You are on page 1of 4

The Heroic Code in Beowulf

The heroic code and the idea of fate, wyrd, were vital aspects in the heroic communities as the warriors had a great understanding of the world and the evil that inhabited it.

The heroic code possessed many values such as ceremoniousness in women, generosity, loyalty and political skill in their kings. This code is a testament to the warriors as it portrays their knowledge of the relationships with their enemies threatening their society. In the heroic society the warrior would rather die than to fail in his task. The things that heroes desired from battle were honour, glory, fame and reputation.

In this epic poem we find that the hero, Beowulf, encounters a record number of heroic deeds and also displays honour, courage, and courtly behaviour. The vow of the heroic would have taken place in the great hall. The oath Beowulf took occurred at Heorot during a feast. The heroic society must see this oath as meaningful and necessary. Beowulf vows to defeat Grendel or die in his attempt death was inevitable against this capricious violence. Beowulf endured three separate and violent battles: Grendel, Grendels mother, and the dragon. We see the expression of the heroic code vividly in these three battles.

Rebecca A. Tierney says in her essay The Heroic Ethos: Reality and Representation: The account of characteristics and behaviours which compromise the code makes up a substantial portion of the thematic material of Beowulf as multiple situations are shown to exhibit proper and improper ways to behave. We can see an example of this in the relationship between Hrothgar and his warriors. They represent the proper bond between ring giver and thanes in the Anglo-Saxon community. The most important relationship for the Germanic peoples was that of the warrior and his lord, this relationship is of absolute loyalty; the blood oath vengeance code. Hrothgar represents the old heroic code. He is not a bad king; however he pertains to the old way of doing things that no longer sufficiently deals with the threat to his community. By contrast we see that there is a division in Beowulfs youthful heroism of a gallant warrior and his mature heroism as a reliable king. Beowulf combines the old code with a new dimension of faith in that he still faces the unknown and he must do it stoically but he also has help in the form of otherworldly power.

Beowulfs wyrd is exemplified by the demonic dragon, which subsequently kills him. Even in his old age, Beowulfs code of honour encourages him to fight the dragon. In this way the moral and metaphysical components of the epic are often embodied directly within the universe. Beowulf, as a hero, was willing to do many things: his risked his life for the good of others, faced danger and does not run away in the face of adversity. He pursues danger until he has conquered it. Beowulf did not have to offer his services to Hrothgars kingdom but did so because he wanted to use his strength to the best of his ability. Beowulf was already treated as a hero by the Danes because he promised to rid them of the danger that oppressed them. We see the ultimate heroic gesture from Beowulf in the fight against Grendel, as he chooses not to use a weapon as Grendel does not use weapons in battle.

When a heroic deed was completed, it was a common ritual to accept the hero into ones family. Hrothgar does this when he says make you my son too. The influence of Christianity is shown in this speech. Hrothgar wants Beowulf to receive universal praise and recognition for being the bravest and strongest man in the land. Beowulfs dedication is what sets him apart from other warriors and what makes him a true hero. Another section where we see Beowulfs heroism is when he prepares to look for Grendels mother in the mire. He tells Hrothgar that if he should die during this expedition, to take care of his men and to send treasure he gained on his travels back to his own king, Hygelac. Here we see consideration for others and generosity at the price of his own life; these are admirable traits in a hero.

The Finnsburh Fragment highlights the codes point of conflict or tension when recounting past situations that depict internal contradictions of loyalty, Christianity, fate and honour. These characteristics symbolise the heros individuality in a unilateral society. Christian notions also create tension with the heroic ethos in Beowulf. The code proclaims that glory is obtained during life through deeds, whereas the Christian faith preaches that glory may be found in the afterlife only. Similarly we see the heroic code dictating to retaliate rather than to mourn the death of a fellow warrior; by contrast Christianity instils a forgiving attitude towards their foes. Although the poet is Christian, he does not deny pagan values in the poem. The poet saw the heroic past of the Danes through the eyes of a Christian Anglo-Saxon. Despite the Christian virtue as a component of the heroic way in Germanic writings, critics maintain that it operates as a moral guide for humans rather than to spiritual behaviour.

Graham Caie deters away from the literalisation of the heroic code from modern interpretations of Anglo-Saxon communities. He informs that there are only five heroic works remaining, and

that constant battle, acts of heroic bravery [and] supernatural feats of individual strength unites them. Obviously it is extremely difficult to determine the impact that the heroic code has on its society.

Material things such as armour and weaponry play an active and prominent role in the poem. In other literature, the sword accompanies the hero on his great and dangerous quests; however Hrunting, the sword in Beowulf, loses its power. The truly heroic, as H.L. Rogers points out in his essay Beowulfs Three Great Fights, may epitomise the notions for weapons and treasure which is portrayed as evil in Beowulf, its weaknesses are only explored in the epic.

In conclusion we proclaim Beowulf as heroic and abiding to the heroic code because he risked his life for the good of the community. Beowulf wished that his people would benefit from the treasure he had; we learn that material things that people receive throughout their lives cannot stop the will of God. Warrior/Heroes Code of Honor There is a hero in every book they may not be slaying dragons or fighting battles but theyre there. Obvious or not every hero is self bound by a code of honor. The obvious heroes are more than likely warriors and so the whole self bound by a code of honor thing transfers over to them. Three of the most widely known warriors/ heroes are Achilleus from Homers The Illiad, Beowulf from Beowulf, and Sir Gawain from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, how are these warriors self bound by codes of honor? Beowulf and Achilleus codes of honor are somewhat similar in that they both occur while in battle. For Beowulf, this happens before the battle with the rudimentary beast known as Grendel. Beowulf decides not to use weapons to fight the beast because Grendel does not use weapons, and Beowulf wants the fight to remain fair. On page 18 lines 73- 83 Grendel is no braver, no stronger, than I am I could kill him with my sword; I shall not, easy as it would be This fiend is a bold and famous fighter, but his claws and teeth scratching at my shield, his clumsy fist beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him with my hands empty unless his heart fails him, seeing another soldier waiting weaponless, unafraid. Let God in His wisdom extend His hand where He wills, reward whom He chooses. Likewise, Achilleus moment of honor occurs during his battle with Hektor. In this battle, Achilleus and Hektor come to an agreement that the winner will keep the losers armor, but will give the corpse back to the family and not defile the body. Page 516 Book Twenty-Two lines 298- 306 Now my soul would have me stand and fight, whether I kill or am killed. So come, well summon gods here as our witnesses, none higher, arbiters of a pact: I swear that, terrible as you are, Ill not insult your corpse should Zeus allow me victory in the end, your life as prize. Once I have your gear, Ill give your body back to Akhains

Stick to the Code

Honor, loyalty, strength, and courage. Four simple words; relatively similar. Today, we pass by these words and dont give them a second thought. Unlike during the time of the Anglo-Saxons, these words did not provide a code to live by. These words never determined our fate. The epic poem, Beowulf, is a clear example of the Anglo-Saxon code of conduct and how it influenced the entire culture during its time span of 449-1066 A.D. In the poem, Beowulf, along with his army of thanes, was held in extremely high regards. They were expected to be sturdy and faithful, worthy and brave. be strong and kind. Here each comrade is true to the other, loyal to the lord, loving in spirit (Greenblatt, 61 lines 1227-1229) Any violation of this code was understood as treason. Therefore, it was strictly followed and seen as the highest standard of which all thanes attempted to obtain. The Anglo-Saxon period lead the way for all future eras to live up to. They held their leaders in the utmost regard and saw to it that they addressed them with chivalric devotion. It was their habit always and everywhere to be ready for actionin whatever case and at whatever time the need arose to rally round their lord (Greenblatt, 61 lines 1246-1250). During the time that Beowulf arose, brutal fights and turbulent battles took place and so the Anglo-Saxon people valued might, audacity, and nobility. These qualities were looked upon as those of a hero; one who could sweep them out of such perilous times. Honor is seen in todays society as high respect, or fairness. When we think of honor we think of police officers and President Obama. We applaud our children who make the honor roll and ask the heads of our households to do the honors at Thanksgiving. Honor is undoubtedly a positive property, but one which we do not expect from every individual.