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Beowulf is a hero who embodies the ideal characteristics in the Anglo-Saxon culture; these characteristics all come together to make up an epic tale. He possesses the traits and beliefs that were respected in the Anglo-Saxon culture. Beowulf displays these traits in his own actions and words during different circumstances throughout the tale. Beowulf is shown to be the strongest among the strong. Physical strength was very much embraced by the Anglo-Saxon culture. Beowulf could slay the greatest monster of all, Grendel who lived in the woods. The portrayal and evil predictions of the eerie woods indicates an unwelcome place, especially as it is widely known by the people to inhabit evil monsters in the form of Grendel and his mother.
Predictability is something that is many times mentioned throughout this tale. Although many times correct, some predictions seem to be a foreshadow of evil things to come. Other predictions are just completely wrong, although they lead to something else. To the Anglo Saxons, who valued peace and home virtues, the dismal woods takes them away from everything they know. Even the trees in the woods are undesirable, described as being "covered with frozen spray" and that the roots "wind down snakelike." These trees are not an endearing sight to the Anglo Saxons who do not understand the dreary way the trees are "covered." Anglo Saxons are not sheltered or "covered" as the woods are, they fight for personal freedom. The "snakelike" roots of the tree represent a sly, threatening atmosphere that the Anglo Saxons did not enjoy. They believe in honor and truth and so it is understandable why they would not trust in a nature so far from what they represent, from what they do not know, and most importantly, cannot predict. This departure from goodness constitutes evil to society and when it storms "as black as the rain that the heavens weep" the Anglo Saxons believe God literally disapproves of the woods because God is the ultimate symbol of righteousness. The Anglo Saxons stand for a society that is very definite in knowing who they are and what they want to accomplish. They are loyal to their leader, revere law and order, and are more concerned with the ethics in religion than in religion itself. Not knowing is as foreign a concept to them as isolation, a territory so unfamiliar and terrifying they have no choice but to fear the unknown. The woods represent that fear in their society because they are so unpredictable to them; they do not really know everything that lies in them. Remarkably barren with a strange, mystical quality in the air, animals and humans alike are apprehensive toward them. Dark images take form when the woods are portrayed as "windy" and containing "mist" that help keep it "dark."
Even though the people know that pure evil inhabits this scope, they are more afraid of not knowing what to do once they confront Grendel's mother. This society is one always under control, a society that needs to protect family against enemies to help them feel secure. These woods are as unpredictable as ever to them, and this act of unpredictability is what makes the theme of unpredictability that much more difficult, especially when the "wind stirs and storms" and the "waves splash toward the sky" suddenly. Nature is definitely something society is not able to predict, making it unknown and all the more terrifying. When it "storms" and "waves splash" in the scop, society believes chaos has come. Ultimate chaos and disorder are regarded as evil to society because order and obedience were regarded so highly. Also, chaos was regarded as evil because it is disobeying God and his structure. One image of the wood is described as "not a pleasant spot!" And the obvious truth to this makes it comical. The scop is the farthest thing from "pleasant" in the minds of society. It embodies an Anglo Saxon's worst nightmare. The Anglo Saxon's fear of the unknown is present throughout the story emphasizing the definite society they represent. However, as strong as they appear and as close-knit a group as they are, this fear makes the Anglo Saxons more insecure and unstable. This society is for the closeness of humans and providing a strong, united front should be the Anglo Saxon's first priority, not fear of the unknown.
Anglo-Saxons had codes that they would live by. The epic poem, "Beowulf," is a clear example of the Anglo-Saxon code of conduct and how it influenced the entire culture during its time span of 449-1066 A.D. In the poem, Beowulf, along with his army of thanes, was held in extremely high regards. They were expected to be sturdy and faithful, worthy and brave. "…be strong and kind. Here each comrade is true to the other, loyal to the lord, loving in spirit" (Greenblatt, 61 lines 1227-1229) Any violation of this code was understood as treason. Therefore, it was strictly followed and seen as the highest standard of which all thanes attempted to obtain. The Anglo-Saxon period lead the way for all future eras to live up to. They held their leaders in the utmost regard and saw to it that they addressed them with chivalric devotion. "It was their habit always and everywhere to be ready for action…in whatever case and at whatever time the need arose to rally round their lord" (Greenblatt, 61 lines 1246-1250). During the time that "Beowulf" arose, brutal fights and turbulent battles took place and so the Anglo-Saxon people valued might, audacity, and nobility. These qualities were looked upon as those of a hero; one who could sweep them out of such perilous times. Honor is seen in today's society as high respect, or fairness. Honor is undoubtedly a positive property, but one which we do not expect from every individual. According to the Anglo-Saxon code of conduct, it is one of the most important elements to strive for. Our hero of the story, Beowulf, exhibits honor in many ways. At the first word of Grendel's constant terrorizing, he gives up everything in order to sail to Denmark and conquer the great beast. Beowulf fights Grendel and many other creatures, not for the pleasure of his own mind, but for the good of the people. His predictions of victory and honoring his people come true and that is honor to the umpteenth degree, but foreshadowing what is to come defines the underlying theme of Beowulf.
Predictions is an overarching theme in Beowulf, but it is what the predications lead to and what they insinuate that actually make the story and the tales of Anglo-Saxons what they are. Beowulf and his fellow thanes seem to have "loyal" stamped across their foreheads, and foreshadow this loyalty. The only thing they saw when they fought was an image of their king. "O king of Bright-Danes, dear prince of the Shieldings, friend of the people and their ring of defense, my one request is that you won't refuse me…" (Greenblatt, 42 lines 427-430). If nothing else, they wanted only to please and be loyal to their lord. A strong man is a tough man, a strong wall can endure a blow, a strong smell can make you hold your breath. Strength is a pressing word and describes something unwavering and unpredicatable since strength leads us to do so many things that might not have a clear outlook. But during Anglo-Saxon times, strength was also seen as unwavering, but was held in a much higher regard. If you were a warrior during the Germanic period and were not strong, the results would be bleak. These men were stalwart and fit. Their able-bodies allowed them to overpower their enemies and fight until they triumphed. Along with their brutal force, they carried swords, bows, arrows, and axes. "The hero observed that swamp-thing from hell, the tarn-hag in all her terrible strength, then heaved his war-sword and swung his arm: the decorated blade came down ringing and singing on her head" (Greenblatt, 66 lines 1518-1522). Here, Beowulf summons all his might and vanquishes Grendel's mother. Fighting until the death was a major norm to which all warriors were supposed to succumb to. "That was the warrior's last word. He had no more to confide. The furious heat of the pyre would assail him. His soul fled from his breast to its destined place among the steadfast ones" (Greenblatt, 93 lines 2817-2820). It is Death that is the most unpredictable sense of all, as one fights till the death without knwing when it is coming, but yet foreshadowing its appearance.
In the scene of Beowulf's death, it is apparent that he spent his last breath battling courageously. Although the Anglo-Saxon code of conduct mostly pertained to its warriors, they also had standards to be met by kings and women of the times. While his armies were expected to be loyal, courageous, strong, and honorable, the leader himself was anticipated to be generous, protective, and caring towards his people.…[continue]
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