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 Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf )

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PostSubject: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 06, 2014 2:30 pm


Quote :
"A literary symbol is something, often an object, that stands for a significant concept or series of ideas. Often a symbol is emblematic of the values of the characters. In Beowulf, some of the most important symbols are Hrothgar's mead-hall, Grendel's cave, Grendel's arm and head, and the dragon's treasure-trove.Hrothgar's great mead-hall, Heorot ("Hall of the Hart"), functions as both setting and symbol in the epic. It is much more than a place to drink. Symbolically, Heorot represents the achievements of the Scyldings, specifically Hrothgar, and their level of civilization. The hall is a home for the warriors who sleep there and functions as a seat of government. It is a place of light, warmth, and joy, contrasting with Grendel's morbid swamp as well as the dark and cold of winters in Scandinavia. In Heorot, Hrothgar celebrates his victories and rewards his thanes (warriors) with various treasures. The building is like a palace. It towers high and is compared to a cliff. The gables are shaped like horns of the hart. People from neighboring tribes have respectfully contributed to the rich decorations and intricate designs. The hall is also symbolic in that it is the setting of Beowulf's first great battle, the defeat of Grendel. When Grendel invades the hall, he knows that he strikes at the very heart of the Scyldings. That lends special meaning to his victories and to Beowulf's eventual liberation of the hall from the ravages of the ogres."

The Cave

Quote :
" The cave where Grendel and his mother hide from the world is symbolic of their lives as outcasts. Hidden beneath a treacherous mere in the middle of a dark, forbidding swamp, the cave allows them a degree of safety and privacy in a world that they view as hostile. They certainly are not welcome at Heorot, and they know it.

The cave also represents their heritage. As descendants of Cain, they are associated with sorcery, black magic, demons, ancient runes, and hell itself. When Grendel's mother is able to fight Beowulf in the cave, she has a distinct advantage; his victory is all the more significant. It is not clear whether he wins because of his own ability, the influence of magic (the giant sword), or God's intervention. All are mentioned, probably because the poet borrowed from various influences in creating the poem. The cave itself represents a world alien to Heorot. One is high and bright and full of song and joy, towering as the Scyldings' greatest achievement. The other is dark and dank and full of evil, beneath a mere in the middle of a fen and the symbolic home of resentful outcasts."

Grendel's Claw and Head

Quote :
"Beowulf had hoped to have an entire Grendel body to present to King Hrothgar after his battle with the ogre in Heorot. He has to settle for the right arm or claw, ripped from its shoulder socket, when the mortally wounded adversary flees to the swamp. The claw is hung high beneath Heorot's roof (most likely on the outside beneath the gables) as a symbol of Beowulf's victory.

Grendel's mother also sees it as a symbol, representing her personal loss and mankind's macabre sense of what might be an appropriate trophy. Filled with grief and rage, she retrieves the arm from Heorot and kills another Scylding in the process. When Beowulf tracks her to the mere and ends up in her underwater cave, he has no more interest in the claw. Grendel's head, which he is able to find after a strange, perhaps holy brilliance illuminates the dimly lighted cave, is much more impressive. He ignores the vast treasure in the cave, instead choosing to carry the magnificent, huge head as symbolic of his victory over both ogres."

The Dragon's Treasure-Trove

Quote :
"The dragon's treasure-trove poignantly represents the vanity of human wishes as well as the mutability of time. The dragon's barrow holds wealth in abundance, yet the wealth is of no use to anyone. The ancient treasures in the hoard once belonged to a regional tribe of warriors who were killed in battle some 300 years previously. Only one survivor, who is called the "keeper of the rings" (2244), lived to hide the treasures in the barrow.

Just as the dead warriors cannot use the treasure, neither can the dragon. He devotes his life to guarding a treasure that he frankly has no use for. Beowulf gives his life defeating the dragon and gaining this impressive treasure for his people, but they won't benefit from it either. The treasure is buried with the great warrior in his funeral barrow and, we are told, remains there still, a mighty horde of riches that is of absolutely no use to anybody."

Last edited by Erik on Fri Aug 15, 2014 12:51 pm; edited 5 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 06, 2014 2:46 pm

Quote :
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
There are several important scenes involving different bodies of water in Beowulf – the dangerous sea-crossing that Beowulf and his warriors undertake to go from Geatland to Denmark; the swimming contest between Beowulf and Breca and the sea monsters they had to fight; the bloodstained lake, or "mere," where Grendel's mother lives in an underwater cave; and the seaside cliffs where Beowulf slays the dragon – and meets his doom. Why so much water? And why does the water always seem to be associated with, well, really dangerous things?

The easiest answer is that the medieval Scandinavians were a seafaring people. After all, that's part of the reason that the Anglo-Saxons were telling the story of Beowulf centuries later in England – because their Scandinavian and Germanic ancestors had sailed across the sea to colonize Britain.

As a member of a seagoing tribe, Beowulf is familiar with the sea, and also with its dangers. Of course, because Beowulf is an epic, the mundane dangers of the sea – getting swept overboard, getting lost, running out of food and water – are replaced by fantastic dangers, like sea monsters. But the principle is the same. Grendel's mother, in her cave beneath a stagnant lake of bloodstained water, represents the uncertain danger lurking in any watery expedition. Later in the epic, Beowulf's followers will push the carcass of the dragon he slays over the cliff into the water to dispose of it, returning a monster to the place it seems to belong, the dangerous, capricious sea. And the barrow that Beowulf asks Wiglaf to build for him is not just a monument to his memory – it's a monument that can be seen on the coast by men sailing on the sea. In other words, it's a reminder of the strength and success of a hero that you can see and take courage from even in the middle of a dangerous, uncertain world.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 06, 2014 3:02 pm

Quote :
As Beowulf is essentially a record of heroic deeds, the concept of identity—of which the two principal components are ancestral heritage and individual reputation—is clearly central to the poem. The opening passages introduce the reader to a world in which every male figure is known as his father’s son. Characters in the poem are unable to talk about their identity or even introduce themselves without referring to family lineage. This concern with family history is so prominent because of the poem’s emphasis on kinship bonds. Characters take pride in ancestors who have acted valiantly, and they attempt to live up to the same standards as those ancestors.

While heritage may provide models for behavior and help to establish identity—as with the line of Danish kings discussed early on—a good reputation is the key to solidifying and augmenting one’s identity. For example, Shield Sheafson, the legendary originator of the Danish royal line, was orphaned; because he was in a sense fatherless, valiant deeds were the only means by which he could construct an identity for himself. While Beowulf’s pagan warrior culture seems not to have a concept of the afterlife, it sees fame as a way of ensuring that an individual’s memory will continue on after death—an understandable preoccupation in a world where death seems always to be knocking at the door.

Much of Beowulf is devoted to articulating and illustrating the Germanic heroic code, which values strength, courage, and loyalty in warriors; hospitality, generosity, and political skill in kings; ceremoniousness in women; and good reputation in all people. Traditional and much respected, this code is vital to warrior societies as a means of understanding their relationships to the world and the menaces lurking beyond their boundaries. All of the characters’ moral judgments stem from the code’s mandates. Thus individual actions can be seen only as either conforming to or violating the code.

The poem highlights the code’s points of tension by recounting situations that expose its internal contradictions in values. The poem contains several stories that concern divided loyalties, situations for which the code offers no practical guidance about how to act. For example, the poet relates that the Danish Hildeburh marries the Frisian king. When, in the war between the Danes and the Frisians, both her Danish brother and her Frisian son are killed, Hildeburh is left doubly grieved. The code is also often in tension with the values of medieval Christianity. While the code maintains that honor is gained during life through deeds, Christianity asserts that glory lies in the afterlife. Similarly, while the warrior culture dictates that it is always better to retaliate than to mourn, Christian doctrine advocates a peaceful, forgiving attitude toward one’s enemies. Throughout the poem, the poet strains to accommodate these two sets of values. Though he is Christian, he cannot (and does not seem to want to) deny the fundamental pagan values of the story.

Over the course of the poem, Beowulf matures from a valiant combatant into a wise leader. His transition demonstrates that a differing set of values accompanies each of his two roles. The difference between these two sets of values manifests itself early on in the outlooks of Beowulf and King Hrothgar. Whereas the youthful Beowulf, having nothing to lose, desires personal glory, the aged Hrothgar, having much to lose, seeks protection for his people. Though these two outlooks are somewhat oppositional, each character acts as society dictates he should given his particular role in society.

While the values of the warrior become clear through Beowulf’s example throughout the poem, only in the poem’s more didactic moments are the responsibilities of a king to his people discussed. The heroic code requires that a king reward the loyal service of his warriors with gifts and praise. It also holds that he must provide them with protection and the sanctuary of a lavish mead-hall. Hrothgar’s speeches, in particular, emphasize the value of creating stability in a precarious and chaotic world. He also speaks at length about the king’s role in diplomacy, both with his own warriors and with other tribes.

Beowulf’s own tenure as king elaborates on many of the same points. His transition from warrior to king, and, in particular, his final battle with the dragon, rehash the dichotomy between the duties of a heroic warrior and those of a heroic king. In the eyes of several of the Geats, Beowulf’s bold encounter with the dragon is morally ambiguous because it dooms them to a kingless state in which they remain vulnerable to attack by their enemies. Yet Beowulf also demonstrates the sort of restraint proper to kings when, earlier in his life, he refrains from usurping Hygelac’s throne, choosing instead to uphold the line of succession by supporting the appointment of Hygelac’s son. But since all of these pagan kings were great warriors in their youth, the tension between these two important roles seems inevitable and ultimately irreconcilable.

In Christian medieval culture, monster was the word that referred to birth defects, which were always understood as an ominous sign from God—a sign of transgression or of bad things to come. In keeping with this idea, the monsters that Beowulf must fight in this Old English poem shape the poem’s plot and seem to represent an inhuman or alien presence in society that must be exorcised for the society’s safety. They are all outsiders, existing beyond the boundaries of human realms. Grendel’s and his mother’s encroachment upon human society—they wreak havoc in Heorot—forces Beowulf to kill the two beasts for order to be restored.

To many readers, the three monsters that Beowulf slays all seem to have a symbolic or allegorical meaning. For instance, since Grendel is descended from the biblical figure Cain, who slew his own brother, Grendel often has been understood to represent the evil in Scandinavian society of marauding and killing others. A traditional figure of medieval folklore and a common Christian symbol of sin, the dragon may represent an external malice that must be conquered to prove a hero’s goodness. Because Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon ends in mutual destruction, the dragon may also be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the inevitable encounter with death itself.

Intimately connected to the theme of the importance of establishing one’s identity is the oral tradition, which preserves the lessons and lineages of the past, and helps to spread reputations. Indeed, in a culture that has little interaction with writing, only the spoken word can allow individuals to learn about others and make their own stories known. This emphasis on oral communication explains the prevalence of bards’ tales (such as the Heorot scop’s relating of the Finnsburg episode) and warriors’ boastings (such as Beowulf’s telling of the Breca story). From a broader perspective, Beowulf itself contributes to the tradition of oral celebration of cultural heroes. Like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf was passed on orally over many generations before being written down.

Last edited by Erik on Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Thu Aug 07, 2014 12:10 pm

Andrew Ratalle ( Art of Manliness ) wrote:

“For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark…
Endure your troubles today. Bear up
and be the man I expect you to be.”

For the men of 10th century Europe, these were words to live by. Theirs was a time before the chivalric era, where knightly romance was hardly a dream and virtue and honor had yet to be made into a formal code of conduct. These were the men of the Dark Ages, members of the many Germanic tribes that once roamed across Northern Europe. Their code was a code not of chivalry, but of raw courage, in which strength of character was the greatest, and often the only reward.

Beowulf is a portrait of these virtues. Written in the most primitive form of our own language, it is in many ways the forerunner of every other heroic tale in English literature. King Arthur and his knights, the ‘Big Men’ of American folklore, and even our modern superheroes owe much to Beowulf, a hero whose story speaks as strongly today as it did a thousand years ago.

The poem tells of Beowulf’s battles against three monsters in two stages of his life. In his youth, he frees Denmark from the creature Grendel and his vengeful mother, while in his old age he is forced to save his own people, the Geats, from a savage fire-breathing dragon. Though the challenges Beowulf faces seem far beyond anything we would ever expect to encounter ourselves, his story nonetheless portrays the virtues that every good man must follow, no matter how incredible his accomplishments.

A man is defined by his actions (or lack thereof). Although the poem has its characters, it often seems that the real stars of the show are the deeds the characters commit. The story itself is essentially plot-driven, or constructed by events. The characters in the poem are literally defined by what they do, creating a narrative where the quality of a man is proven solely by his deeds.

The Danish king Hrothgar’s generosity is shown by his construction of a great feasting-hall, a place to dole out gifts and treasures to his people. Upon meeting Hrothgar to free the Danes from the raids of the Grendel, Beowulf himself proves the integrity of his intentions by recalling how he has long defended his own people from many enemies. These words and promises are subsequently backed up by actions, proving that for the hero, words and deeds are inextricably linked.

In contrast, a man purely of words-without-actions is seen as a coward. The character Unferth is shown as a foil to Beowulf. A man of wit but not works, he accuses the hero of exaggerating his prowess and taunts him that he will fall prey to Grendel that very night. Beowulf responds in the best way he can, by hanging Grendel’s bloodied arm from the ceiling of the hall the next morning. Naturally, as is any coward in the face of such deeds, Unferth is left speechless.

Honor is the greatest reward. For Beowulf, the only prize worth winning is to do something worthy of remembrance. In the poem, good deeds are shown to have everlasting merit – they leave an indelible mark on the world, permanently impacting and shaping it, destined to live on in the memories of those to follow.

Against such a prize, material rewards pale by comparison. Beowulf cares little for wealth and personal gain. Though he is lavished with treasures by the Danes for his defeat of Grendel, he gives them all away as tribute to his uncle, the king of the Geats. Though he eventually succeeds his uncle, he does so without ambition, inheriting the crown only after the death of the king’s two heirs. Even the fire-dragon’s magnificent horde, bartered in Beowulf’s final battle with his own life, is treated with contempt and buried with the fallen hero:

“They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure,
gold under gravel, gone to earth,
as useless to men now as ever it was.”

In the poem, the virtue of recklessness did not mean acting impetuously, but rather for the honor of the deed itself. Knowing full well the risks involved, the reckless man chose to act without regard for material reward. A hero will ultimately lose his wealth and material gains, but his actions cannot be taken from him; that is the treasure that does not tarnish, for true honor can never be lost.

A man’s resolve means more than the outcome. Linked to this sense of recklessness is the belief that each man is bound to a particular fate which is constantly present, “unknowable but certain.” Life during the Dark Ages was harsh, and the men of the time were accustomed to loss and failure, realizing that despite their efforts, “fate goes ever as fate must.” No matter how strongly it is desired or sought for, success could never be certain.

Instead, the only thing a man could be certain of are those things he had total control over: his will and his resolve to carry it out. Though the outcome was ultimately out of his hands, a man could still choose to do the right thing in a given situation. Once he had chosen, retreat would mean dishonor.

“I had a fixed purpose when I put to sea…
I meant to perform to the uttermost
what your people wanted or perish in the attempt…
And I shall fulfill that purpose,
prove myself with a proud deed
or meet my death.”

Beowulf’s oath before his fight with Grendel is not to victory, for that is not for him to decide. Rather, he swears to unyielding resolve in his protection of the Danes. For him, death was better than retreat, for “a warrior will sooner die than live a life of shame.”

The greatest of all virtues is courage. Well before he received wide acclaim for his own epic, The Lord of the Rings, a certain Oxford scholar named J. R. R. Tolkien identified courage as the central theme of Beowulf. Although it has been given hundreds of different meanings, from ‘physical strength’ to simple ‘bravery,’ the virtue of courage is taken to mean something very specific in the poem – the will to do the right thing even in the face of total defeat.

Unlike so many of our modern heroes, whose stories often end with them riding into the sunset (in anticipation of yet another serialized installment), Beowulf’s story ends in tragedy. Aged, weaponless, and abandoned by all but one of his closest friends, he dies in battle against the dragon, leaving his people without an heir and at the utter mercy of the invading tribes.

But victory does not make the hero. Beowulf is strong, a resolute man of action and honor, but it is precisely the fact that he is doomed to such a bleak end that makes him so truly heroic. Tolkien understood him as a man “caught in the chains of circumstance” who dies with his back “to the wall.” Provoked by a threat to its treasure, the dragon sets his homeland ablaze, forcing Beowulf to carry out his duty as protector of his people to its bitter end. Beowulf knows that he has no hope of surviving the battle but chooses to fight it nonetheless.

True courage bespeaks of the poems central theme, “the exaltation of undefeated will.” It is one thing to act honorably for honor’s sake, but for a man to live by his virtues, even when he knows it will mean his total defeat, is seen as the pinnacle of heroism. The men living in the wild, barbaric centuries of the Dark Ages knew well that all men feel loss, all men face defeat, and sooner or later, all men will die. But to them, courage was stronger than death. Even the greatest foe, be it Grendel, the dragon, or any other surrogate for war, famine, and the infinitely more monstrous demons of real life, cannot conquer the will that chooses death before surrender. A bleak ending to be sure, but one that is not without honor. As Tolkien himself quotes, “defeat is no refutation” against the courage of the hero.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Thu Aug 07, 2014 7:25 pm

This one, really, resonated with me.

Rage and Beowulf

Thomas L. Wymer and Erin F. Labbie wrote:
Norbert Elias's notion of civility is based on the assumption that the nation as a social structure was not yet established in the Middle Ages, and that the historical development of civility led to the reigning in and subduing, indeed, sublimation, of emotions. For Elias, members of medieval cultures took social pleasure in the performance of violent battle. He claims that life in medieval societies was openly violent and lent itself to the satiation of instincts and drives fulfilling both pain and pleasure. "Rapine, battle, hunting of men and animals--all these were vital necessities which, in accordance with the structure of society, were visible to all. And thus, for the mighty and strong, they formed part of the pleasures of life" (Elias 1994, 1:158 ). Although much of his evidence for the blood-lust and pleasure taken in killing ostensibly rampant in the Middle Ages is taken from Troubadour songs, he does note that epics also are integral parts of social formations. "They express the feelings of the listeners for whom they are intended far more directly than most of our literature" [1].

Enfolded within Elias' The Civilizing Process is a mode of thinking about instincts and drives as partially constituted constructs, in a manner that Foucault would depend on for his own history of various institutions, taxonomies, and disciplines.[2] . Elias describes the results of the historical transformation by which relatively uninhibited warlike instincts are "confined and tamed by innumerable rules and prohibitions that have become self-constraints," so that "cruelty and joy in the destruction and torment of others, like the proof of physical superiority, are placed under an increasingly strong social control anchored in the state organization (Elias 1994 1:157-Cool.

Many factors and forces entered into the strengthening of social control by state organizations, but a fundamental problem at the root of that transformation was basic weaknesses in the kind and degree of social control typical within warrior cultures. These weaknesses are especially evident in Beowulf, in its elegiac portrayal of a social order on the edge of dissolution and in its ambiguous portrayal of a uniquely heroic figure. The elegiac tone is directly linked to the uniqueness of Beowulf's heroism in Anglo-Saxon literary heritage. The poem consistently remarks that there was none like him before and will never be another like him again. What is especially interesting about his heroism is his unique ability to handle that fundamental problem of warrior cultures, the use and control of rage.

The problem of rage begins with the fact that in the right context, in battle, rage is almost always presented as a positive force. When warriors are fighting successfully in the Iliad, for instance, they are typically described as being in some sort of rage, in a killing frenzy that seems to render them--for the time at least--unstoppable. More than an emotional state, rage can lead the warrior to achieve a state of spiritual ecstasy that obliterates any possibility of cowardice or concern for one's own safety and focuses the warrior totally on the business of killing; such a transfer of the ostensibly destructive force of rage to the constructive force of spirituality is dependent upon a belief in a power larger and higher than the subject at stake in battle. This power can take the form of a god, God, the nation, or a philosophical belief that one is fighting for a larger good. Battle rage then can be a transcendent experience, generating in the warrior himself as well as in his companions, and especially in his enemies, the belief that he is possessed by a god of war. Epic literature has consistently presented battle rage as conducive to winning; from the Iliad to Beowulf, and in later Norman texts such as Raoul de Cambrai, it is prized and cultivated by warriors. If literature is any indication of what was at stake in historical social contexts, then we can assume, with Elias, that it reflects and constructs a form of paradoxical pleasure in violent conflict. Rage is either highly ritualized, such as in controlled battles and therefore "in control," or it is out of control, such as in cases of inter-kin conflict.

Rage, therefore, serves the community for whom the warrior fights--as long as that rage is directed solely against the community's enemies or the "other" against whom the group is battling. Unfortunately, such restraint is not always evident in contexts outside of battle. In the Iliad the plot turns on the fact that battle rage emerges in inappropriate contexts, from which emerges a central paradox on which Homer's plot rests: battle rage sustains and profits the community by assuring its victory against outside forces, while it threatens to destroy the community when the warrior hero cannot control himself among his own friends and allies. It is also a major source of the epic's tragic impact, the ironic fact that the hero's greatest strength is likewise the source of his greatest weakness. It is a paradox that all warrior cultures struggle with, limited today to certain subcultures and manifesting its effects in the problems of veterans returning from foreign wars, neighborhood gangs that despoil their own communities, and violent athletes who abuse their spouses.

This theme involves a fairly fundamental feature of warrior cultures. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is developed extensively as well in Beowulf, but it is surprising that so fundamental a notion does not seem to have been noticed anywhere in the Beowulf criticism. The need to control anger or wrath or rage is, of course, commonly noted, but there is a special edge given to that idea in recognizing the importance in these cultures of encouraging and cultivating rage. Recognizing the positive value of rage also illuminates the special nature of Beowulf's heroism. And placing the poem in its historical context in the light of Elias' notions of the civilizing process helps account for why the concept of rage as portrayed in the hero is imbued with elegaic nostalgia.

Martin Puhvel, in his comparison between the pre-battle fury traditional in Celtic lore and Beowulf's pre-battle fury, lends some insight into why rage has not been explored more thoroughly in the literature. He notes the fact that Beowulf's rage never gets out of hand: "Beowulf is no volatile Achilles buffeted by fits of fierce emotion, prominently wrath." This leads him to minimize the importance of rage in his speculation that "one may well suspect the presence in the Anglo-Saxon epic of a somewhat superficially superimposed influence of the Celtic motif in question," and he can only conclude that "[Beowulf's] pre-battle fury seems altogether anomalous" (Puhvel 1979, 53-54). Puhvel sees Beowulf's rage as a superficial motif, in other words, because, in being so under control, it is so unlike the more common exemplar of Celtic battle rage, the berserker. Beowulf's pre-battle fury is certainly anomalous, but it is far from superficial. In fact, it is precisely that unique handling of rage, which signals its importance to understanding the actions and reactions of the primary characters in the epic, and to understanding how Beowulf functions as a unique and exemplary hero.

If we see Beowulf as A. Kent Hieatt describes it, "commentary through and through," "a tissue of oblique allusions and highly stylized elegiac passages intended to build a particular atmosphere and a particular feeling about life, more than it is a straight narration of a series of events in the life of a hero,"[3] then we are better prepared to perceive that the commentary being asserted about battle rage reveals its connection with the social order. This view is also consistent with Katheryn Hume's argument that Beowulf is about "threats to social order" (Hume 1975, 5) and John D. Niles' claim that the poem is about community (Niles 1993, 860, 862). This theme is pursued even further, in separate contexts, by Hugh Magennis (1996) and John M. Hill. As Hill argues, "The crucial [social] imperative is the settling of feuds and the continuation of fruitful exchange, the latter creating or else intensifying further kinship between individuals and peoples" (Hill 1997, 265). But none of these commentators explores the way in which rage is presented as possessing the greatest potential not only to destroy, but to preserve the sense of community within the warrior cultures of Beowulf.

A more useful approach might be to follow the lead of Norbert Elias, who in his ground-breaking study, The Civilizing Process, examines the growth of civilization in Medieval society in terms of the rise of emotional self-control:

how restraints through others from a variety of angles are converted into self-restraints, how the more animalic activities are progressively thrust behind the scenes of men's communal social life and invested with feelings of shame, how the regulation of the whole instinctual and affective life by steady self-control becomes more and more stable, more even and more all-embracing (Elias 1982, 2: 230).

In his examination of this process, however, Elias focuses on the age of feudalism at its height, in the context of courtly society, neglecting its precursors in both the classical world and the earlier Middle Ages.[4] He focuses little attention on that prior period before the shift from physical battle to rhetorical debate and juridical inquisition, when the more "animalic" drives such as physical rage are thrust into the background. What Elias does point out that is significant to an application of his argument about the later Middle Ages to Beowulf (and this is an argument that Foucault will later rely on for his repressive hypothesis) is that in the above shifts which "civilize" culture by eliminating open and rampant physical battle, rage is in fact foregrounded in conjunction with an ideal of control. Therefore, although he makes no mention of Beowulf, partly due to political decisions, and partly due to the time period he is studying, Elias' theory of the process of civilization does what Freud's Civilization and its Discontents would be hard pressed to do--it shows the possibility for a controlled rage within violent battle, as it is the inverse of violent rage in controlled courtly discourse. This is the crucial aspect of a reading of the epic elegy that focuses on the problematic of rage.

Beowulf can be seen as a work which chronicles the earliest stage in the process of controlling rage. This is a stage in which a model of self-restraints, operating within a context Elias describes as one "where the strongest functional dependence between people is still that of war and violence" (Elias 1982, 2:87), is built around a special and precarious kind of control exerted on perhaps the most primal feature of warrior societies, the experience and cultivation of rage. With its emphasis on community the poem explores the struggle to maintain civilization against the forces of unrestrained passion, and it offers a model, which in important ways both anticipates and falls short of the courtly ideal which Elias sees as developing within and transforming feudalism into a more organized civilization. We shall demonstrate this by examining the contexts in which rage occurs, most commonly expressed by the various forms of belgan, and by considering how the Beowulf poet relates the incidents involving rage to the concept of social order developed in the poem.

First, rage needs to be seen clearly as differing from all other kinds of anger expressed in Beowulf and as having specific applications. Niles provides us some excellent insight into the special qualities of rage in Beowulf when, in discussing the difficulty of translating the Old English word gebolgen, and referring to Puhvel, he maintains that "ordinary human beings may be angry, but only the monsters and the hero are swollen in a way that may call to mind the violent battle-fury of the Scandinavian beserkr or, as Martin Puhvel has remarked, the still more violent war-spasm of Celtic heroes like Cuchulain" (Niles 1993, 865). Yet Niles is no more able than Puhvel to make anything out of Beowulf's uniqueness among humans in this regard.

An examination of the way the word belgan has been traditionally defined also lends insight into both the curious nature of the word and the surprisingly curious way the significance of rage has been overlooked in Beowulf scholarship. The verb belgan, according to both A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Clark Hall 1975) and the new Dictionary of Old English[5] means "to be or become angry," or "to offend, provoke." The various occurrences of forms of belgan are traditionally translated in accordance with this dictionary definition--Raffel, Kennedy, Crossley-Holand, Chickering, and most recently Seamus Heaney are typical.[6] However, there are some notable exceptions, including, for example, Klaeber (1950), who defines these forms in some contexts as "rage," and Donaldson, who, following Klaeber, translates them almost always as some form of rage, usually "swollen with rage." If belgan means "rage," "enraged," or "swollen with rage" then a reading of the relationship between warrior energy and the formation of social communities is much more pervasive in a thorough reading of Beowulf than has been previously argued. Each time that belgan is employed in the text of Beowulf, the poetic context involves a situation in which the social order is at stake; further, in every case in which rage is appropriate, it appears to be cultivated consciously as an essential part of preparation for battle.[7]

From the use of "rage" in Beowulf we can draw the following conclusions:

1. Rage is a tool used by the Good to maintain the social order.

2. Rage is cultivated, reached through a process that is controlled and subordinated to a rational end when it is used for good.

3. Rage out of control is a serious threat to the social order.

4. Rage out of control can most effectively be met by rage in control.

It may appear paradoxical, or even contradictory, to assert a difference between controlled rage and rage that is out of control; however, a clarification of modes of violence within Anglo-Saxon culture, as opposed to the chaos and the unpredictability of violence known as "terrorism" as seen from the point of view of our contemporary global culture of order and unity, reveals that the distinction underlies a history of western approaches to community formation, societal regulation, and order.

The subtle but crucial distinction between controlled rage and rage that is "out of control" depends of course on perspective and the determination of "good" from "evil." Rage that is consciously mustered and "controlled" will appear to the enemy as if it is "out of control" since the two opposing sides in a battle will often lack the communication to perceive the rationale of the other. This is not always historically the case, however. Significant moments in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman literature reveal that battle can often occur in a manner that is completely ordered. The difference between these ordered battles and those that appear more chaotic and uncontrolled is marked by the distinction of the degree to which the warriors are championing personal, or intimate political causes, as they stand in opposition to those who are championing the causes of a larger community, culture, or nation.

The first occurrence of a form of belgan, one of the two instances of bolgenmod, is in the lines which describe Beowulf's temperament as he awaits the visit by Grendel:

Þæt wæs yldum cuþ,
þæt hie ne moste, þa Metod nolde,
se s[c]ynscaþa under sceadu bregdan,
ac he wæccende wraþum on andan
bad bolgenmod beadwa geþinges.

It was known to the elders
that the hostile foe must not,
the Lord did not will it, drag them under shadow.
But [Beowulf], watchful, with indignant wrath,
awaited, swollen with rage, the results of battle. (ll.705-709) [8]

Translators like Chickering, Crossley-Holland, Kennedy, and Raffel define bolgenmod here as "angrily," "with increasing anger," "in anger," or "angry"; Heaney renders it "spoiling for action"; Donaldson is better, offering "swollen in anger." We prefer translations such as "with enraged spirit" or "swollen with rage." The difference between "anger" and "rage" signals respectively the difference between an emotion felt in response to injury or offense, and one felt during or immediately prior to battle. Indeed, forms of anger, it could be argued, are not even logical translations for a passage that situates events within a battle scene. Hrothgar has suffered injury, while Beowulf has taken upon himself the task of redressing that injury. As Beowulf the warrior waits for Grendel to arrive, his tension rises since on his shoulders rests perhaps the last chance for Heorot, a symbol of civilized and just order, to survive, and his rage "swells" in anticipation as he invokes the pre-battle fury that is part of a warrior's preparation for battle. As rage, a state of emotional readiness for battle, bolgenmod makes perfectly good sense, especially in this context where it is focused for justifiable battle. The translation as "anger," however, offsets and undermines the communication of the significance that Beowulf's role as champion of Heorot plays in the struggle of a kingdom. Instead, "rage" in the process of being summoned and strengthened--bolgenmod--symbolizes and transmits the relevance of the battle in the development and maintenance of a society mutually opposing a malevolent Other.

Rage appears here as the culmination of a process of preparation for battle that would normally include the warrior arming himself for battle, but in this case, the process includes some degree of disarming. Beowulf must meet his opponent on balanced and equal footing in order to maintain his honor. This part of the process of preparation should not be overlooked, because all three of the major fights in the poem focus on the balance of weapons between Beowulf and his opponents and how well those weapons stand up to battle. Knowing that Grendel bears no arms, Beowulf disarms himself, choosing to meet his enemy on equal terms, a decision that he expresses as part of his pre-battle boast: "No ic me an herewæsmum / hnagran talige // guðgeweorca, / þonne Grendel hine," "I count myself no less in battle strength, in war deeds, than Grendel does" (ll. 677-678). He goes on to say that "nat he þara goda, / þæt he me ongean slea, // rand geheawe, þeah ðe he rof sie // niþgeweorca," "He [Grendel] knows not those good things [e.g., swords] that he might strike me with, hew my shield with, strong though he is in evil deeds" (ll. 681-683). But Beowulf needs to invoke his rage as well, since Grendel is himself enraged. Lest we fail to note the power of that rage from reports of his previous attacks, it is called unmistakably to our attention when Grendel enters Heorot on the night he encounters Beowulf. Though the door of the meadhall is bound fast with iron, "fyrbendum fæst," it springs open at the mere touch of his hands, "syþðan he hire folmum (æthr)an." How even a monster of Grendel's power can accomplish such an act is indicated by the formulaic phrase, "ða he [ge]bolgen wæs," "for he was enraged" (ll. 722-723). His extraordinary strength is generated by his rage. Beowulf therefore must be enraged, swollen with battle spirit, if he has any chance of defeating the evil and enraged Grendel.

John M. Hill's essay "Revenge and Superego Mastery in Beowulf" provides an analysis of orality and aggression that is helpful in understanding the relationship between Beowulf's boasting speeches and the "swelling rage" that is produced in reaction to the anticipation of battle fury (Hill 1989). Through a discussion of orality as it explicitly relates to aggression Hill demonstrates the ambiguity of "good" and "evil" in Beowulf's characters and various monsters. Beowulf's boasting becomes more than merely the anti-heroic self-congratulatory speech; rather, it is that weapon with which Beowulf begins to meet Grendel's aggression. We have seen Grendel's oral aggression in the context of his cannibalistic habits; and, as Jaeger points out, powerful speech acts as well as describes (Jager 1990, 845-859). Hill takes this argument a step further when he claims that by boasting, Beowulf may have been enacting one of the shape-changing and shaman-assisted rituals performed by warriors prior to battle and in order to foreground the possibility for perceiving monstrosity among the warring feuds [9].

In Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's dam, the emphasis is less on the pattern of developing rage as preparation for battle and more on the hero's ability to call upon rage at need. The issue of fairness is also less directly addressed, but Beowulf's sword and mail coat turn out to be appropriate means of dealing with the monster's claws and extraordinarily tough hide; indeed, his sword turns out to be less than a fair match. Perhaps an initial state of rage is unimportant since Beowulf must swim into the depths of the mere "hwil dæges," "for a great part of a day," a context in which rage would be both unnecessary and difficult to maintain for so long a time. But the sea witch finally accosts him and drags him into her cave. There, able to free his sword, he strikes and discovers her invulnerability to any ordinary sword. His response to this situation first emphasizes his self-possession: he is "anræd, / nalas elnes læt, // mærða gemyndig," "resolute, not slow in courage, mindful of fame" (ll. 1529-1530). He then grabs her by the shoulder and hurls her to the floor, and, as we might expect, his ability to perform so great a feat is indicated by the formulaic phrase we have seen before, "þa he gebolgen wæs," "because he was enraged" (ll. 1539). Beowulf, in other words, has been able to call upon the necessary rage when the situation demanded it, and that it emerges as a product of his self-control is reinforced by its being described not as an emotional reaction but as following from his resoluteness, courage, and mindfulness.

This encounter further reveals what might be described as an even higher level of rage, indicated by forms of the word hreoh, which Klaeber glosses as "rough, fierce, savage, troubled." The witch immediately jumps up and Beowulf has to call on deeper resources. He spies a sword hanging on the wall, and now, "hreoh ond heorogrim," "fierce and sword-grim" as Klaeber glosses it (l.1564), he seizes the sword and strikes her dead. But hreoh seems to suggest a feeling stronger than fierceness. The sword Beowulf found was "eotenisc," "made by giants, giant," as Klaeber glosses it, though perhaps more accurately "gigantic"; it is so massive that no other man could use it in battle, but it is not magic. It strikes through the otherwise invulnerable monster in part because of its weight, but also because being hreoh, in a state of desperate rage, gives Beowulf the strength to wield effectively so massive a sword. Like Grendel bursting open the door of Heorot with a touch, it is not only unusual muscle or sinew that accounts for the warrior's superhuman strength, but rage.

In other contexts as well, the forms of hreoh seem to suggest a more elemental, savage, and desperate kind of rage than those of belgan. As "hreohmod" the word describes the rage Hrothgar feels (l. 2132) as he begs Beowulf to take vengeance on Grendel's dam after she killed his favorite retainer. This is undoubtedly the context for which Klaeber came up with the alternative "troubled in mind," but such a reading neglects the fact that Hrothgar is a warrior in the situation of having been mortally offended while being helpless to accomplish a warrior's moral obligation to exact revenge. Such a man would not be merely troubled; rather his frustration would account for the more desperate, even frenetic, rage he feels, as indicated by "hreohmod."

Another form of this word seems to imply a rage that is mindless when it is applied to the waves, "hreo wæron yþa" (l. 548), that beset Beowulf in his swim with Breca. And this sense of desperate, frenzied rage is also attributed to the dragon when Beowulf first wounds it (l. 2581)--the dragon, already enraged, responds to the wound with this higher level. The application of this word to Beowulf, the force of a violent sea, and the dragon, therefore, reveals that this form of rage, like that denoted by the forms of belgan, implies a natural force that can be employed as a weapon in the service of both good and evil, either to restore and maintain or to destroy order. Indeed, it is this extreme rage that enables the dragon to fatally wound Beowulf.

But Beowulf knows rage well, both its uses for good and its uses for evil, and it is an indication of the significance of this word that catastrophic destruction can be seen as the result of divine rage. Thus in the last third of the poem, when there is no explanation for the disastrous destruction of his own hall, he fears it may be God's work.

Þa wæs Biowulfe broga gecyðed
snude to soðe, þæt his sylfes ham,
bolda selest, brynewylmum mealt,
gifstol Geata. Þæt ðam godan waes
hreow on hreðre, hygesorge maest;
wende se wisa þæt he Wealdende
ofer ealde riht, ecean Dryhtne
bitre gebulge; breost innan weoll
þeostrum geþoncum, swa him geþywe ne waes.

Then to Beowulf the terror was announced,
quickly, in truth, that his own home,
the best of houses, the throne of the Geats,
was melted in fire. Then felt that good man
great agony in his breast, the deepest sorrow.
The wise man thought he had bitterly enraged
the Lord, the Eternal Ruler,
broken the ancient law; his breast surged
with dark thoughts not customary to him. (ll. 2324-2332)

Beowulf believes he must have somehow broken the "ancient law," done something that "bitterly enraged" God, not simply angered or offended him, as most translators have rendered it. Nothing less than divine rage, it seems at this point, could account for the terrible destruction of his home, his very throne, more literally his "gift-chair." In addition to revealing one of the many moments in the text where it is evident that the transition from paganism to Christianity is indeed a struggle and a battle for cultural significance and conformity, Beowulf's sense that he has "enraged" God in this passage reveals a human God who, like the Old Testament Judeo-Christian God, is capable of wrath. The assumption of God's goodness and status as "above" anger, rage, or revenge on humans has not yet entered into the rhetoric of the Anglo-Saxon cosmology. Rather, God as an early representation of a monotheistic deity, remains one who has the properties and characteristics of pagan gods. In this sense, Beowulf's fear of divine rage mimics the general approach to battle found in classical epics and pursued throughout the 16th and 17th centuries in epics such as Paradise Lost. In fact, it may be posited that the epic genre depends on a notion of a God capable of anger.

This possibility inspires dark thoughts, uncustomary feelings to such a hero, but what is especially significant is that Beowulf cannot at first respond to this very personal injury with his accustomed rage precisely because he does not know the source of that injury. Moreover, since such near apocalyptic devastation might be an act of God, and, as we have argued, since appropriate rage is directed against rage that is evil and out of control, rage against God is certainly inappropriate--in fact, it is just the sort of response that had characterized Grendel. Beowulf, however, is able to reflect upon his many good deeds, his fairness to his lords and kinsmen, his valor in battle, and he finds no basis for guilt [10]. Still, he seems paralyzed until he learns why the dragon burned his lands. Only then can he act: "Gewat þa twelfa sum, / torne gebolgen, // dryhten Geata / dracan sceawian," "Then went the king of the Geats, deeply enraged, one among twelve, to find the dragon" (ll. 2401-2402). Beowulf, in other words, is able to act decisively in this crisis only when he is able rationally and appropriately to invoke, direct, and release his rage.

The appropriateness of Beowulf's rage is clear because his actions are a response not only to the dragon's destructive act, but to its rage. When the theft from the dragon's hoard was first described, we were told "þæt sie ðiod (onfand), // b(ig)folc beorna, / þæt he gebolge(n) wæs," "that the people, the neighboring folk, discovered that [the dragon] was enraged" (ll. 2219-2220). In the subsequent, more detailed narration of that theft and its consequences, the dragon, as it seeks the thief, is described as "hat and hreohmod" (l. 2296), indicating its frustrated rage and desire for revenge, much like Hrothgar's at the death of his most loyal retainer. The poet goes on,

Hordweard onbad
earfoðlice, oð ðæt æfen cwom;
wæs ða gebolgen beorges hyrde
wolde se laða lige forgyldan
drincfæt dyre.

The treasure-keeper waited
impatiently until evening came.
The barrow-guardian was swollen with rage,
the hated one wanted vengeance by fire
for that precious vessel. (ll. 2302-2306)

Acting in a manner consistent with evil (the dragon is variously described as "ðeodsceaða" (l. 2278), "guðsceaða" (l. 2318), "mansceaða" (l. 2514)--the last of these epithets is twice applied to Grendel (ll.712, 737), once to his dam (l.1339)--meaning "scourge or enemy of humanity") the dragon expresses its frustration by venting its rage indiscriminately. Beowulf, therefore, sets out to meet the dragon in a state of rage equal in power to the dragon's, but produced through control.

Signifying the difference between good and evil, human and animal, Beowulf's control is evidenced in his speech. Whereas the dragon's breath emits only noxious poison and fire, Beowulf's breath must produce proper language in the form of a battle speech. Before the actual encounter, therefore, as he stands on the seashore before the dragon's barrow, a more elaborate spiritual and emotional preparation remains necessary to achieve a controlled, consciously ordered, and full state of rage. Speaking to his men, he remembers the many trials, sorrows, and battles of the past which he has led and survived. Beowulf's boasting, his "beotwordum" (l. 2510), reaches a kind of culmination in his declaration that he will still "fæhðe secan, // mærðu fremman," "seek battle, win fame" (ll. 2513-2514). Nevertheless, a continuing part of his boast is his explanation of why he is fully armed.

Nolde ic sweord beran,
wæpen to wyrme, gif ic wyste hu
wið ðam aglæcean elles meahte
gylpe wiðgripan, swa ic gio wið Grendle dyde;
ac ic ðær headu-fyres hates wene,
[o]reðes ond attres; forðon ic me on hafu
bord ond byrnan.

I would not bear a sword,
a weapon against the worm, if I knew how
I might otherwise grapple honorably
with that dragon, as I did once with Grendel;
but I think of [the dragon's] hot battle fire,
of [his] breath and venom; therefore I have on me
shield and coat of mail. (ll. 2518-2524)

He can still boast, in other words, that he is meeting this foe, as he did Grendel, on equal terms. Having completed his boast, Beowulf is almost prepared for battle, but not quite. His spirit is not at full battle readiness. He is not yet in a state of full battle rage, that intense emotional state which will indicate his readiness to meet the dragon, for we know the dragon is enraged--indeed, once aroused, in a continuing state of rage much like Grendel. Beowulf's rage, however, emerges in a more disciplined manner. He leaves the beach, moving toward the dragon's barrow as his rage swells to its apex of battle readiness, and the passage describing this transformation is among the most stirring in the poem. It begins,

Aras ða bi ronde rof oretta,
heard under healm, hiorosercean bær
under stancleofu, strengo getruwode
anes mannes; ne bið swylc earges sið!

Arose then with his shield the famed warrior,
brave under his helmet, bearing his battlemail
under the stone cliffs, the lone man,
tested in his strength; this was no cowardly trip! (ll. 2538-2541)

As we noted earlier, Donaldson most frequently translates the forms of belgan as some form of "swelling," swelling with rage or swelling with anger. He does so apparently in part in deference to Klaeber, whose gloss includes the note, "Orig. 'swell'; cp. b(i)elg 'bag'"[11]. This translation not only reflects the word's root, it captures something of the way in which rage properly fills the warrior. The poet likewise suggests this by beginning this consummate description of the fully ready warrior with the word, "Aras," which functions as an elaborate pun: as he strides forth toward battle, he rises in the sense of moving up from the beach to the cliff face and the entrance to the dragon's cave; he not only raises his shield, as the Anglo-Saxon warrior customarily does before battle, he rises with it; and finally and most important, Beowulf rises up inwardly, swells in courage and strength as he completes that final step of soaring into full battle rage. This becomes an ascent into a spiritual and emotional state that explodes in a burst of energy:

Let ða of breostrum, ða he gebolgen wæs,
Weder-Geata leod word ut faran,
stearcheort styrmde; stefn in becom
heoðotorht hlynnan under harne stan.

Then from his breast, for he was swollen with rage,
the king of the Geats let a word go forth,
shouted strong-hearted; his voice rose,
the ringing battlecry under gray stone. (ll. 2550-2553)

To translate the familiar phrase, "ða he gebolgen wæs," as "for he was angry," as so many have done, almost travesties an emotional state that is significant and fundamental to the text and its analysis, indeed, to the Beowulf poet and his audience we believe, so magnificent. As there is preparation of arms for battle, there is preparation also of the mind, the spirit, thus reinforcing a hierarchy of mind and body. Having thoroughly constructed his rage, Beowulf's readiness bursts forth in a verbal challenge to the Dragon (an act that also declares the value of proper rage): "stearcheort styrmde" reinforces the fact that this cry surges up "of breostum," from the warrior's breast or heart, which this culture believed to be the center of emotions.

In his essay cited earlier, Eric Jager (1990) explores the poetic analogy between Beowulf's breast and the dragon's barrow, showing how Beowulf's cry "is reified into a weaponlike object traveling independently away from its source in the warrior's chest," a cry analogous to "the dragon's utterance [which], of course, is a weapon" (Jager's emphasis). This analogy, he argues, is further "complemented by a psychological [analogy]: the fact that Beowulf speaks in anger (ða he gebolgen wæs), as though his pectoral word expresses this anger, is figuratively represented as the hate that his utterance stirs up in the barrow" (Jager 1990, 850-851). Jager's analysis is further supported and extended by our reading of Beowulf's cry as carrying with it a force that matches the dragon's fiery roar; Beowulf's response from his heart or chest is, however, a force not of anger but of battle rage. Moreover, Beowulf's "anger" does not "stir up" the dragon's hate--the dragon is already enraged; rather Beowulf's cry represents psychological and spiritual weapons meeting just prior to the physical encounter, rage meeting rage.

The pattern we have seen of distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate displays of rage in Beowulf and the monsters respectively is further developed in incidents that contrast Beowulf's behavior with that of other human beings. Such incidents more clearly reveal the impact of appropriate and inappropriate rage on the social order. As we suggested earlier, the most inappropriate contexts in which the warrior might fly into rage, those most threatening to the social order, are in company with his own kin or hearth companions, especially in his own meadhall. It is in just such contexts that the negative side of this kind of rage is repeatedly revealed in the poem. Interkin conflict, especially kinslaying, is in fact a constant topic. Unferth is known to have killed two brothers, the commonness of which is suggested by its being little more than a mild embarrassment to him. Wealhtheow is worried about her nephew Hrothulf opposing her son Hrethric's succession, which in fact will be the source of internal division that finally destroys the Scylding dynasty of the Danes. Among the Swedes, Onela's nephews rebel against their uncle, a conflict only one of the nephews will survive. Another manifestation of interkin conflict emerges as a result of marriages arranged to settle feuds. This tactic is, of course, based on the expectation that people will be less likely to fight with their own kin, an expectation which is treated more with irony than anything else in the poem. Beowulf asserts (ll. 2028-2032) that marriages to settle feuds are rarely successful, and the examples that emerge bear out his judgment. In the past the marriage between Hnaf's sister and Finn failed to make peace between Danes and Frisians, although that between Onela and Hrothgar's sister seems to help maintain peace between Swedes and Danes. Nonetheless, Hrothgar's Heathobard son-in-law Ingeld will attack and burn Heorot.

An example of destructive internal conflict not involving kin occurs in Hrothgar's use of the ancient Danish king Heremod as an example of what he hopes Beowulf will never become. Heremod "breat bolgenmod / beodgeneatas," "killed in rage his table companions" (l.1713), and thereby brought down on his people slaughter and destruction. The sole reason given for his rage is "him on ferhþe greow / breost-hord blodreow," that "in his spirit his heart grew bloodthirsty" (ll.1717-1718). Indeed, his name, which translates as "battle-spirited," suggests in this context that a state of mind appropriate in battle came to pervade his being. His rage, in short, was uncontrolled and therefore as little motivated and as mindlessly destructive as Grendel's.

In fact, viewed in terms of this problem of uncontrolled rage, Grendel is much less a monster than simply an extreme example of the very human problems of the poem's warrior culture. Grendel lives in a kind of exile, sharing in Cain's punishment: "feor forwræc . . . mancynne fram," "driven far . . . from mankind" (ll.109-110), for what the poet calls a "fæhðe," "feud" (l.109). This word can apply to conflicts between peoples, but at least as often and more tragically it is applied to those between companions and kin, a situation not at all uncommon among northern European warriors. Indeed the exile is a character type who appears frequently in northern European epic and saga, long recognized in the critical literature as well (Brown 1989). Sometimes he is a survivor of a people whose lord has died, like Deor, or one all of whose people have died, like the warrior in Beowulf who hid the treasure that the dragon will find. More often the exile is a man who has fallen out with his own people because of some kind of feud. That feud may be politically based, like the rebellion described in Beowulf against the Swedish king Onela by his nephews, or it is occasioned by the exile having killed one or more of his fellow warriors. Textual examples of the latter type of inter-kin or civil feud consistently reveal that the exiled character is so because he could not control his rage. Grettir the Strong, the subject of the Norse saga by the same name, is an especially good example of the latter kind of exile; he typically ends up killing several of the hearth companions of anyone who hosts him.

Sometimes, most tragically, exile is occasioned by the warrior's having killed his own kin. The Beowulf poet reminds us of this kind of situation briefly when Hrothgar's herald first greets Beowulf and his men, noticing respectfully that by the look of them they have come, "neallas for wræcsiðum, / ac for higeþrymmum," "not as exiles but as greathearted men" (ll. 338-39). Grendel, however, is such an exile, and one whose separation from the human community, the social order, is rooted not simply in his behavior, but in his ancestry: his kinship with Cain links him with the first murder, the archetypal act of kinslaying and a clear intersection between the moral systems of Christianity and northern paganism.

Moreover, it is because Grendel is the embodiment of uncontrolled rage that his rage is so extreme and seems so little motivated: it is directed against Hrothgar's people, we are told, in response to the light and sounds of joyful feasting and poetic song coming from Heorot. However, Grendel's rage existed long before he noticed those lights and sounds; they become a special magnet for his rage because they and Heorot embody the joys of comradeship and social order from which his rage and God's consequent anger, "Godes yrre" (l. 711), have made him forever exiled. Directed against Heorot, Grendel's uncontrolled rage will continue unabated for years until it succumbs to the heroic form of rage displayed by Beowulf. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Grendel is "(ge)bolgen," "enraged" (l. 723), as he enters Heorot for what will be the last time. It is also in keeping with his function as the type of uncontrolled rage that he, an exile, commits his depredations within a meadhall, and in so doing violates order enough to make all the inhabitants of that hall themselves, at least for a time, exiles.

The thematic pattern of contrasting appropriate rage in battle and inappropriate rage in social contexts is especially important in that it anticipates the later transformation, as Elias describes it, of the feudal nobility "from a class of knights into a class of courtiers" (Elias 1982, 2:20). This transformation is first adumbrated in Beowulf in the hero's exchange in Hrothgar's court with Unferth. There rage is conspicuous by its absence. A less self-controlled, less intellectually adept, less socially aware and courteous warrior would have responded to Unferth's challenge, which borders on outright insult, with violence, but not Beowulf. He maintains his dignity and his temper and defeats Unferth verbally, a performance that wins Hrothgar's approval and Unferth's grudging respect. Indeed, Hrothgar's praise of Beowulf after his conquest of Grendel could apply as well to his handling of Unferth: Beowulf's achievement is not only in his "blæd," his "power, glory, or renown" (l. 1703), but because he "geþyldum healdest, / mægen mid modes snyttrum," "holds [that power] steadily, with wisdom of spirit" (ll.1705-1706). This is praise that Hrothgar directly relates to Beowulf's restraining from inappropriate rage when, a few lines later, he uses the contrasting example we noted earlier of Heremod, who did not control his power, but killed his table companions in rage, defiled, in effect, his own court. The true warrior seeks, in contrast, to maintain the meadhall, this early version of a court, as a center for civilized discourse. In other words, Hrothgar is lecturing on the rudiments of courtly behavior. Courtliness is, of course, presented in a limited sense meaning here avoiding drunkenness and suppressing one's rage in social contexts along with cultivating one's capacity for rage in order to employ it appropriately in battle. As such it embodies the special sense of social responsibility imposed on the warrior gifted with great strength and skill, a responsibility that Beowulf has clearly accepted and internalized.

The importance of Beowulf's courtly behavior, as well as the problem of its lack in most warriors in these Germanic and Scandinavian warrior cultures, is suggested again in one of Beowulf's dying boasts about what is evidently a rare virtue, that he can die happy, "forðam me witan ne ðearf / Walend fira // morðorbealo maga, / þonne min sceaceð // lif of lice," "For the Creator of men cannot lay to my charge the heinous murder of kinsmen, when life departs from my body" (ll. 2740-2742). By then Beowulf's physical vigor has gradually diminished with age, but his awareness of social order and his resolve to maintain that order have never diminished, have indeed been practiced resolutely and continuously throughout his life. His courtly virtues had also been demonstrated earlier when Beowulf, the ideally loyal warrior, supported his kinsman by refusing the throne after Hygelac's death, even when it was offered by the queen herself, committing himself to backing the succession of his cousin Heardred, Hygelac's son. Beowulf serves also as the example for avoiding internal violence on a broader scale than among kin. Earlier in this second half of the poem, in language that recalls Hrothgar's comments about Heremod, the poet praises Beowulf for "nealles inwitnet / oðrum bregdon // dyrnum cræfte, / deað ren(ian) // hondgesteallan," "not weaving nets of malice for others in secret plots, preparing the death of companions" (ll. 2167-2169). The point is made again a few lines later, applied to unpremeditated crimes:

Swa bealdode bearn Ecgðeowes,
guma guðum cuð godum dædum,
dreah æfter dome; nealles druncne slog
heorðgeneatas; næs him hreoh sefa,
ac he mancynnes mæsta cræfte
ginfæstan gife, þe him God sealde,
heold hildedeor.

So Ecgtheow's son showed himself,
a man famous in battle for good deeds,
acted with [good] judgement; never, drunken, did he slay
his hearthcompanions; not his was the savage spirit,
but, fierce in battle, he guarded that greatest strength,
the ample gift that God gave him. (ll. 2177-2183)

Beowulf has clearly followed Hrothgar's advice, maintaining the wellsprings of his rage for use in battle while restraining it among his kin, his friends, and his allies. Here too the language of the text reveals contrasting forms of rage: (1) the savage spirit, "hreoh sefa," which can lead to the slaying of one's hearth companions and which Beowulf did not display except in the fitting context of that desperate moment with Grendle's dam, and (2) the battle-fierceness, "hildedeor," which is appropriate in battle and which Beowulf amply displayed. Moreover, the language of these three passages, describing what Beowulf is not, so aptly describes what both Heremod and Grendel are that the monster is again revealed as the archetypal exemplar of uncontrolled rage. This view of rage also helps us understand the poet's view of the order of Anglo-Saxon society:

Metod eallum weold
gumena cynnes, swa he nu git deð.
Forþan bið andgit æghwær selest,
ferhðes foreþanc. Fela sceal gibidan
leofes ond laþes se þe longe her
on ðyssum windagum worolde bruceð!

The Creator rules all
human kind now as he ever did.
Therefore this understanding, mind's forethought,
is everywhere best: much shall he experience
of love and hate who long here
in these days of strife endures the world. (ll. 1057-1062)

The world of this poem's warrior culture is one of love and hate, one in which strife is endemic, war is as much a part of life as peace, and conflicts all too often can be settled only with violence. It is a world therefore in which the cultivation of the capacity for rage is both a necessity and a danger, a subject for glorification and for admonition, as well as an example of what Elias describes as:

the earlier sphere, where violence is an unavoidable and everyday event, and where the individual's chains of dependence are relatively short . . . .The life of the warriors themselves, but also that of all others living in a society with a warrior upper class, is threatened continually and directly by acts of physical violence; thus measured against life in more pacified zones, it oscillates between extremes. (Elias 1982, 2:236)

This is a world in which the wise warrior and leader is obliged not only to restrain his rage, but also to call upon it at need. It is this capacity, so clearly exhibited in Beowulf, that makes him anomalous, or better, uniquely heroic.

The poem however is tragic, depicting a world dependent on a heroic ideal that could not be maintained beyond the life of that hero. And here again Elias helps us understand why. The process of civilization, as he describes it, is a complex one in which economic and political forces move toward strong and stable central monopolies of power. These enjoin stricter forms of control that limit the savage joys of that earlier sphere, controls that are subsequently rationalized, moralized, and finally internalized through processes of socialization into self-control, which in turn feed back into the civilizing process. But that is a process that paradoxically requires leaders less scrupulous and more ruthless than Beowulf, more concerned with exerting and expanding power over others rather than the kind of self-mastery exhibited by Beowulf. Thus Beowulf fails to effect any lasting change on his society. Indeed, Beowulf's self-control is amply demonstrated throughout the poem, while his lesser control over others, which we might call a political more than a personal weakness (though the text does not seem to present it as a weakness in Beowulf), is demonstrated in his reluctance to assume the throne after Higelac's death and in the lack of support he receives from all his retainers except Wiglaf in his final battle.

Finally, the central significance of the forms of belgan in the poem is further demonstrated by the extent to which the translation of this word bears on some of the major debates that have occupied scholars for the last century. Translating it as we have, Beowulf emerges as an unmitigated hero, not the decadent king marred by hubris imagined by many readers. His death can only be conceived as a failure if one superimposes Christainized versions of classic Greek vices onto the pagan warrior culture that Beowulf exemplifies. All warriors must die sooner or later, and dying in battle or as the direct result of battle is in warrior cultures the best way to go; the fact that it happens so late in the life of a warrior as active as Beowulf is only more grounds for seeing this king as exemplary. What he lacks for us is perhaps the kind of lasting impact on his culture that we have come to expect of epic heroes since Aeneas. This is not so much a matter of weakness in the hero, however, as a condition of the moral and historical vision of the poet and his culture. His is a world characterized by change without any ultimate direction, either historical or escatalogical, except the change embodied in seeing in the past an epic grandeur forever lost.

The idea of cultivating a spirit of violent destructiveness, even temporarily, indeed of glorifying those who achieve that spirit, seems to run more deeply counter to Christian morality than simply killing. It managed to survive in this transitional piece--indeed its survival in a transitional piece is precisely what makes its treatment anomalous--but it became an idea ignored or suppressed in most subsequent literature as Christian values displaced pagan ones--Bertran De Born's twelfth century song "In Praise of War" is a rare and unsettling example of an ecstatic response to battle that bears some kinship with battle rage. The Beowulf poet, however, achieves an even rarer balance between the epic's admonitory theme about the control of rage and its glorification of appropriate rage, a balance which subsequent European culture abandoned as it suppressed the vision of rage as a positive attribute.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Thu Aug 07, 2014 7:38 pm

Nice entries Erik.

I'll add to this in time.

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"ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν." [Heraclitus]

"All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." [Aeschylus, Prometheus]

"The history of everyday is constituted by our habits. ... How have you lived today?" [N.]

*Become clean, my friends.*
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 08, 2014 9:33 am

Lyssa wrote:
Nice entries Erik.

I'll add to this in time.

Thanks Lyssa.

Beowulf is one of my favorite characters from ancient literature.


Although the 2007 Beowulf movie is a poor bastardization of the original story, the scene above remains true to the original. The symbolism is apparent to me; Grendel represents the emasculating and morbid ethos of Judeo-Christianity that was taking over the Pagan warrior culture of the time. Grendel is shown as a decaying, sickly, resentful entity without a " pintel " ( male genitalia ), i.e., emasculated - effete.

Beowulf is the opposite; he is a young, good looking, virile individual that encapsulates the masculine ideal. He represents the manliness of the pagan warrior ethos.

In the beginning of the scene below, Beowulf laments how the time is transitioning from a heroic age into an age of weeping martyrs:

Last edited by Erik on Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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There Will Be Blood


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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 08, 2014 11:15 am

Or does it? Learn to trust yourself less. You hate mirrors, whilst I'm obsessed with them.

Set in Pagan Scandinavia, and written by a Christian Anglo-Saxon poet.

Read it with this in the back of your mind and a whole new world starts to appear. Now conflicts that can only be described as within whole new levels of the book. 

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Nofear mode not meant to demean. I for one could never of really read Shakespear without a similar of its like.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 08, 2014 11:38 am

γνῶθι σεαυτόν
μηδέν άγαν
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Sat Aug 09, 2014 11:26 am

There Will Be Blood wrote:
Or does it? Learn to trust yourself less. You hate mirrors, whilst I'm obsessed with them.

Set in Pagan Scandinavia, and written by a Christian Anglo-Saxon poet.

Read it with this in the back of your mind and a whole new world starts to appear. Now conflicts that can only be described as within whole new levels of the book.

Nofear mode not meant to demean. I for one could never of really read Shakespear without a similar of its like.

Or was it?

The author of the epic poem is, actually, unknown.
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There Will Be Blood


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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Sat Aug 09, 2014 10:13 pm

Quote :
Or was it?  The author of the epic poem is, actually, unknown.

Yeah, fuck this. Growing disinterest in the dishonest. Never change, boy.

We would wish to disambiguate, demystify as much as possible.


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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Sun Aug 10, 2014 8:12 am

There Will Be Blood wrote:
Yeah, fuck this. Growing disinterest in the dishonest. Never change, boy.

We would wish to disambiguate, demystify as much as possible.

Taking a page straight out of Satyr's book, ay? How adorable.

" Never change, boy.......never change ".

So condescending, yet a dash of bubbly humor.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Mon Aug 11, 2014 10:28 am

An excellent song from the Beowulf ( 2007 ) soundtrack; it, really, captures the epicness and grandeur of the story. A radiation of architecturally gothic, heroic, and cosmic themes.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Tue Aug 12, 2014 9:53 pm

If you want a bitch like that, and you want a horny bitch like that, you need to be nr.1. Did you get that? How u do that?

Gratitudes for a more personal and deeper display of laziness in thought. 

Wait, wait, wait, wait wouldn't you absorb more or be closer if in disregarding any preconceptions of the author? 

For such is ours, it was always near, an eternal now, grand attunement. 



Our vortex is not afraid of the Past: it has forgotten it’s existence.

Our vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past.

The Future is distant, like the Past, and therefore sentimental.

The mere element “Past” must be retained to sponge up and absorb our melancholy.

Everything absent, remote, requiring projection in the veiled weakness of the mind, is sentimental.

The Present can be intensely sentimental—especially if you exclude the mere element “Past.”

Our vortex does not deal in reactive Action only, nor identify the Present with numbing displays of vitality.

The new vortex plunges to the heart of the Present.

The chemistry of the Present is different to that of the Past. With this different chemistry we produce a New Living Abstraction.

The Rembrandt Vortex swamped the Netherlands with a flood of dreaming.

The Turner Vortex rushed at Europe with a wave of light.

We wish the Past and Future with us, the Past to mop up our melancholy, the Future to absorb our troublesome optimism.

With our Vortex the Present is the only active thing.

Life is the Past and the Future.

The Present is Art.


Our Vortex insists on water-tight compartments.

There is no Present—there is Past and Future, and there is Art.

Any moment not weakly relaxed and slipped back, or, on the other hand, dreaming optimistically, is Art.

“Just Life” or soi-disant “Reality” is a fourth quantity, made up of the Past, the Future and Art.

This impure Present our Vortex despises and ignores.

For our Vortex is uncompromising.

We must have the Past and the Future, Life simple, that is, to discharge ourselves in, and keep us pure for non-life, that is Art.

The Past and Future are the prostitutes Nature has provided.

Art is periodic escapes from this Brothel.

Artists put as much vitality and delight into this saintliness, and escape out, as most men do their escapes into similar places from respectable existence.

The Vorticist is at his maximum point of energy when stillest.

The Vorticist is not the Slave of Commotion, but it’s Master.

The Vorticist does not suck up to Life.

He lets Life know its place in a Vorticist Universe!


In a Vorticist Universe we don’t get excited at what we have invented.

If we did it would look as though it had been a fluke.

It is not a fluke.

We have no Verbotens,

There is one Truth, ourselves, and everything is permitted.

But we are not Templars.

We are proud, handsome and predatory.

We hunt machines, they are our favourite game.

We invent them and then hunt them down.

This is a great Vorticist age, a great still age of artists.


As to the lean belated Impressionism at present attempting to eke out a little life in these islands:

Our Vortex is fed up with your dispersals, reasonable chicken-men.

Our Vortex is proud of its polished sides.

Our Vortex will not hear of anything but its disastrous polished dance.

Our Vortex desires the immobile rhythm of its swiftness.

Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss.

Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:54 am

There Will Be Blood,

That video gave me a good laugh. She, actually, reminds me of a girl I met in Mexico. I bumped into this girl, that I went on a few dates with, at a festival downtown. We chatted for a bit. She was very "touchy feely" with me; hugging me, kissing my neck, running her fingers through my hair, nibbling on my earlobe, etc. I informed her that I would be returning to New York soon. She was already borderline drunk at this point ( I could smell the alcohol on her ), and after she heard me say that I would be departing soon, she took the " Touchy feely " behavior up to another level. Basically, the same thing as what the woman did in the video you posted, except that she was making out with me and crying to me at the same time, imploring me not to leave back to the states. I found the whole thing amusing and cute.

In regards to being numero uno, that I am; It's a genetic inheritance, amigo.

Bloody Boy wrote:
Gratitudes for a more personal and deeper display of laziness in thought.

Wait, wait, wait, wait wouldn't you absorb more or be closer if in disregarding any preconceptions of the author?

For such is ours, it was always near, an eternal now, grand attunement.

Ok, hot shot. Give me the name of this Christian Anglo-Saxon poet that you claim to be the author of Beowulf.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:37 pm

Beowulf and Embracing the Past/Nature

Rich Lawson wrote:
Beowulf is an epic narrative poem that presents a society that is heavily engaged with a heroic tradition. As a result of this engagement, this society has an interesting relationship with its historical and cultural past The world of Beowulf is filled with heroics and legends, and it is a world in which past events and past deeds both play a very significant role. At various points throughout the poem, the past often comes to the forefront, almost seeming to overshadow the present. The characters not only recognize the past but also find value in it, acknowledging its worth. In Beowulf, recognition and acknowledgement of the past is not only an investment of society but also a reflection of the heroic traditions upon which the entire society is based.

It might seem strange that this heroic society would care to invest in, recognize, and acknowledge the past. What purpose could this involvement with the past possibly serve? In Beowulf the past often seems to act as a source from which society could extract both desirable and undesirable values. After Beowulf gives Hrothgar the ancient sword hilt that he had recovered, Hrothgar provides Beowulf with advice from a historical illustration, warning him of the fate of Heremod. Hrothgar tells Beowulf that Heremod "grew bloodthirsty, [giving] no more rings / to honor the Danes" (ll. 1719-20), and that Beowulf must avoid this in the future. Essentially, Hrothgar's message is that despite acts of heroism and great gifts, men could still grow too proud and greedy. It seems significant that Hrothgar extracts pride and greed (both highly undesirable qualities for a hero) from a past example. Hrothgar wants Beowulf to "learn / from this and understand true value...[since Hrothgar has] wintered into wisdom" (ll. 1723-4, 1725). Knowledge of the past and past experiences are thus able to instill the virtue of wisdom into Hrothgar that he needs to be able to advise Beowulf. Hrothgar possesses knowledge of true values of heroism.

The past is also able to present examples of desirable values. The very beginning of Beowulf presents the story of Shield Sheafson, a famous leader of the Spear-Danes. This story seems to be a lesson of sorts, teaching that "behaviour that's admired / is the path to power among people everywhere" (ll. 24-5) through an account of Shield's past deeds. Thus, admirable behavior can aid those who seek power, but what is considered good behavior, and what are the desired values presented within this account? Beow, Shield's son, is " freely while his father lives" (ll. 20-21) because he recognizes that such generosity will be important for the future. Beow exhibits prudence (or wisdom), an attribute he is known to possess because of his admirable display of generosity. Even though the deeds in Shield's narrative occurred in the past, it seems clear that the values that it illustrates are still valuable for the heroic society of Beowulf, because practicing these values is said to lead to power. These deeds are famous because of the value that they hold for the heroic society that is remembering them.

This investment in the past is also reflective of the heroic society found in Beowulf. The functioning of the entire society (at various levels) is founded upon values that are not only found in the stories of the past but also based upon the heroic tradition. Fame is very important to Beowulf, the exemplar of the heroic figure in the poem. At one point, Beowulf states "let whoever can / win glory before death / [for] when a warrior is gone, / that will be his best and only bulwark" (ll. 1387-89), which shows just how much bearing Beowulf assigns to fame. Beowulf seems to understand that while death comes to everyone, in some ways a person can live on through fame, even if in name only, and so fame seems to become the most important thing to him.

This desire for fame is probably the most important connection between the past and the heroic society of Beowulf, and without it, it seems unlikely that the past would have played such an important role in the poem. Past fame and past deeds do much to spur on much of the action of the story. Not only are the famous deeds of the past able to help to advise and instruct, but they are also greatly responsible for the way in which Beowulf confronts the dragon toward the end of the poem. Beowulf had "no dread at all / of [the dragon's] courage or strength, for he had kept going / often in the past, through perils and ordeals / of every sort" (ll. 2348-51), perils and ordeals that had made him very famous. It almost seems as if Beowulf's past is both a source of strength, as well as a force spurring him on to undergo acts that will make him even more famous and quite possibly bring about his death in the process. Also, Wiglaf decides to stand by Beowulf in his fight with the dragon, for he remembers "the bountiful gifts bestowed on him...[and so] he could not hold back" (ll. 2606, 2609). Wiglaf joins Beowulf in battle because he remembers the gifts that Beowulf had given him, gifts that had increased Wiglaf's fame and that would later cause Wiglaf to take action.

The past, which is both acknowledged and recognized throughout Beowulf, is not only an investment of society, but also a reflection on the heroic traditions upon which the entire society is based. It seems as if one of the major purposes of this poem is to express the values of heroic society, and it also seems to consider an engagement with the past as one of the best ways in which to do so. Fame, of utmost importance in a heroic society, cannot even exist without such an engagement with the past. The members of this society recognize the fame of their predecessors as they attempt to establish their own fame for their progeny. This is most likely the best reason that the heroic society of Beowulf is so engaged with the past. Members of this society must be constantly trying to devise a heroic deed to perform that will be as memorable as the heroic deeds of the past.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:06 pm

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:32 pm

Bravery, Honor, and Loyalty as Morals in Beowulf
Eleanor Cory wrote:
Since it originated in oral tradition, the epic Beowulf has no known author. It does,
however, serve as a representation of the Anglo-Saxon culture it originates from. As a work of
art, it also serves its purpose of moral instruction, today serving as a demonstration of what
values were important to the Anglo-Saxon people. Especially seen through the characters of
Beowulf and Wiglaf, the poem Beowulf illustrates three important morals of its time: bravery,
honor, and loyalty. Beowulf, the hero of the poem, exhibits great bravery in everything he does. Before
facing Grendel, Beowulf “took off the helmet and handed his attendant / the patterned sword”
(672-673), deciding that using a weapon or protection of any kind would make the battle too
easy. Shortly after doing this, he boasts, “When it comes to fighting, I count myself / as
dangerous any day as Grendel” (677-678). Reckless and impressive actions like these
demonstrate Beowulf’s courage and daring and make him appear more heroic. Over fifty years later, Beowulf shows the same qualities when fighting the dragon, as does Wiglaf, who aids him and does not stop even as “flames lapped the shield, / charred it to the boss, and the body armor / on the young warrior was useless to him” (2672-2674). Neither man could be deterred by lack of defense because both demonstrated heroic bravery.As the story’s great and glorified hero, Beowulf also demonstrates honor. When he throws away his armor and sword before leaving for his fight with Grendel, he explains that his opponent “has no idea the arts of war, / or shield or swordplay” (681-682). He therefore decides that that there will be “no weapons, therefore, / for either this night” (683-684). In accordance with the morals of the time, a kill does not bring satisfaction unless it is fair. Meanwhile, Grendel, the poem’s malevolent villain, displays a lack of honor when the epic states, “he grabbed thirty men / from their resting places” (122-123). The act of attacking men in their sleep when they cannot defend themselves shows how morally inferior Grendel is to the honorable
Beowulf. Wiglaf later shows honor in his own way when he refuses to withdraw in battle,
saying, “A warrior will sooner / die than live a life of shame” (2890-2891). Retreating would be
shameful and therefore dishonorable, which is not acceptable to a good man like Wiglaf. Many
of his fellow soldiers, however, did just that, and at Beowulf’s funeral, Wiglaf pointed out their
lack of honor with contempt, saying, “I would rather my body were robed in the same / burning
blaze as my gold-giver’s body / than go back home bearing arms” (2651-2653). Here, Wiglaf
proves himself the better man because he has honor while the others, who willingly abandoned
their King in battle, clearly do not. Lastly, Beowulf and Wiglaf both show outstanding loyalty throughout the piece. All of Beowulf’s actions are clearly motivated by loyalty, starting with his decision to help the Danes.
Beowulf’s father once started a feud, which Hrothgar helped to end. Hrothgar recalls, “Ecgtheow
acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance” (472). Beowulf traveled with his men to fight a
fearsome monster not for the glory of it but so that he could help his father to repay his debt.
Many years later, Wiglaf shows his loyalty and devotion to his king Beowulf by following him
into the fray when no one else did, promising, “I shall stand by you” (2668). In the end, this
loyalty reveals Wiglaf’s valor, proving him to be just as heroic a character as Beowulf.
The characters in Beowulf demonstrate three of the most important morals at the time of
the story’s creation: bravery, honor, and loyalty. The character of Beowulf clearly exemplifies
these traits,but Wiglaf, a comparably small character, does so just as well. In the end, his morals
save the day when he shows all three at once by jumping to Beowulf’s aid while fighting the
dragon. Together, these men form a representation of the moral ideal in early Anglo-Saxon

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:43 pm

Beowulf and The Heroic Code

Quote :
Beowulf remains one of the most important works of English literature though it was written centuries ago. One reason for this fact is that many of the themes that it touches on are still pertinent in today's extremely different society. One of the most prevalent themes found in Beowulf is the importance of the heroic code. Much of this epic poem is dedicated to conveying and exemplifying the heroic code which values such attributes as strength, courage and honor. Conflicting with this ideology are other factors such as Christianity, and these tensions affect the lives and decisions of the narrative's characters. Over the course of the poem, Beowulf matures from a gallant warrior into a wise leader. This transition illustrates that a sometimes conflicting code of values goes along with each of his roles.
In Germanic societies, such as the one in which Beowulf takes place, there were heroic codes which defined how a noble person should act. In addition to strength, courage and honor, these codes also included loyalty, generosity, and hospitality. The heroic code was of great importance in warrior societies. In his book Beowulf and Epic Tradition, William Witherle Lawrence says that these codes were "defined with the utmost strictness, and were not lightly to be transgressed." He goes on to say that upon these codes "the whole motivation of the poem depends" and that "tribal law and custom [were] the rocks against which the lives of men and women [were] shattered" (Lawrence 28-29). Therefore, all of the characters' moral decisions originate from the code's directives. Consequently all individual actions can be seen only as either complying with or going against the code.
Beowulf highlights the code's points of tension by relating circumstances that reveal its internal inconsistencies. The poem contains several stories in which characters experience divided loyalties, in these situations, the code gives no realistic guidance as to how they are supposed to act or react. One example of this is when Hildeburh, a Danish woman, marries the Frisian king. When war breaks out between the Danes and the Frisians, Hildeburh experiences losses on both sides. Do her loyalties lie with the land of her birth, or with her new home? In the end, Hildeburh is left grieving over the deaths of both her Danish brother and her Frisian son.
Another, perhaps greater, tension within the poem is the one between the heroic code and Christianity. While the heroic code claims that glory is achieved in this life through noble deeds, Christian doctrine maintains that glory lies only in the hereafter. Also, warrior tradition states that it is always better to get revenge than to grieve. This directly contradicts the Christian belief to forgive those who have done us wrong. Upon the death of his friend Ashhere, Hrothgar says:
Woe has returned
to the Danish people with the death of Ashhere…
He was my closest counsellor, he was keeper of my thoughts,
He stood at my shoulder when we struck for our lives
At the crashing together companies of foot,
When blows rained on boar-crests. Men of birth and merit
All should be as Ashhere was! (1321-1328)
It can be said that these lines "sound like an echo of divine service… and are a mingling of heathen valor and desire for glory, on the one hand, and Christian gentleness and kindness on the other" (Lawrence 242). In this case, the Beowulf poet seems to have found a balance between the pagan world of the heroic code and the Christian ideology.
Throughout the course of the poem, we see the transformation of Beowulf. In the beginning he is a brave fighter, but by the end, he has become a wise and noble king. This transition shows that perhaps a different code is necessary to fulfill these different roles. These sets of values illustrate early on in the poem the contrary outlooks of Beowulf and Hrothgar. Early in the poem, Beowulf is young, brave and has no one to worry about but himself. Because of this he can risk everything in his quest for personal glory. Hrothgar, on the other hand, is responsible for the lives of many people, and therefore seeks their safety rather than his own honor. Hrothgar's example becomes invaluable to Beowulf in preparation for the time when he will take the throne. He learns that as a king, it is his duty to praise his warriors as well as protect his people. Hrothgar emphasizes the importance of creating a stable environment. He also says that having good relationships with one's own men, as well as with other groups, is imperative.
When Hygelac dies, Beowulf does not hurry and seize the throne, but rather supports Denmark's rightful heir. With this gesture of loyalty and respect for the throne, Beowulf shows that he has been transformed. Instead of wanting all of the glory for himself, he sees that the right thing is to wait for the throne. This episode demonstrates that Beowulf is now fit to be king. At the end of the poem, Beowulf has taken the throne, and as king should therefore act for the good of his people. His encounter with the dragon at the end calls his values into judgment. By fighting the dragon, and ultimately dying, Beowulf has left his people without a king and without protection. However, William Lawrence sees Beowulf's final fight as an act of "heroism that springs not only form valor but from consciousness of virtue, and from faith in the True God." Our hero's battle with the dragon is an:
Occasion not only for heroic achievement, and for the protection of suffering mankind, but also for the defense of the settled orderly happiness of the civilized state. It is the duty of the sovereign and of those who would uphold human sovereignty to meet and destroy [the dragon] (Lawrence 131).
In this way of thinking, it would seem that Beowulf was able to reconcile the differing codes of heroism, Christianity and kinship.
At the center of the epic poem Beowulf is the idea of the heroic code and its tenets. Because the code sometimes conflicts with other ideologies, such as Christianity and nationalism, tensions often arise. However, as we see in the lives of characters like Hildeburh, Hrothgar, and especially Beowulf, one does not always have to choose. Though Beowulf has to make some changes in his life once he becomes king, he shows that the heroic code and other influences are not mutually exclusive.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:26 pm

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Great thread Eric. Blood is somewhat correct. There are christian elements in the text but they are easily discernible and the epic does have an essentially pagan character. The link above is the translation of choice. There are newer additions.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Sun Aug 17, 2014 5:58 pm

hǣþen wrote:
Beowulf and The fight at Finnsburg

Great thread Eric. Blood is somewhat correct. There are christian elements in the text but they are easily discernible and the epic does have an essentially pagan character. The link above is the translation of choice. There are newer additions.

Thanks for the link, man. That's awesome.

The Beowulf poem was preserved by Christian monks, if I'm not mistaken; the oldest copy I believe is the one preserved by Christian monks. But Blood was claiming that the original author was Christian, which is what I had a contention with. I asked him for the name of the author, but, in his fury, he opted out, perhaps realizing the error of his ways.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Tue Aug 19, 2014 5:50 am

Old English beo wulf, literally "bee-wolf," "a wolf to bees;" a kenning for "bear."
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:35 am

hǣþen wrote:
Old English beo wulf, literally "bee-wolf," "a wolf to bees;" a kenning for "bear."

Really? I know the exact definition is somewhat obscure, but I thought the closest definition was " Man - Wolf "...
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:42 am

Yes, really.

bee (n.)
stinging insect, Old English beo "bee," from Proto-Germanic *bion (cognates: Old Norse by, Old High German bia, Middle Dutch bie), possibly from PIE root *bhi- "quiver."
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf ( Man<-->Wolf ) Wed Aug 20, 2014 11:35 am

hǣþen wrote:
Yes, really.

bee (n.)
stinging insect, Old English beo "bee," from Proto-Germanic *bion (cognates: Old Norse by, Old High German bia, Middle Dutch bie), possibly from PIE root *bhi- "quiver."

After doing some research, it seems you are correct:

I'll be damned haha I need to double check my sources, I guess.
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