The poem, Beowulf was supposedly written in the tenth century, but it was most likely told before then, orally, for centuries. There is little information about the author, on when Beowulf was first created or about the original version of the story before it was written. However the poem does, however, give us great insight into the cultural views and ideals of the Anglo-Saxon people who would have composed and told this tale. This includes their political, social and moral views. Beyond this, Beowulf gives us an even greater insight into this society of constant fight and war.
Interwoven throughout almost every aspect of their culture and the poem are very strict moral codes and values. Those morals and values affect the ideals, beliefs and changes taking place in period. In the time of the Anglo-Saxons, men shared a common idea of heroic and traditional values that each person should follow. They admired men with outstanding courage and loyalty. Anglo-Saxon men achieved that by completing daring deeds, withstanding harsh conditions and by beating the odds.
If a person showed such traits, despite where they came from, they were entitled with a great matter of respect. The traits that they valued were those of a hero. True heroes of the period had to maintain a balance between personal glory and maintaining the good of his people. However one didn’t become a hero just through great accomplishments. They also had to be exemplary individuals with traits such as: loyalty, virtue, valor, wisdom, honor, dignity, heart, strength, and a sense of justice. The character Beowulf is the embodiment of those ideals.
The easiest to see of these is strength. Men of that time period were fearless, fame seeking and most of all, courageous. Those who acquired such qualities would boast of their feats for all to hear. Other obvious virtues that Beowulf carried were those of honor and dignity. He displays admirable honor throughout the poem, but the time it was most apparent to me, is when he is in conflict with Grendel. He states to Grendel, “Since you have no weapon of iron, nor shall I. ” The Anglo-Saxons living in the time of Beowulf had their own set of beliefs.
For instance they believe that even if things were good, bad things were right around the corner, so they celebrated every chance they received. Also they did not believe in the afterlife. To them, the only way to experience life after death was to live on in the memories of others. One could only fulfill this goal by being known for one’s generosity, courage, and strength. This belief, along with others, I believe shaped their ideals and had influence in the poem. In the time of the Anglo-Saxons and the writing of Beowulf, two large changes are taking place.
One is the conversion from a predominantly Paganism religion closer to that of Christianity. However, I believe that the Christianity portrayed in this poem is more closely tied in with Moses’ Old Testament teachings of revenge and equality than Christ’s teachings of peace, love and forgiveness. Another change is the Individualistic society that was finally beginning to replace tribal systems, in which no individual is seen as more important to the success of the tribe than any other.
Beowulf displayed the severe change in that respect, helping to demonstrate some of the new unspoken rules the society was following. Even though Beowulf was changed and passed down through Anglo-Saxon people several years before it was finally written, it still delivers a poem that opens a window in the lives and events of the time. Their society underwent constant struggle and change, along with strong code of ethics, beliefs, and values. The poem holds symbolism, archetypes, contrasts, religion and culture that allow the reader to understand the world in which Beowulf lived.