Values of Anglo-Saxon Society and Universal Themes Revealed Through Beowulf

The epic poem Beowulf reflects many of the ideas and values of the Anglo-Saxon society. The epic is largely based on a warrior type of society, where the society is led by a strong leader, and life revolved around the communal or the mead-hall. Many universal themes are also prevalent throughout Beowulf, and one such theme is that of good prevailing over evil. This is a theme which is reiterated throughout the epic, and is also in itself, a key to understanding the values of Anglo-Saxon society.

As already illustrated throughout Beowulf, some of the values which were of very great importance to the Anglo-Saxon society were courage, loyalty, and strength. Fame, success, and sometimes even survival, were gained only though ones loyalty to the leader. This is clearly illustrated in Beowulf. For example, Beowulf left the land of the Geats and came to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, only because of his loyalty to the king. It wasn’t because of his own self-satisfaction, but only due to his extreme loyalty to the leader, which was a quality much revered in Anglo-Saxon society. Warfare, being prevalent in their lives, was a very big part of the Anglo-Saxon society. This value is apparent in Beowulf on many different occasions. The entire epic, to some extent, is based upon fighting. Some examples include when Beowulf came to the aid of the kingdom Herot, and fought off the monster Grendel, and his mother. This again is shown when the dragon attacks the Geat’s land, and Beowulf, once again, saves the day. This value, along with many others of Anglo-Saxon society in the middle ages, is exhibited in the epic Beowulf.

Of the many universal themes present in Beowulf, one is good prevailing over evil. Beowulf, himself, could be seen as the personification of all that is good in the Anglo- Saxon society. Upon his arrival, the king said, “But to table, Beowulf, a banquet in your honor: Let us toast your victories, and talk of the future.” Obviously, according to that society's values, Beowulf would be considered a very successful man, because of the praises he received from the king. But this also leads the reader to believe that Beowulf is the “good” one and that he has overcome “evil” and will do so again. This time, the “evil” comes in the form of Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. On each occasion, the good overcame the evil. Although, Beowulf did suffer a fatal wound while battling the dragon, he still slayed the dragon, and good had prevailed once again over evil.

This battle of good and evil could also be interpreted in terms of religion. Christianity was eventually replacing the old warrior religion and paganism. This had become a major part of Anglo-Saxon society, hence this universal theme helps define the values of that society. For example, the monster Grendel would not touch Hrothgar’s throne, because it was protected by God—this basically represents the ideals of Christianity overtaking that of paganism.

The epic Beowulf, written by the anonymous author, undoubtedly reveals many of the values which are predominant throughout the Anglo-Saxon society. It was a very society based on warring and stressed loyalty towards the leader. Like any other great epic, or even novel, Beowulf, not only reveals the attitudes and cultures of its society and culture, but also reveals some universal themes, one of which is that good will prevail over evil. Beowulf basically set a precedent for all other novels and authors, not only because it was the first work in English, but also because of the values of its society which it reveals and the universal themes it embodies.

Essay written by Irfan