Cultural Significance in Beowulf and it’s Time Period

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1) Beowulf had a significant amount of history revealed throughout the text allowing the reader to imagine the cultural life style back in the seventh through tenth centuries. a) BackgroundBefore the British lived in Britain, the Celts had settled in Britain. Around 55BC, The Romans deiced to begin and attack Britain. The invasion was successful around A. D. 43 when the Romans managed to take over small islands where they established settlements. Over the next 400 years, Britain became apart of the Roman Empire. The Romans Then the Romans had to withdraw.

The Roman regression had begun as many Germanic tribes took over Britain. The invasion began during the mid 5th century and ended around 1485 with the conclusion of the wars of the Roses. The Germanic people spread out from the common Germanic area during the first half of the Pre-Roman age. North Western groups settled in Europe. Some groups include Danish, Dutch, English, Finland-Swedes, Flemish, Germans, Icelanders, and Norwegians. The tribes came from the Netherlands, Denmark, Northern Germany, and Southern Sweden to invade Britain.

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All these Germanic tribes, although separated, shared a closely related life style and culture meaning things such as languages customs and tribal organization. However they lack the ability or inclination to form a larger more permanent political confederation even though they were fully capable of sporadic cooperation during military campaigns as shown in Beowulf between the Geats and the Swedes. The Germanic tribe established a dominant culture when they invaded and settled in Britain.

There were social obligations as well as social traditions that kept order in the Germanic tribes and established a dominant culture. Thus began the Middle Ages. Originating within the Northern region in Europe, the Germanic people are an ethno-linguistic group also known as “Teutonic” and used Indo-European Germanic languages. During the Early Middle Ages, Germanic tribes had settled from their migration period and made a series of movements out of Scandinavia taking place during the Viking Age. The Viking age Norsemen split into an “old east Norse” and “old west Norse” group.

Later separating more once again. In Great Britain, Germanic people mixed into the Anglo-Saxon or English people between the seventh and tenth century. b) Funerals and Kings Germanic Tribes had Kings who played an important role in fighting wars, keeping peace, and looking out for the welfare of the people in the tribe. A kings’ destiny was to gain dignity and respect throughout his realm. He achieved this through various ways, such as through battle, through bringing peace into the city, town, or countryside, and keeping company of thanes. The king was bound to uphold ancestral law as well as new laws.

There were royal standards that everyone had to abide by. This is true even during the death of a king. Horothgar engaged in battle and “The fortunes of war favored Horothgar. Friends and Kinsmen flocked to his ranks, young followers a force that grew to be a mighty army. ” (Beowulf 64-67) By engaging and winning in battle Horothgar was fulfilling his position as king that he inherited. The funeral custom for a king was very extravagant. The opening of Beowulf gives a very poetic and accurate description of the custom used during a king’s funeral.

Shield Sheafson was the previous beloved king in Beowulf that the people put in a boat filled with jewelry. “They stretched their beloved lord in his boat, laid out by the most, amidships the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures were piled upon him, and precious gear. ” c) Halls and Family Life i) The depiction of hall building in Beowulf was also very accurately depicted. Kings built halls during prosperous times. The troops felt joy when they had a feast in the lord’s hall, just as it is shown in Beowulf when Hrothgar brings his troops to victory and to the mead hall for celebration.

This quote explains the * “So his mind turned to hall-building, he handed down orders for men to work on a great mead hall meant to be a wonder of the world forever; it would be his throne-room and there he would dispense his God-given goods to you and old- hall of halls. Heorot was the name he had settled on it…” * When the book described the Denmark king’s hall, it set forth the high decorum of noble behavior. The behavior we see in the hall is considered elaborate courtesies, in the Germanic times. “It was a short step from there to where

Hrethel’s son and heir, Hygelac the gold-giver, makes his home on a secure cliff, in the company of retainers. The building was magnificent, the king majestic, ensconced in his hall; and although Hygd, his queen, was young….. her mind was thoughtful and her manners sure. ” * The Anglo-Saxon age was not just about blood-shed; There were happy occasions when warriors ride, drink wine, and listen to a harp. While the troops are having mead, a scope, or story teller, comes and sings. Scopes chant traditional songs passed down orally, with the accompaniment of a harp or an instrument.

They were respected for their articulated spokesman ship. In reality, Anglo-Saxons did not spend all of their time in the mead hall or in battle. Because the soldiers had wives and families. * “I got lavish reward form the lord of the Danes for my part in the battle, beaten gold and much else, once morning came and we took our places at the banquet table. There was singing and excitement an old recite, a carrier of stories, recalled early days. ” d) Code of Loyalty The Germanic people seem to have inherited a common body of narrative. Beowulf is one of them.

Germanic literature, including Beowulf, all share the ethical emphasis on the principal of loyalty to another. If this bond is broken through cowardice or treachery it is considered singularly abominable, and personally executed revenge- no matter how long delayed, no matter how sanguinary – against the ones who harm one’s associates is held to be mandatory. “An aristocracy of the brave,” The Germanic hero code said they lived and died by honor. This code was the bases for the Germanic people. Since the Germanic peoples were spread amongst many regions they formed bands.

In this band the chieftan is the head of the comitatus. The comites are loyal to the chieftain and are given rewards like treasures or weapons in return for their bravery and loyalty. (a) Comitatus – small war band (b) Comites- companions who make up the war band. * The whole point in having a comitatus was so they could reach glory and fame. It was to earn a good name after death. * When a person handed gold to another person, the reward represented confidence in a man’s daring and courageousness. * Comitatus was like a noble band between fellow men.

The concept is similar to today’s so called brotherly love. * Old English poetry suggests that the scheme that Christ is the supreme chief and that His disciples are comitatus. * The most important Anglo-Saxon ideas was excellence * A system of ideals that include courage, strength, and loyalty (which are symbolically expressed through war spoils or material objects) e) Rewards Unlike today, war spoils were not considered material wealth. In the modern economy, the value of goods and services are decided through the laws of supply and demand.

The spoils of war were thought of as symbolism for courage and resourcefulness that they earned. Battle spoils embody virtues like courage and skill. However, heroic excellence is only found within the divine excellence spark in a man. Because immortality is associated with such divinity in actions, the hero who expresses these divine actions is worthy to be immortalities by a scop, who orally preserves the fame of the hero. This is because, in these societies, writing did not exist as much. Such spoils are meaningless in Germanic eyes when they are acquired without valor.

In Beowulf, there was not only an act of theft but a blow to the heroic system. (outlaw steals cup) It was a blow because it reduces the symbolic value of things to mere material value. It is a fall from the heroic world not a less ideal world. That is why at the end of Beowulf the treasure is left alone. Beowulf is the “ring-giver” and is dead, his thanes deserted him, and so the treasure can’t be symbolic of the men’s excellence. The men failed to fulfill their vows and so the spoils of battle from the dragon’s hoard are symbolically meaningless.

ii) Wiglaf. Wiglaf’s cry to the cowardly troops was very impassioned which is a very good example of how proper devotion in important. This act that Wiglaf did at the time was considered anything but blind loyalty. “As God as my witness, I would rather my body were robed in the same burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body than go back home bearing arms. That is unthinkable, unless we have fist slain the foe and defended the life of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know the things he has done for us deserve better. Should he alone be left exposed to fall in battle?

We must bond together, shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword. ”“And now the youth was to enter the line of battle with his lord, his first time to be tested. ” f) Wergild And Justice In case of a suspected crime, the accused could avoid punishment by presenting a fixed # of free men(# depending on type of crime) prepared to swear an oath on his innocence. Failing this, he could prove his innocence in a trail by combat. Corporal or capital punishment for free men does not figure in the Germanic law codes, and banishment appears to be the most severe penalty issued officially.

This reflects that Germanic tribal law did not have the scope of exacting revenge, which was left to the judgment of the family of the victim, but to settle damages as fairly as possible. The honor code called blood for blood like the expression “an eye for an eye. ” However, there was a way out of this bloody mess. It is a method called Wergild, or another word you pay the price in gold or supplies of the person you killed. At the time this was an equally respectable option. Nobel men, also known as an earl, were worth the most. Priests’ prices were the same as nobleman.

As for a slave, they had no wergild. In fact slaves had to pay their owners if they damaged themselves. The money currency was in shillings and pounds. Feuds, Revenge, and Kinship tiesKings Kind of have a high degree of personal and direct control to the fullest otherwise it becomes a place that nobles can fight for a takeover. “the battle-famed king ordered a gold-chased heirloom…. be bought in…a gem-studded sword…he laid on Beowulf’s lap and then rewarded him with land.. 7 thousand hide…a hall and a throne. ” Hygelac -> Beowulf. “There was a feud one time, begun by your father.

With his own hands he had killed Heathlaf, who was a Wulfing; so war was looming and his people, in fear of it, forced him to leave… Finally I healed the feud by paying: I shipped a treasure – trove to the Wulfings and Ecgtheow acknowledge me with oaths of alliance. ” iii) Ecgtheow Ecgtheow’s cowardice gave Beowulf a bad name because at the time a man’s duty is passed down the line Beowulf had to prove himself and repay Ecgtheow’s words of loyalty. (c) When Beowulf dies chaos is going to break loose again. At the end of Beowulf, his fairness and kindness is quite lover burdens his heroic epitaph. d) “His father before him was called Ecgtheow” Book states “Hrothgar recognizes Beowulf’s name and approves his arrival. ” g) Women The Wergild or recompense due for the killing or injuring of a woman is notably set at twice that of a man of the same rank in Germanic Alemannic law. Although women weren’t mention much in Beowuf, they also had important roles in the Germanic world. As shown in Beowulf women in the aristocratic society had all the dignity standing as menQueen Wealhtheow They believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies.

Wealtheow and other female characters all have a legit standing weather in court or in everyday life. Sometimes women served as “peace weavers” or daughters given off in marriage to another country to erase enemy tribes. This was considered a diplomatic marriage but as shown in Beowulf, these marriages don’t always go over smoothly. As in the cases of Finn’s queen, Hildeburn; and Hrothgar’s daughter’s situation. Women probably had an even larger role in the day-to-day life of the core class than they do in Beowulf since Beowulf focuses on c reating an impression of splendid civility and heroic paths. Adorned in her gold, she graciously saluted the men in hall, then handed the cup first to Hrothgar, their homeland’s guardian, urging him to drink deep and enjoy it because he was dear to them.

And he drank it down like the warlard he was, with festive cheer so the Helming woman went on her rounds, queenly and dignified, decked out in rings, offering the goblet to all ranks treating the household and assembled troop until it was Beowulf’s turn to take it from her hand. ” h) Religion v) Old English poetry suggests that the scheme that Christ is the supreme chief and that His disciples are comitatus v) Other Germanic Poetry also suggest the same religious aspects in their poetry as well. Poems such as “The Warderer” and “The Seafarer” are a theme of exile or a metaphor that expresses the Christian view of man alone in a desolate world, searching for “our heavenly home. ” In both secular & religious Old English poetry it ment everything to have a lord. vi) Paganism

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