Beowulf - Paganism and Virtue
The Anglo-Saxons living in the time of Beowulf did not believe in the afterlife. To them, the only way to experience life after death was to live on in the memories of others. One could fulfill this goal by being known for one’s generosity, courage, and strength. Beowulf, the protagonist of this epic poem, embodied all of these virtues and lives on in memory because of this.
First, generosity was widespread and more greatly valued during Beowulf’s time than it is now. It was not merely a virtue, but instead a necessity. Many kings were measured by the extent of their generosity.To him in the hall, then, Healfdane's songave treasures twelve, and the trust-of-earlsbade him fare with the gifts to his folk beloved,hale to his home, and in haste return.This is Hrothgar’s (Healfdane’s son) way of being generous and thanking Beowulf for slaying Grendel and it’s mother. This gift not only increased Beowulf’s fame and riches but also Hrothgar’s greatness. If Hrothgar had not displayed his gratitude for Beowulf’s great deeds he would have been looked down upon. He might be remembered for his lack of charity instead, and that would be the equivalent of going to hell for the early Anglo-Saxons. Everyone wanted to be remembered, but only for admirable things. Being remembered for a shameful life would be much worse than dying.Yea, death is better for liegemen all than a life of shame! Next, courage and strength were also looked highly upon during these pre-medieval times. In our time courage is often seen as foolish or ostentatious, while during Beowulf’s time it was seen as admirable and praiseworthy.‘Twas now, men say, in his sovran's need that the earl made known his noble strain, craft and keenness and courage enduring… Heedless of harm, though his hand was burned, hardy-hearted, he helped his kinsman. A little lower the loathsome beast he smote with sword; his steel drove in bright and burnished; that blaze began to lose and lessen... So had they killed it, kinsmen both, athelings twain: thus an earl should be in danger's day! -- Of deeds of valor this conqueror's-hour of the king was last, of his work in the world.Slaying the great dragon was not only Beowulf’s last act of courage, but also Wiglaf’s first. Beowulf eventually died from a wound suffered in this battle and had a tower constructed in his memory.