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The Value System Revealed in Beowulf
Beowulf is a deeply serious commentary on human life with the main characters embodying a pronounced and coherent set of values. They are also the representatives of the outlined code for conduct and behaviour of those times.
Honour, generosity and trust may seem to be the key words in the code. The protagonists reiterate in actions and words a belief in the importance of generosity of spirit and self awareness that make man a responsible member of the society. Beowulf secures the future of his thanes, in case of his death, not leaving them up to their own fate. He proves that in the warrior society, human relationships must be based on mutual respect and trust rather than subordination of one man to another. A warrior vowing loyalty to his lord becomes a voluntary companion more than his servant, taking pride defending him and fighting in battles. In return, he receives affectionate care and rich rewards - e.g. seen in Hrothgar’s attitude to Beowulf’s achievements.
The relationship between the relatives is also a part of the outlined characteristics of conduct - if a person was killed, a relative was obliged to kill the slayer or execute the wergild (“manprice”), even if the killing was accidental. In fact, the money was less important than the actual carrying out of the kinsman’s duty.
“It is better for a man to avenge his friend than to much mourn” – states Beowulf firmly, reiterating the weight attached to the moral responsibilities rather than attention drawn to the materialistic possessions.
They were valued highly - the treasure gained in battles improved the well being but it was more of a common factor spiritually uniting the warriors and allowing them to fully realise their potentials.
Still, family was the priority. King Hrethel (‘grandfather’ of Beowulf), however, may exemplify a clash in following the code and set values. One of his sons accidentally killed another; by code of kinship king Hrethel was forbidden to exact compensation from a kinsman, yet by the same code he was required to do one in order to avenge death. He was trapped in a situation without a moral way out and therefore Hrethel refused to face life any longer.
Marriage also appears to be a part of the general code. It was a form of alliance between the fighting tribes e.
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Marrying his daughter Freawaru to Froda’s son, Ingeld, seemed a solution. However it failed when Ingeld attacked Heorot – the aggression was repelled but Heorot was burnt.
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