Anglo Saxon Culture as Reflected in Beowulf
Every culture has its own set of beliefs values and customs. Cultural beliefs, values, and assumptions are directly and indirectly acquired throughout a lifetime. A culture is the sum of a group’s way of life and this is no different with the ancient Anglo Saxon culture. Cultures usually have distinct figures that reflect their culture as a whole. The importance of religion, values, and heroes are reflected a great deal in the epic poem of Beowulf accurately showing the Anglo Saxon culture as a whole. Men dominated the Anglo Saxon society and the people loved a great hero like that of Beowulf.
They believed a hero should be a keeper of his promises, be boastful and produce great physical strength. Also Beowulf was an outstanding fighter and loyal to everyone he met. He believed no one was greater than anyone else; Beowulf showed great respect even to his enemies by fighting them one on one (“Anglo Saxons” 48). Even when Beowulf knows fate is against him and he is going to die; he continues to keep fighting; “…No prince so mild, no man so open to his people, so deserving of praise” (Beowulf 60).
Beowulf’s boastful self-confidence, his overpowering strength, and his victories in battle make him a classic legendary hero and a model for the Anglo Saxon culture. A very important element in the society of the Anglo Saxons was the mead hall. The mead hall was essentially a meeting place for dinners, story telling and the party for victories (Bjork 89). The mead hall symbolizes security, fellowship, and all that is good in the world (Bjork 90). The mead hall was thought to be the safest place in the entire Kingdom. In Beowulf the mead hall was described as “the foremost of halls under heaven” (Orchard 77).
This mead hall was called Herot serving as a palace for King Hrothgar. This is where Beowulf dismantled Grendel in an epic battle. Beowulf preferred to fight with his bare hands. The typical Anglo Saxon warrior was not blessed with the great talents Beowulf was blessed with so they used various weapons like: the spear, sword, shield, seaxe, and bow and sling. The spear was the most common weapon of choice and could be used as a missile or used in hand-to-hand combat. The sword was not a common weapon used at all because it was very expensive to produce.
The sword was usually given to a great warrior who has demonstrated courageous acts in battle. All warriors had a shield that was made of wood and usually lined together by metal. A seaxe was a single bladed knife that was carried on the belt on the warrior and was used more as a tool than an actual weapon (Beowulf 112-113). Anglo-Saxons valued religion very highly. There is much controversy over Beowulf in dealing with pagan and Christian beliefs because historians believe both were integrated although Christianity seems to be more prevalent.
Religion was the center of people’s life at this time and is demonstrated in Beowulf when Beowulf calling for God exclaims … “the almighty the maker of the earth”. Up until the 6th century it is back and forth between Christianity and Paganism. The greatest sources of information on the pagan period of religion are from the 7th to 8th century testimonies, such as Beowulf (Orchard 25). Paganism dealt with the worshiping of many gods. The celebration of glory has such emphasis in Beowulf because human praise is the highest goal of the pagan characters. Anglo Saxon warriors wore helmets for battle with a pagan god on them named Freyr. Those who grew up praying to Thor to protect them with their shield and helmet before they went to battle were involved in the pagan religion (Orchard 33). Paganism seemed to be the religion of choice for many Anglo- Saxon warriors while Christianity did not evolve as quick in warriors (“Saxons Culture”).
Margaret E. Goldsmith who wrote “The Christian Theme of Beowulf” exclaimed the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Gregory are incorporated in Hrothgar’s sermon. Goldsmith said Beowulf was sort of a Christian historical novel, with selected bits of paganism purposely laid on as “local color” such as the references to fate or Wyrd (Bloom 127). All considered Beowulf shows religion, expresses values of everyday life and explains what a true hero in all about in Anglo Saxon times. The Anglo Saxons express their cultures through wonderful literature such as Beowulf, which is a record of heroic deeds.
The Anglo Saxon society believes in great men such as Beowulf that have good morals and exemplify devotion to their country. Beowulf derives its main plot from folk tales; and as W. P. Ker has said, “ it is difficult to give individuality or epic dignity to commonplaces of this sort (Bloom 14). The author of Beowulf recognized the obligation of giving his hero emotional and ethical value through association with events the Anglo Saxon people would recognize as hero-like.
It was not enough that Beowulf should display unequaled strength and courage in his victories over gargantuan monsters but the value of these exploits must be enhanced by Beowulf’s deep and emotionally justified concern for those he fought (Bloom 14). The physical power of Beowulf does not give him the moral dimensions and the title of an epic hero. The loyalty and unselfishness Beowulf displays makes him the ultimate Anglo Saxon hero and the great epic of Beowulf will never be forgotten because there is no greater idol than Beowulf.