Comitatus Revealed in Beowulf
“My name is Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mandragoran. The message I want sent is this: my husband rides from World’s End towards Tarwin’s Gap, towards Tarnion Gai’don. Will he ride alone?” (pg 461) from Wheel of Time, Book 11, Knife of Dreams, a speech is given to a tavern full of Nynaeve’s husband Lan’s followers. Because of comitatus they decide to pick up their swords and join him in a ride that brings almost sure death. Robert Jordan, the author uses a connection through the quote “Duty is a mountain, but death is as light as a feather!”? which is followed by all in Lan’s once great Kingdom. This is similarly used in Beowulf, when warriors follow Beowulf to fight great monsters even when it will almost surely have great costs. Comitatus is used often in order to display a sense of community between the lords and the commoners and Kings and the Danes.
The poet constantly displays that the leaders and highborn are remembered for their honorable deeds and connection to comitatus. During their life and even their death they are respected by the other characters, such loyalty is shown by the poet’s words which describe the leaders. Primarily, “They stretched their beloved lord in hit boat, laid out by the mast amidships, the great ring-giver”? (34-36) showing that the lord was so loved that they gave him a title to be remembered by. The title “great ring-giver ? shows how much the commoners would respect a lord who followed comitatus them. Secondly, they praised him with “far-fetched treasures were piled on him, and precious gear”? (1384-1385) showing how much they praise their leader after his death. Only a leader who has earned the respect of his followers would be gifted so much treasure when entering his death. Finally, when it was mentioned that “They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the most gracious and fair-minded”? (3180) it showed how much people respected Beowulf. Beowulf clearly deserved the respect of all his followers and they showed that through this statement. While leaders were constantly praised after their deaths they also got credit while living.
The poet repeatedly displays that people commended their leaders for their good morals, courageous actions, and respect. These leaders were constantly regarded by their followers as respectful and generous. Primarily, when it is stated that “Your deeds are famous, so resolute, my lord, defend your life now with the whole of your strength”? (2666-2668) showing the faith the followers had in their leader. When followers trust their leader and he gives them respect in return they raise him to a higher level. Secondly, when “Beowulf was granted the glory of winning”? (814-816) it shows that Beowulf earned the respect of all his followers. Finally, when a leader is “acclaimed for strength, for kindly guidance to these two boys, and your bounty will be sure”? (1219-1220) he is being commended for his greatness. When a leader has achieved so much it is easy for his followers to view him with respect, but what makes the leader great is when he returns that respect.
The poet also shows the leader’s morality through uses of religion and comitatus. Firstly, when Beowulf emphasizes that “Whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgment by God”? (440-441) he is not only showing his morals through God but that he also shares beliefs with the common people that follow him. Having the ability to share with his people shows that he respects his people and they will in turn respect him. Secondly, when it is said that “It is a great wonder how Almighty God in His magnificence favors our race with rank and scope and the gift of wisdom”? (1724-1728) the leader’s are showing that it isn’t because of himself that they are successful but because God has willed it for the entirety of their society. This connection between leader and people brings them together as a people. Finally, when Beowulf boasts and it is said that “This formal boast by Beowulf the Geat pleased the lady well and she went to sit by Hrothgar, regal and arrayed with gold”? (639-641) it would seem that Beowulf is arrogant but in their culture boasting was a traditional that caused his warriors to feel connected to Beowulf. Beowulf and the other leader’s share morals and religion with their warriors and followers, allowing them to connect on a greater level.
Comitatus is displayed in many ways throughout the Epic but the poet seems to emphasize how the leaders are remembered, how they show courage and strength, and how much they shared with their followers. Whether Beowulf was fighting a terrorizing monster, making a speech, or talking to his followers, he always creates a connection using comitatus. This connection is what made Beowulf and the other great leaders be remembered after their deaths and followed during their lives.