Beowulf is considered one of the first or earliest pieces of English literature. The epic poem tells the adventures of the larger than life hero, Beowulf. All human cultures both past and present honor and uphold certain values. Individuals who respect and demonstrate these values are often honored by others within the culture while those who chose not to are considered outcast. In Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon values exhibited consist of courage, courtesy, and generosity. Courage, courtesy, and generosity are demonstrated in Beowulf through the actions of some characters.
Courage was a highly valued act in Anglo-Saxon society. Beowulf demonstrates courage when he chooses to fight Grendel alone without weapons. Grendel, a monster capable of killing and carrying away thirty men in one night has to be a difficult force to defeat. Even though Beowulf is driven partially by his hubris, it took courage for Beowulf to challenge a monster that is also larger than life. Other examples of courage in Beowulf include Beowulf s battles with the fire breathing dragon and Grendel s mother. Like the battle with Grendel, Beowulf makes the mostly selfless decisions to battle the dragon and Grendel s mother. Even though all of Beowulf s acts can be traced to feeding his ego, risking his life to help others exhibits courage.
Another important Anglo-Saxon value is Courtesy. The best example of courtesy in Beowulf is the scene with the watchman. Once Beowulf reaches the Danish Shore, Beowulf explains his mission to the alert watchman. The watchman posts a guard to watch Beowulf s ship and leads him and his men to Herot. Instead of yelling halt, who goes there, the watchman gives a completely courteous and respectful speech, telling Beowulf that he is welcomed but must leave his weapons on the shore. Hrothgar also demonstrates courtesy by welcoming Beowulf and his men so openly. Courtesy remains a noble trait today and the honorable characters of Beowulf demonstrated courtesy of the Anglo-Saxon period. With courtesy comes the noble value of generosity.
Like the previous values, generosity was an important Anglo-Saxon value. Kings often gave gifts to visitors to display generosity, believing that they would be rewarded for their generosity by the gods. Hrothgar displays generosity by sponsoring the banquet for Beowulf and his men. Other honorable noblemen of the time showed the same generosity to their guest as Hrothgar showed to Beowulf and his men. Before Beowulf goes to fight Grendel s mother, Unferth offers Beowulf Hrunting, a famous sword, for protection. Instead of sending him empty handed or with a regular sword, he offers him the use of Hrunting to display his appreciation and respect for Beowulf. Going back to the value of courtesy, Beowulf displays courtesy by telling Unferth about how helpful the sword was in his defeat over Grendel s mother even though it was useless.
The Anglo-Saxon values of courage, courtesy, and generosity are demonstrated through the acts of characters in Beowulf. While still a bit arrogant, Beowulf and other characters that are considered honorable based on Anglo-Saxon values, displayed their society s values by being welcoming, thankful, polite, and brave. The World would probably be a better place if the values of the Anglo-Saxon culture were applied universally. Our society still honors courage, loyalty, courtesy, and generosity but unfortunately, lots of people aren t willing to practice what they preach . The result is a society that honors certain values with a lot of people who find it difficult to display the values through their acts. In conclusion, a lot of people today could learn a lot by studying yesterday.