Death in the days of Beowulf
In almost all instances, death is always greeted with fear and apprehension. However, in the story, Beowulf, death was generally viewed as a tool for people to permanently achieve honor and glory.
In the story, Beowulf’s faced death head-on during his battles with the monster Grendel, its mother, and the dragon, which he all valiantly defeated by risking his own life. His numerous heroic victories instantly propelled him to fame and his name was feared all throughout the land. Although he died after being mortally wounded in his battled with the dragon, his people continued to praise his name.
However, more than honor and glory of dying for the sake of others, what Beowulf and his men wanted to achieve was immortality. They didn’t care how many battles and wars they had to fight. What mattered most to them was that if they died, people will still continue to talk about their triumphs hundreds of years later and in effect, pass them on to future generations. They wanted the bards to endlessly sing of their heroic deeds and they wanted the scribes to continuously write about their victories. In other words, Beowulf and his men wanted to permanently imprint their names in history.
In a way, Beowulf and his men, wanted to die or had to die in order to achieve their goal of becoming immortal. While it may be true that they do not need to die in order to become famous and glorified, their deaths would emphatically put a much needed exclamation point to their desired ending. For them, their life is simply a story, which they knew would end one way or another.
However, Beowulf and his men didn’t want an ordinary happy ending. They wanted to end their stories in such a way that their names would echo in the annals of history forever. And, for them, the best way to achieve this is to die honorably or to make a dramatic exit and attain immortality. This is best shown during Beowulf’s duel with the monster Grendel.
During the battle, Beowulf fought the creature unarmed. Although he knew fighting Grendel without any weapon would greatly endanger his life and the lives of other people, he wanted to prove that he was stronger than this opponent even without a sword. More importantly, he wanted other people to see that he was superior than his opponent and he was successful in doing so.
Furthermore, Beowulf also viewed death as an opportunity to avenge the person who died. This is shown in his conversation with king Hrothgar, following the murder of Aeschere, the king’s most trusted adviser, at the hands of Grendel’s mother. Beowulf told the king that he and his men do not grieve over death. Instead, they avenge the person who died as this was another way of attaining glory.
In short, although Beowulf realized that in all his battles, his life would be in danger, he didn’t care because he knew that even if he died, his past heroic deeds and countless triumphs would always be remembered by the people and in effect, immortalize him.
However, in contrast, the people greeted Beowulf’s death with much agony, grief, and most of all fear, which greatly contradicts Beowulf’s attitude towards death. Moreover, instead of grieving first for the death of their king, the people expressed fear that foreign invaders would surely conquer their land now that their strongest warrior is unable to defend them. In other words, although the people expressed sorrow for Beowulf’s death and praised him for his countless heroic deeds, they were more concerned about their own safety and saw his death as the beginning of their doom.