An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Fame, Kingship, Fate and God in Beowulf

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Fame, Kingship, Fate and God in Beowulf

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Fame, Kingship, Fate and God in Beowulf

 

The Anglo-Saxons were a people who lived in and ruled England from the fifth century AD until the Norman Conquest. They were a people who valued courage and leadership. They lived under kings who were "keepers of gold" and were guarded by their loyal thanes (knights). They were a Pagan culture until the Normandy conquistadors came. They believed in fate and believed the only way to live forever was if you had fame. In the Anglo-Saxon book, Beowulf, there was a combination of many different people. The characters in Beowulf are defined by their status. Their status was in form of their fame and accomplishments. Beowulf was a very famous warrior, who sails to the Danes to kill a monster who is murdering their people. Beowulf kills Grendal, Grendal's mother and a dragon throughout the entirety of the story. Every time he receives more fame and more glory. Beowulf became a king. He was a great king who received honor and loyalty from his men. Although, during the fight with the dragon Beowulf's men run away and as a result Beowulf dies. The book claims that Beowulf had fate against him in his last battle against the dragon, but also says that Beowulf had Christian morals. By having two conflicting religions (paganism and Christianity) it makes the story more interesting. This book is composed of four main characteristics: fame, kingship, fate, and God, which play very important roles throughout the book.

 

In Beowulf the Anglo-Saxons longed for fame. To them fame meant immortality. For example, the narrator says, "But Beowulf longing only for fame, leaped into battle" (Raffel 1529). To Beowulf the only reason to risk his life is a battle, is so he can have his moments of fame, hence immortality. Even if a character gains fame, they will always be fighting to receive more. After Beowulf becomes king one of his servants says, "Beloved Beowulf, remember how you boasted, once, that nothing in the world would ever destroy your fame: you fight to keep in now, be strong and brave, my noble king, protecting life and fame together" (2586). So even though Beowulf had fame, he had to keep fighting and being successful in order to protect and keep his fame.

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Once an Anglo-Saxon had enough fame his name was known throughout the world. The narrator explains this by saying, "Now the Lord of all life, Ruler of glory, blessed them with a prince, Beowulf, whose power and fame soon spread throughout the world" (16). Beowulf had accumulated so much fame that throughout the world people knew of him and his accomplishments. Fame was so very important to the Anglo-Saxon's that they would give up their lives and the lives of others if only to receive it for a minute.

 

In the times of the Anglo-Saxons, the quality of your king was the quality of your loyalty. A good king had knights (thanes) that would be loyal to him. The narrator describes a good king by saying, "He ruled lands on all sides: wherever the sea would take them his soldiers sailed, returned with tribute and obedience. There was a brave king!" (8-12). What the narrator is saying is that a good king has thanes that would respect him (pay tribute) and obey him (obedience). The role of a king is to keep the warriors treasure. The treasure really belonged to the thanes; the king is to keep it for them and hand it out as they deserve it. In this book the Anglo-Saxon's described Beowulf, "...(he) could do no better, find no man better suited to be king, keeper of warriors and their treasures..." (1850-1854). Beowulf's job as a king was to "keep" the warriors and their treasure. Anglo-Saxon kings had hard times trying to be a "good" king. They speak about King Hermod whose "heart had been hollowed by sin" (915). Satan tempted many kings, and some like Hermod, could not resist his temptations. In the story Beowulf the Anglo-Saxon's beloved kings were praised and treated with respect, but their infamous kings were shunned.

 

The Anglo-Saxon's beliefs were Pagan. They didn't believe in a god, they thought when you die you are just dead. They believe that they cannot control their own destiny. In Beowulf they say, "Fate will unwind as it must" (455). Fate will go however it wants, if it is your fate to be eaten by a monster, then nothing you can do will change that. They believe that fate saves lives. Ongetho had been stabbed in the head, but "fate let him recover, live on" (2975-2977). Ongetho should have died right then, but fate had other plans for him. In this story the scop speaks of fate as a person or a thing. "Fate has swept our race away, taken warriors in their strength and led them to death that was waiting" (2184-2816). He spoke of fate as a noun, he says that fate is responsible for death.

 

The time that this story was originally told was of the Anglo-Saxons, who didn't believe in God. However the original author of this book was Christian and lent many of his Christian thoughts to this book. For example the books says about Grendal, "By God punished forever for crime for Abel's death" (107). The author is referring to a part in the Christian's bible where Cain had killed his brother Abel. Even Beowulf, who was supposed to be a pagan, had Christian morals. The scop says, "Beowulf's sorrow beat at his heart; he accused himself of breaking God's law" (2327-2329). Beowulf was an Anglo-Saxon pagan, so why would it matter to him what "God's laws" were? This book has conflicting beliefs, at one point they say fate is in control of everything and in another, God is in control.

 

The book Beowulf is composed of four main character traits: fame, kingship, fate and God. The characters are based on their ratio of these four traits. Fame was highly desired for the need of the Anglo-Saxon's want to live forever. Kingship was the bases of your community, if you had a terrible king you will have terrible living conditions. Fate played a role in everything the Anglo-Saxons ever did, be it a battle or what they were going to have for dinner. Christianity was what the characters in this story based their morals on, even though the original story had nothing to do with God. Our society today still lives on most of these same characteristics. In our society today fame is the highest of goals, we as a society put fame and being known above decency and morals. Our king (president) is usually looked upon to give out rewards and orders as the kings in the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Our country is also divided up between atheist (modern day pagans) and Christians. We have become a country whose heroes are no longer the people who are courageous or even a decent person. Our heroes have become the people who have achieved fame and even fortune. Our heroes no longer have to make a difference in our world. Our heroes only have to act in a few movies or play a good game of football or baseball.

 
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