Analysis Of Beowulf As A Hero Of Anglo-Saxon Culture, And Heroes In Contemporary American Culture

In Anglo-Saxon times a hero can more often than not be described as a loyal warrior willing to sacrifice his life for his kingdom. Since Anglo-Saxons lived in tight communities of various sizes, they often had to battle warriors from other communities. Strength and willingness to sacrifice were two key elements to survival. But the most crucial were bravery to fight such attackers, loyalty to protect the people in which they lived among, and help their fellow warriors. These elements impacted Anglo-Saxon life and created a moral code on which modern communities are formed on. Beowulf embodies the ideals of conduct in Anglo-Saxon culture because he had immense strength, was willing to sacrifice for his own life for the greater good, had bravery like no other, and most importantly was loyal to the people of his kingdom. Some of these heroic qualities can still partially define heroes in contemporary American culture.

Going hand in hand with strength bravery is a key component in being an Anglo-Saxon warrior. Why have immense strength if you are not brave? Beowulf and Unferth showed the importance of strength and bravery being paired. The reader can see Beowulf’s be bravery throughout the story in his many battles. Along with the reader, Beowulf is seen as brave by the people. Unferth however may be strong, but many of the tribe members do not see him as the brave type. When Unferth speaks about Beowulf dishonorably, he is reminded that he has not done anything courageous, so he should not speak badly about others, especially Beowulf. 'The fact is, Unferth, if you were truly as keen and courageous as you claim to be Grendel would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king, havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere. ' Strength was very helpful in battle, especially if someone was brave enough to fight huge ugly monsters. Physical strength could be the factor that saves or kills a warrior in battle, for Beowulf it saved him. “As a signal to all the hero hung up the hand, the arm, and torn–off shoulder, the entire limb, Grendel’s whole grip, below the gable of the roof”. When Beowulf was fighting Grendel he used his strength to rip off Grendel’s arm weakening him so much it is what helped Beowulf win the battle.

Sacrifice is high up on the list of qualities to describe a hero in Anglo-Saxon tribes. Dying to save your people was one of the most noble things a warrior could do. Some warriors fight to pay debts off to the king and dying while in battle might be the only way to ever pay it off without another family member taking on that debt. Most people do not wish to die for someone, but many are willing to do anything even die for someone they love or to save a whole community. Beowulf did just that. A thief had snuck into the dragon’s den and stolen his jeweled cup, enraged the dragon started attacking to town sending Beowulf to his last fight. While fighting off the dragon Beowulf gets bit, continuing to fight he slays the dragon, but later dies himself. “…began to burn and swell; he swiftly felt the bane beginning to boil in his chest, the poison within him. ” Before Beowulf dies he tells Wiglaf, a fellow warrior, to get the treasure form behind a stone. Beowulf wanted to leave something for his people so they would know he died fighting for them and not for selfish reasons.

The governing system to Anglo-Saxons was built on the fundamental ideal of loyalty. Loyalty shaped the Anglo-Saxon tribal culture and conducts in which they lived by. Without it, the whole governmental system would have fallen apart. Anglo-Saxon’s valued loyalty as an equal to their lives. Loyalty held the community together and bound them even across the seas, and after death. Betrayal was rarely seen in these communities, but when it was, it often had bad ending. 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. ” Beowulf’s loyalty towards the Danes brought him closer to Hrothgar so he could then defeat Grendel, a hideous creature that had been killing Hrothgar’s people. 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”. Being loyal to an alliance his uncle had made with Hrothgar, Beowulf then 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’s pursuit of loyalty was one of the leading cultural elements to the Anglo-Saxons, and it is part of what kept these communities together. However, loyalty can be seen on both the protagonist sides and the antagonist sides of this tale. Grendel, the antagonist, and his mother were loyal to each other as family is. Furious with the death of her son, Grendel’s mother sought blood vengeance upon Hrothgar’s people. This once again led Beowulf to be called on his loyalty, to go fight and kill the monster’s mother. Beowulf fought hard to prove his loyalty, and in return Hrothgar was very generous in his appreciation towards Beowulf growing his legend to a kingly status. What better reward is there for an Anglo-Saxon warrior, but glory and honor? None. Beowulf had achieved one of the highest rewards there could be, proving how far he would go to stay loyal to Hrothgar and his people.

In contemporary America, we rarely see the Anglo-Saxon traits of loyalty or immense strength especially among millennials and youth. Most small businesses use customer loyalty as a foundation to help build and stay in business, yet we see a lack of customer loyalty in today’s society. Customer loyalty can be punch cards, a point system or any other form of rewards that help the businesses bring people back so they can continue to make a profit. Many young citizens now think that those loyalty systems are pointless and don’t use them, resulting in many small businesses closing or being bought out by bigger companies. Many millennials are not loyal to companies as other generations are. Immense strength is also not present in contemporary America today. Today on the news we see people who have giant muscles, can lift hundreds of pounds, and that can pull planes, cars, or eighteen wheelers. Most millennials in society today might work out just enough to be healthy but not many just have strength to fight off others and protect their communities. This is partially because now we have first responders that can quickly get to a location to help and a court system that holds people accountable for their actions. It is also partially due to the/ fact that there is no need for someone to have immense strength to protect their communities because it is very rare that they will be under attack. On the other hand, we do see strength and loyalty in contemporary America in the gang communities throughout the country and world. In most gangs being a member is like having a huge family that will do anything to protect one another. Members will commit certain acts to prove to other gangs or members of their own gang how tough they are and how far they will go. Gangs have influence and control over the people, businesses, and politics of the communities they are living in. Similar to Anglo-Saxons warriors picking out a sword, shield, and amour gang members choose their weapons, and such weapons are highly valued to these members and if lost can come with some serious consequences.

Although there are many differences that define a hero in Beowulf’s times and a hero in contemporary America, the similarities are what is really important. A hero today can be anything someone wants or needs a hero to be. In today’s society, the traits of bravery and sacrifice are most commonly seen though first responders and soldiers. First responders run into dangerous situations, rescues, and fires all the time to help others within their communities. Post 9/11 soldiers started going halfway across the world to fight terrorist organizations so we can be safe in our everyday lives. Not all hero’s wear uniforms, the definition of a hero today is so broad, it could be a tutor, someone who sits by you in class when they saw you were alone, or someone who tells bullies to back off.

It is easier to be a hero in America today because there are more ways to help others whereas in Anglo-Saxon tribes saving or protecting the kingdom were the main ways to be a hero. The heroic qualities Beowulf embodies are relevant in today’s society because it has helped shape what a hero should be and gave societies a ‘moral code’ to follow. Contemporary American readers may be able to relate to Beowulf in a meaningful way if they can understand what it means to be a hero and how that impacts today’s society, like the tribe members did for Beowulf. The readers today that can most relate to Beowulf without even knowing who he is yet are elementary aged kids. They read about heroes in school, they learn about firefighters, police, and doctors looking up to those men and women as heroes and role models. You never know… one of those kids could become the Beowulf of contemporary America.

10 October 2020
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