The literature inheritance leaves many works that reflect the history and culture of people that lived in that period. While studying the cultural and social conditions we come across some peculiar feature of each peoples and subconsciously identify them with new character traits of the modernized society. In that regard, the poem “Beowulf” reflects the cultural basis for the Anglo-Saxon period and reveals the peculiar social elements that are typical of heroes of that time. Nowadays, the term Anglo-Saxon is often associated with people who strictly follow the traditions and orthodox outlook on life. That is why, the modern culture considerably owes to the Anglo-Saxon since they left a valuable cultural testament (Woods, 1).
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Some critics regard Beowulf as the cornerstone of modern literature, still it is considered as a brilliant example of an Anglo-Saxon piece of literature. In this respect, people of Anglo-Saxon ere were preoccupied with norms of moral and cardinal virtues. Thus, these norms were framed within the cultural code of this era exemplified by the bravery, heroism, and strength. The Anglo-Saxon rulers were distinguished by their courage and heroism in the early era dated by the fifth century AD. They were great warriors and therefore their reign was accompanied by many battles and wars (Sharman, 6). The monks perpetuated the history of the famous king in “Anglo-Saxons chronicles”. When speaking about that historic period, one could not but remember the courageous adventure of King Arthur and his knights. The chronicles run the legend about brave deeds of the Arthur’s knights. For instance, there is an adventure when the King managed to kill a giant of incredible size (Sharman, 7). As it can be seen, King Arthur was the center of many legends who inspired many writers to create masterpieces of literature. Another famous warrior of that period is King Alfred, a hero who had many good virtues. The king of Wessex fighting with Viking was also the main subject for Anglo-Saxon poetry (Horspool, 1). Such noble traits of the kings of knights of that period were highly appraised due to the historic circumstances. The knights considered it as an honor to be killed in the battle defending the king and the kingdom. Their courage was highlighted in many poems with conscious exaggeration. “Beowulf” is the bright embodiment of those character qualities.
The poem is about a brave warrior that participated in many battles being always the winner. The story also reflects the heroic aspect of the Anglo-Saxon life. Beowulf is described as a generous king that is empowered with all the features a noble Anglo-Saxon warrior should have. The world depicted in the story, is a fictional world full of adventures and obstacles that the king of Geats should overcome. Hence, he was to fight with dragons, Grendlen and Grendlen’s mother. The spirit of freedom and power made the hero blinded feel the absolute superiority over the people and mysterious world of mythical creatures (Godden et al. 156). The heroic story is also devoted to the redemption and to the confession of the deeds accomplished by the King of the Geats. His desire to be perpetuated in the history as brave defendant of his kingdom forced him to surpass the adversities without thinking of the actual consequences.
In the narration, there observed the reflection of concept of heroism and leadership that are typical for Anglo-Saxon warriors. Hence, the content of the story is predominantly based on the Anglo-Saxon chronicles since it depicts and manifests the absolute glory of the kings and their extreme braveness.
The Beowulf’s world embodies the best features of brave men in the light of human mortality. In this respect, Beowulf symbolizes not only his strength; a young hero realizes that the physical power is can handle and control his heroic principles and motivations. However, the king is frustrated when he understands there are thing that are beyond his power, and he is unable to overcome that. The problem is that his heroism is limited as far as the feelings are concerned. To put it in other words, Beowulf fails to control his heart and to subdue it to his mind. Moreover, his courage and pride did allow him to do that (Biddle et al. 58). In fact, the highlighted virtues are more attached to the famous personalities of Anglo-Saxon period but no ordinary people who were not honored with such superiority. Consequently, the possession of heroic features and bravery was the main attribute of the highest level of society so that the physical power and courage were more appraised; it was the major condition for people to capture and the power and to rule the kingdom.
The fact that the poems of the Anglo-Saxon period depict mostly the brave knights and heroic kings witnessed the heroic ideals that did not look like mortals and have no drawbacks (Biddle 58). The settled standards dictate the norms for the Anglo-Saxon kings who concealed their vulnerabilities behind the depicted image. In contrast, Beowulf serves as the lesson for the rulers that were blind with their heroic achievements. The narration ends with the death of the protagonist that failed to restrain his emotions and reveal his mortality and ordinariness. However, the Anglo-Saxon traditions to follow their beliefs were observed throughout of the epic poem. Even being on the edge of the death, he did not betray his principles.
The principles of heroism and bravery are occasion nowadays since people have little number incentives to reveal such feelings. Instead, in the age of information and renaissance of knowledge intelligence and mind are of paramount value. In this respect, people express their negligence and astonishment while getting acquainted with Anglo-Saxon period and the main concepts of honor and pride. Due to introduction of innovated changes in to the culture, the concepts of heroism and courage are wrongly perceived and partially neutralized by modern society. According to the poem, courage is the first human quality that every man wishes to possess but the modern heroes have other values that distort the actual image of the readers. It is explained by the fact that the current audience is introduced into the world of imaginary characters. That is why, they do not have the actual idea about the bravery and heroism since nowadays there is tangible tendency to break all the cultural norms and traditions. The image of Beowulf infuses the feeling of something exotic and fantastic and his deeds are appraised as insane. The refuse to perceive the Anglo-Saxon cultured is also dictated by the modern heroic stories whose heroes are more obsessed with material values rather than with moral.
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Biddle Martin, Brown Julian, Gneuss Helmut, Clemoes Peter, Greenfield Stanley Anglo-Saxon England UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Godden, Malcolm and Keynes, Simon Anglo-Saxon England UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Horspool, Daniel King Alfred: burnt cakes and other legends. US: Harward University Press, 2006.
Sherman, Margaret Anglo-Saxons US: Evans Brothers, 2003.
Woods, J. Douglas The Anglo-Saxons, synthesis and achievement. Canada: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1985.