses makes him unable to achieve his level of greatness. The fact that does not posses the ability to save his kingdom himself makes him look weak, and this implies that a lack of courage means a lack of dignity and respect. Courage plays such a major role in this culture that it can make or break a reputation, resulting in drastic effects on the fame and fortune that a man recieves.

Another significant value belonging to this culture, loyalty between thanes and kings, appears numerous times, displayed by Beowulf, Hrothgar, Wiglaf, and other characters. Words spoken by Wiglaf:

“Let us go to him [Beowulf], help our war-chief while the grim terrible fire persists. God knows of me that I should rather that the flame enfold my body with my gold-giver.” (46),

sum up the relationship between a thane and a king. This sacred bond sees kings assuming the tasks necessary to making their thanes happy, and the thanes please their kings as well. When Beowulf returns to his home, both he and the king, Hygelac, present one another with gifts: Beowulf, with the treasures awarded to him in his previous conquests, and Hygelac, who gives to Beowulf a priceless necklace, three horses, treasure, and land. These gifts solidify the bond between the thane and his king, but the relationship goes far beyond these tangible treasures. For this sense of loyalty to exist and promote itself to a higher level, both men must trust one another with their lives, as well as treat each other with utmost respect. While Beowulf goes off to fight the dragon by himself, Wiglaf knows when to rush to the aid of his king. In the face of death, Wiglaf draws up the courage to help his king mainly because of this firm connection between these characters. Without bonds, molecules can not stay together, and similarly, without the bond between thanes and kings formed by loyalty, a kingdom will fall apart.

Throughout the story, the text brings out the value of revenge through Grendel's mother avenging her son, the tale of Herebeald and Haetheyn told by Beowulf, and the effects that death has on other characters. Revenge can be a way people in this

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