The poem Beowulf depicts a world inhabited by semi-civilized societies that are very loyal to members of their group, that are transitory, that have little security, that are made prey of, by even single monsters of huge strength (Thompson 16).
In the poem the families or tribes that have banded together have formed their small societies. Ralph Arnold in his essay “Royal Halls – The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial,” says: “Lust for gold as a symbol of royal wealth and for gold to give away probably accounted for much of the warfare in which the early English kings indulged” (91). Such little societies are motivated by their selfishness, as they repeatedly attack any weaker societies in the area so as to increase their stockpile of treasure and arms, or to avenge a misdeed from somewhere in the past:
That is the feud, the hatred of tribes,
war-lust of men, (2999-3000)
Consider Beowulf’s revenge of the murder of Heardred, son of Hygelac, by the sons of Othere. And the awaited revenge on the Geats by the Swedes in retaliation for Wulf and Eofor’s killing of Ongentheow. Hygelac, going “to the land of the Frisians, attacked the Hetware,” provoking a feud between the Geats on one side and the Franks, Frisians and Mereovingians on the other side. Beowulf’s father had killed the Wylfling Heatholaf, thus beginning a feud; consequently the Geats “for fear of war, would not have him.” But Hrothgar, young king of the Danes, “paid money to settle your father’s feud, sent treasure … to the Wylfings.”
Even the monsters in the poem are motivated by vengeance: Grendel seeks vengeance on the human race because they have joy and God’s favor whereas he has only God’...
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...ly, creating the feeling of insecurity and transitoriness:
The monstrous woman
avenged her son, snatched and killed
one man boldly. There Aeschere died,
wise old counselor, in her fierce attack (2120-23)
The poem Beowulf depicts a world of loyalty, of great uncertainty and insecurity, and of transitory life.
Arnold, Ralph. “Royal Halls – The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.” In Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Thompson, Stephen P. “The Beowulf poet and His World.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
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