themebeo Epic of Beowulf Essay - Themes and Motifs in Beowulf
961 Words4 Pages
Beowulf: Themes and Motifs
Beowulf is the most important work of Old English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. Throughout the epic, the Anglo-Saxon storyteller uses many elements to build a certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character elements in Beowulf are Wealth & Honor, Biblical & Paganistic, and Man vs. Wild themes.
Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most epics, defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a character’s importance, as well as their wealth and status, where measured not only in monetary terms, but it was also measured in terms of honor, fame, and accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is one example of the Anglo-Saxon measurement of importance in Beowulf. In Canto 1 the story teller describes his wealth and importance, not as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his ability to “[lead] the Danes to such glory.” and as his tendency to “In battle, [leave] the common pasture untouched, and taking no lives.” Through this display of compassion for the commoner who doesn’t fight in battles, Hrothgar proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent of his wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he fights and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his companions, and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor raising him to the level of an archetypal hero. Grendel, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf. He has no wealth, no honor, and he in infamous as an evil killer. This lack of wealth and honor defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption. In addition to using Honor and wealth to define a character’s character, the story-teller(s) have incorporated alternating Biblical and Paganistic motifs in the epic-poem.
The original Epic was obviously Paganistic due to the time period of it’s creation. But, as time wore on, the rewriting and touching up of the manuscripts by various sources including religious monks, caused the characters to have slight Christian characteristics. These Christian themes have become very important to the epic to add am element of depth that wouldn’t be possible in modern times due to the lost of the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs.