Epic poetry usually embodies the attitudes and ideals of an entire culture. What values of Anglo-Saxon society does Beowulf reveal? What universal themes does it also reveal?
The anonymously written epic Beowulf captures the very essence of Anglo-Saxon warfare culture, while rousing various paramount, universal themes of human behavior: heroic deeds as a reflection of personal glory and the personification of raw, deadly emotions such as envy, greed and pride, through the characters in Beowulf.
The Anglo-Saxons's concept of loyal reliance on one absolute leader grew out of a need for Beowulf to protect them from the terrors of the sordid enemy in order to gain their loyalty-- to establish law and order. He would complete his valiant missions and, would thus gain the respect of his people. Beowulf earns his name through his defending of Geat, his home, from evil, identically to that of the prototypical Anglo-Saxon hero.
Yet another aspect of Anglo-Saxon culture that Beowulf defines is that of religion. The Anglo-Saxon religion was bleak and fatalistic, based on warrior Gods such as Thors and Woden. The practice of Christianity was burgeoning: on page nineteen of Elements of Literature (Sixth Course) is stated that due to the various elements of Christianity present in the epic, Beowulf was most likely written by a Christian monk. Hence, biblical allusions are not uncommon in Beowulf; i.e., ?He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures?? Yet another theme enhanced by biblical allusions is Unferth symbolizing the proverbial Cain, known for having killed his own brother. As such, He is the jealous element of humanity. The conflicting good versus evil theme represents what is 'good' as in Beowulf (God) and Grendel (Satan) for what is 'bad'. The aforementioned relates to the burgeoning Christianity of the time.
The Anglo-Saxons had communal halls that provided a meeting place in the center of the village for the townsfolk. It served as a place for community discussion and rule by unanimity as well as it provided a place for storytellers. The mead hall is Herot in Beowulf, serving as a perfect-place mead-hall where Anglo-Saxon warriors feasted and the like. Bards who frequented these halls were not ignored because they were thought to be as valiant as the warriors, keeping history of the tribes? failures and successes through their poetry and stories.
Beowulf establishes the personification of raw, deadly emotions such as envy, greed and pride, through its characters. The main theme in Beowulf is heroic deeds as a reflection of personal glory. Everything that Beowulf does is for the sake of feeding his ego because he is highly praised for his performance at battle. He is characterized predominantly by his feats of strength and courage. The three separate encounters with evil (Grendel, Grendel?s mother, the Dragon) express various aspects of the heroic code that he personifies and engages in. Beowulf represents pride, which causes his death. Pride was the fault that, although well appreciated and needed to lead in his culture, finished him. He decided to fight the Dragon alone, overestimating his own strength.
Grendel represents all of the evils in Beowulf combined. He seems to be guided by animalistic emotions and impulses, and he?s exiled to the swamps of an unbeknownst underground. His faults, too, are what cause him to falter.
Unferth is "the monster of green envy". He is the proverbial Cain who killed his brother and is now challenging Beowulf because he resents that he will never be known as the great warrior that Beowulf is. This doesn't get him anywhere because it deviates from the heroic code.
The aged ruler Hrothgar advises Beowulf to moderate his pride because he knows that pride could very well bring hardship as well as good fortune. He is vulnerable, however, acknowledging his weaknesses and calling upon Beowulf to kill the disastrous societal outcasts. He represents the balance of pride.
Rousing paramount themes such as heroic deeds as a reflection of personal glory and the personification of raw, deadly emotions such as envy, greed, and pride, through its characters, Beowulf gathers the aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture in a way that makes this epic poem identifiable, brilliant.