Beowulf Synthesis Essay
The Voyage of a King In the poem Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, the reputation a king receives is based upon his generosity to his loyal followers. The reputation of a king is very important to his people. He gains his status by giving gifts and treasures for good deeds or just for being kind. This gives the king fame and notoriety, which benefits his family in many ways. Because of his gift giving and compassion, his people are faithful and loyal to him. They honor their king by protecting him and provide him with stability. A king is nothing without his reputation, generosity and his loyal people.
The reputation of a king is vital to his existence. Shield Sheafson was the most famous king of the Danes. Once an orphan, he rises to power and becomes king. The poet writes, “. . . [People on the] outlying coasts / beyond the whale-road had to yield to him / and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king” (10-11). His reputation reflects on his son, Beow. Beow’s reputation is much like his father’s. He is a powerful king and has four sons of his own. King Hrothgar, son of Beow, treats his people well and builds the legendary Heorot Hall.
In this building, Hrothgar “doled out rings”, making the hall and Hrothgar himself exceedingly famous (80). It is because of his reputation for kindness and generosity that Beowulf comes to his aid in killing Grendel. The poet writes, “[Beowulf] announces his plan: / to sail the swan’s road and search out that king, / the famous prince who needed defenders” (199-201). Beowulf has quite the reputation himself and it has made him fit to be a king. Throughout the poem, Beowulf is described as strong and heroic. The poet explains, “. . . he was the mightiest man on earth / high-born and powerful” (197-198).
A Danish coastguard takes one look at Beowulf and is captivated by his presence: [I have never seen] a mightier man-at-arms on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, he is truly noble (247-250). Even a complete stranger realizes that Beowulf must be famous just by his appearance. Beowulf’s fame and reputation continue to grow during the poem. Hrothgar realizes Beowulf’s abilities and wishes he will be king of the Geats: “[The] Geats won’t find a man / worthier of acclaim as their king and defender / than you. . . ” (1850-1852). And Beowulf does become king of the Geats.
He is a warrior king and lives up to his reputation. He defends his people against a dragon that sends him to his death. The Geats remember King Beowulf well: “They said that of all the kings upon the earth / he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, / kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (3180-3182). Beowulf’s reputation will live on long after his death because of his heroic deeds and generosity. He is a legend; the greatest honor for a king. A king receives his reputation not only by his strength and compassion, but by the gifts and treasures he offers as well.
When Beowulf defeats Grendel, King Hrothgar presents him with many gifts: “. . . two arm bangles, / a mail-shirt and rings, and the most resplendent torque of gold. . . “(1193-1195). Beowulf’s men also receive gifts for their victory against Grendel. King Hrothgar rewards Beowulf again after he overcomes Grendel’s mother. He tells Beowulf, “To-morrow morning / our treasure will be shared and showered upon you” (1783-1784). When Beowulf returns to his home, King Hygelac shows his thanks by rewarding him with treasures. The poet writes, “[Hygelac] ordered a gold-chased heirloom . . then rewarded him with land as well. . . ” (2191, 2195). Weohstan, Wiglaf’s father, was also rewarded for good deeds. Weohstan had killed Eanmund in battle and had taken his war gear back to Eanmund’s king, Onela, to show respect. The poet explains the outcome: “But Onela returned / the weapons to him, rewarded Weohstan / with Eanmund’s war-gear” (2616-2618). A king offers these gifts as a thank you for his follower’s good deeds, and in return he is given allegiance and loyalty. Loyalty is a quality favored by men not only for the reputation it gives, but for its rewards.
The poem had many examples of men being loyal to their king. One of the first is Beowulf paying an old family debt to King Hrothgar by killing the monster, Grendel. Hrothgar saves Beowulf’s father’s life by paying his enemy with treasure. Beowulf returns to Hrothgar’s land to settle his father’s debt by defeating Grendel. He is dedicated to relieving Hrothgar and his people of the evil among them. Beowulf shows his loyalty again by defeating Grendel’s mother. She attacks the Danes to avenge her son’s death. She kills one of the king’s dearest friends and he is deeply saddened.
Beowulf vows to destroy Grendel’s mother, proving his loyalty once again. He tells Hrothgar, “I guarantee you: she will not get away. . . ” (1392). Perhaps the greatest illustration of loyalty is Wiglaf. He stands by his king when no one else will. King Beowulf is behind in his battle with the dragon when all his men, apart from Wiglaf, run for the woods with their own safety in mind. Wiglaf stays to protect his king: “But within one heart / sorrow welled up: in a man of worth / the claims of kinship cannot be denied” (2599-2601). Wiglaf then lectures his cowardly comrades about the oath they took to protect their king.
He reminds them of the gifts they were given and that now is the time to use them. His words are filled with honor and devotion: “I would rather my body were robed in the same / burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body / than go back home bearing arms” (2651-2653). Wiglaf’s loyalty is so great; he is willing to die with his king than return home without one. Each example shows its own version of loyalty, but no matter how it is described all of these men are truly devoted to their kings. In the poem, Beowulf, kings are described as gracious, trustworthy and powerful.
They receive this reputation from the kind of kings they are. Kings must be strong, yet loved by their people. They offer treasures and rings as gifts and often give gold and war gear as a reward for good deeds. Because of these rewards, the people are loyal to their king. They defend his honor regularly go to battle with him. His followers tell of his generosity, making his name known throughout the land. A famous king is a good king, and a good king earns his reputation through his generosity, and his people are loyal to him in return.