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Are there any similarities between life in modern America and the world of Beowulf? Is it possible for such a technology oriented world such as ours to have anything in common with a world which had not even heard of electricity? Has this technology really separated us from prior civilizations? Is our thinking today any different from the thinking of ancient cultures? Although it may not seem to be true, there are actually many similarities between our world and that of Beowulf’s. These similarities are readily seen in all forms of media and entertainment, as well as noted sources of culture such as music and movies. If the similarity between the two cultures is accepted, it will not be hard to comprehend Beowulf.
The first and most notable similarity is drinking. King Hrothgar built a giant mead-hall, namely Heorot, to accommodate his celebrations. Throughout Beowulf it can be seen that celebrations of any kind are always accompanied by drinking. Drinking is just present today as it was thousands of years ago. People today always include drinking in their celebrations, whether it be a birthday, anniversary, or marriage. Heorot is nothing more than a tremendous bar. The festivities of the warriors in Beowulf’s time can be seen every night in any local bar or pub.
Another similarity of course is violence. Violence is obviously present in Beowulf’s world. The determinant of status holds its roots in violence. The only way for a warrior to prove himself is through battle, or violence. Specifically this can be seen through the character, Unferth. He was not respected as a warrior due to his inability to win battles. He tried to find faults in Beowulf to raise his own ego. The disrespect given to this man was due to his unsuccessfulness in violent engagements.
Modern violence is present all around us. No matter which way one turns, violence will be there to greet him. Whether it be on the street, in school, or even at home, violence cannot be avoided. The presence of this violence in society leads to stress. This stress is to a large extent the cause of the similarity mentioned earlier, namely drinking. Anyone from the local bully to a armed robber can be representatives of modern violence. Although it is present in everyday life, this violence can be seen easier in any form of media.
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The blood and gore is comparative to the actions of Grendel. Grendel was a monster in Beowulf who would literally eat his enemies; he was a cannibal. There was no mercy in his attack. The same frustrations of modern day are also seen in Grendel. He is frustrated with himself and his status. He wants attention just like everyone else.
Yet another similarity is the idea of comitatus, the relationship between a king and his subordinates. Today, we see this in many relations. Society members feel this sense of loyalty towards their President, or Prime Minister. Army cadets feel this loyalty towards their commanding soldier. To some extent students feel it towards their teachers, and children towards their parents. In the world of Beowulf, it was honorable to die as a soldier. This seen as Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar: "Sorrow not, wise warrior. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn. Each of us must await his end of the world's life. Let him who may get glory before death: that is best for the warrior after he has gone from life. Arise, guardian of the kingdom, let us go at once to look on the track of Grendel's kin" (Norton, 45). Beowulf is clearly saying that there is glory in death. This idea is also present in modern society. The death of a soldier is looked upon as an act of extreme courage. Just as people who lack this courage in the armed forces are looked down upon, so was Unferth. His lending of Hrunting (his sword) to Beowulf was an act of cowardice.
It might be argued that we have grown far ahead the characters of Beowulf, but with a closer look, this obviously does not hold so much truth. All the habits and values presented in Beowulf are still present in today’s society. No matter how much we evolve, we are still the same people inside.