Beowulf is an ancient heroic poem written approximately between 700 and 1000 A.D. It was the first great work of England’s national literature. It was influenced by Anglo-Saxon dogmas and written anonymously. The main character in this poem is, indeed, Beowulf for whom the epic is titled. Three core canons of Anglo-Saxon life molded the story of this hero: identity, religion and loyalty.
Identity is the first central theme of Anglo-Saxon life inscribed in Beowulf. Identity is far from just a name or origin, it is the soul motivation for heroism in this ancient culture. Ancestry is of the utmost importance in Old English society. "In his far-off home Beowulf, Higlac’s Follower and the strongest of the Geats—greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world—" (lines 109-111) is an example of the individuality of Beowulf. He is distinguished by his origin and his relationships. Kinship is very essential to this society and Beowulf’s tie to Hrothgar shows a characteristic of identification of a loyal and courageous hero.
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Religion is another extremely vital ingredient to Anglo-Saxon life. The battle between god and wickedness is shown through every scenario. They believed in Thunor, god of weather, and other powerful gods such as Odin and dragons. Their religion revolved around ethics and virtues. They saw the battle of Beowulf and Grendel, the monster of the land, as a battle of good over evil. Others view it as Christ versus sin and Hell. There are several biblical references in the text of this poem including: "Of Cain, murderous creatures banished By God, punished forever for the crime of Abel’s death" (lines 21-23). This quote refers to Grendel and his representation of sin. Many evil spirits and heathens also exist in the novel. It proves the false hope and defeat they bring. "Hoping for Hell’s Support, the Devil’s guidance in driving their affliction off" (lines 91-93) is an example of turning to the dark side for an easy outlet. This resulted in no gain and only in the arrival of Beowulf.
The final element in both Anglo-Saxon life and Beowulf’s theme is loyalty, or sometimes the lack thereof. Beowulf was loyal to his fellow man Hrothgar by coming to his aid without Hrothgar’s summoning him. He arrives to assist another in time of need. His allegiance gains him much triumph and reward. Beowulf’s fellow knights, however, were less loyal; all but one, Wiglaf, deserted him in his darkest hour. They are described as cowardly and disloyal. Wiglaf’s devotion was "remembering as a good man must, what kinship should mean" (lines 750-751). Without fidelity, in Anglo-Saxon civilization, a man had nothing. He had no pride or identity. All he had was shame.
Identity, Religion and Loyalty are the three dogmas discussed above. These three ingredients for the Anglo-Saxon stew are most evidently shown in Beowulf. Each one without the others is an incomplete recipe that tastes sour to one’s life. This heroic tale neatly mixes and blends these beliefs into a sweet yet filling delectable morsel of life.
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