Glance of the Past: “Beowulf”
The stories of yesteryear provide incredible insight to the cultures of the past. The renowned tale, “Beowulf,” entails the journey of a heroic figure and through the storyline presents aspects of the Danish people. Monsters, socially moral corruptions and the hero himself depict the fears and tenets of the original story-tellers. The world of Beowulf also represents the strongly centered code of honor and courage for every individual, including the dreadful female character. As the great trek advances, the audience is left with a set of hints that describe the morals, values, and the culture the plot embodies.
The beautiful, joyous melodies no longer ring as Grendel has conquered and terrorized the Kingdom of Herot. In this society of once untamable celebration, mead reigned the bodies of the citizens of the kingdom. Hence, the people of Herot lived a morally corrupted life as their realm was described as “the best of all mead-halls” (pg. 25). For twelve years, they have been unable to destroy their monster. “Beowulf” progresses into mentioning how mankind’s enemy “continued his crimes, killing as often as he could, coming alone, bloodthirsty and horrible” (pg. 22). For twelve years, no man was able to master the demon, Grendel. But how could they if the monster reflected their own wicked thoughts and emotions? Their long-sought dead fiend was actually not a physical force, but rather a mental illusion to their inner voracity, which no man-made weapon can destroy. Only a pure soul, like Beowulf’s, was capable of such. Yet, the fear of the temptation into a corrupted soul is one that the Danish residents strongly lamented to fall into. Similarly, the concept of an existing transition from purity to immorality through immense power is accurately portrayed throughout the poem. As the hero continues his triumph over the monsters that threaten Herot, his victory and behavior devolve his heroic character. When the text alludes to Beowulf’s compulsions as revenge: “…Beowulf repaid him for those visits…then struck off his head with a single swift blow” (pg. 41), one identifies the growing sense of confusion the Danes encountered. As a hero decentralizes to a vengeful warrior, does the code of integrity remain within him? His use of weaponry now symbolizes his inability to master toxic conduct. Moreover, Beowulf’s experience with the deepest nadirs of humankind does not excuse him from the moral corruption existent within the minds and souls of societies. Accordingly, the story establishes the central morals of the Danes: power corrupts the spirit of those holding it.
Once mentioning the code of honor present in the men of the culture, the immense anticipation for courage is definitely identifiable for the Danes’ societal values. For instance, the story notes how Grendel “ruled, fought with the righteous, one against many, and won” (pg. 22). Most all warriors were aware of the incredible evil force that protected Grendel from defeat, yet so many willingly signed their death sentence. In doing so, they hinged along the failed-to-be heroes whose immeasurable hope for victory and demonstration of valor clouded their vision of reality. What is most intriguing of the culture of the story-tellers is how the revealed bravery also applied to the female character. Although the only leading woman personality represented sin and had no definite name, other than “Grendel’s mother,” the fact that she still remained a source of plot for the story is intended to signify close female command in the culture. That is, her own gallantry (though wicked) in response to her son’s death implies a manifestation of the growing disappearance of female confinement, one that bewilders men. Grendel’s mother serves as the foremost revelation of male misperception: if a woman does not serve as a mediator for peace, then she must be a malevolent being.
Beowulf became a character that holistically epitomized the fears and overall principles of the Danish people. Through his journey of incredible heroism down to his painful ruin and everything in between, the audience absorbs the varying factors of a preexisting culture. Not only that, but one realizes that their values are not dissimilar to those of today. “Do not let power corrupt your spirit,” “conquer your innermost demons,” and “be a man, toughen up!” are all phrases that generally embody present-day’s societal dogmas. So the question remains: will mankind ever dissociate from the predisposed beliefs?