Lessons in Manliness from Beowulf

by A Manly Guest Contributor on September 21, 2010 · 42 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Andrew Ratelle.

“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.

Further Reading

There are many Modern English translations of Beowulf, but one of the best is Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation, which is the one I quoted from. A more literal (and free) translation can be found here on “Beowulf in Cyberspace.”

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SeanWilson1339 September 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Two great post in as many days… one of the many reasons I love AoM and have followed it for the last few years. I would, however, like to make a couple of rejoinders to this post.

First in his section discussing men of action, the writer fails to mention that the entire reason that Beowulf ventures to the kingdom of the Danes because Hrothgar and his people had failed to effectively act for twelve– yes, 12– long, bitter, disheartening years of suffering Grendel’s attacks. For this reason, many scholars (myself included) argue that Hrothgar has reached a kind of impotent stasis as a leader, a point where he no longer has the political or personal resources to be an effective leader.

Second, at the time of the final battle against the Dragon, Beowulf absolutely does not treat material wealth with “contempt.” Instead Beowulf understands the dire needs of his people– who face an uncertain future without a qualified leader– and with his dying words he instructs his successor, the young warrior Wiglaf, to use the treasure for the good of the Geats. It is the remaining Geats– not Beowulf or Wiglaf– who choose to ignore Beowulf’s instructions by returning the treasure to the ground, where it serves no purpose at all but simply molders in the ground (as it had for the last several years while in the control of the Dragon).

Lastly, at the end of his life, Beowulf’s demise contrasts to the circumstances of Hrothgar earlier in the poem. Whereas Hrothgar had reached a point of lacking the will to fight, abdicating the true leadership of his people to the younger warriors, Beowulf errs in the opposite extreme. For his entire 50 year reign, Beowulf was the leader and protector of the Geats– their Scandinavian Superman, swooping in to quell all opponents and obstacles with a single swipe of his mighty sword. But in pursuing this course, Beowulf fails to adequately train his own replacement, which results in his followers deserting him in his greatest hour of need while enveloped in flames under the attack of the Dragon. In the context of the Germanic/Anglo-Saxon culture that produced this text, the didactic object of the Beowulf poem relates ultimately to effective leadership: a good leader– or man, or hero, or whatever common noun one chooses– neither rests upon his laurels having achieved “success” (Hrothgar), nor fails to thinking both globally and long-term with en eye to preparing a smooth and successful transfer of power and responsibility.

2 James W. Russell September 21, 2010 at 10:34 pm

While I’ve never read Beowulf (and will now), the elder Beowulf part of the story reminds me of Howard Roark’s mentor Henry Cameron, who died courageously living and advocating his moral principles in a world that spat at him, from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I guess Rand didn’t want her Beowulf to die without an heir. (Email is incorrect: should be at gmail

3 zz September 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Sadly, our modern world of cubicles is almost totally bereft of opportunities to display courage of the type discussed here. Only in very rare situations will any individual be faced with a decision where courage , rather than training or guile, will make any difference in the outcome.

4 wurmfood September 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm

This is a theme that is carried on through many of the old Norse tales. In particular, I love their end of the world story.

Having gathered the greatest heroes of all time, Odin and Thor lead these heroes to Ragnarök, the final battle. Everyone involved knows they will lose. They go forth into the fight not to win, but to do what must be done. For their efforts, the world is destroyed, but is then remade as paradise. It’s compelling and awe inspiring, just as Beowulf is.

5 Scott McKittrick September 21, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Excellent post. Beowulf is one of my favorite stories. It definitely has a lot to teach about how to live your life.

6 Joi September 22, 2010 at 12:39 am

Interestingly enough, there is a medieval musical scholar who has put the first part of Beowulf, in Anglo-Saxon, to music: he performs it much the way an ancient bard would have done, and really captures the depth of emotion in the story. His setting of the scene between Beowulf and Unferth really brings home the unassuming heroism of Beowulf and the snivelling of Unferth. You can find out more here: http://www.bagbybeowulf.com/

7 Steve Harrington September 22, 2010 at 12:42 am

What I love about AoM is that is can seamlessly go from bacon to Beowulf.

This was an awesome post. Beowulf is one of my favorite works of literature and I’m quite happy to see it featured here.

8 kowalski September 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

Awesome post, one of the many reasons why I visit this site. Beowulf was the basis for my history 100w class as an undergrad. I have learned so much by reading, and researching Germanic warrior society. I had dreams of the comitatus bond.

9 Ryan September 22, 2010 at 1:13 am

“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 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.

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, …
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.”

Amen.

10 Mike September 22, 2010 at 1:47 am

Great article, my friend was told he would never walk again, he literally laughed in the doctor’s face , he is now a full time construction worker.

11 Erik September 22, 2010 at 4:15 am

Full on! An excellent and inspiring piece. Time to read Beowulf again, I think. Thanks.

12 Jeremy September 22, 2010 at 4:40 am

Beowulf is one of my favourite stories, I’m so glad that the Archetype of the Norse Hero has been given an article.

It’s truly inspiring that even though he’s an old man, he goes out to meet the dragon, this great beast who has been terrorizing his people,and dies in battle
. How could anyone ask for a better leader than that? The passage is inspiring.

13 Jeremy September 22, 2010 at 4:44 am

Inspired again
by the thought of glory, the war-king threw
his whole strength behind a sword-stroke
and connected with the skull. And Naegling snapped.
Beowulf’s ancient iron-grey sword
let him down in the fight. It was never his fortune
to be helped in combat by the cutting edge
of weapons made of iron. When he wielded a sword,
no matter how blooded and hard-edged the blade
his hand was too strong, the stroke he dealt
(I have heard) would ruin it. He could reap no advantage.

Then the bane of that people, the fire-breathing dragon,
was mad to attack for a third time.
When a chance came, he caught the hero
in a rush of flame and clamped sharp fangs
into his neck. Beowulf’s body
ran wet with his life-blood: it came welling out.

Once again the king
gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife
he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle.
He stuck it deep into the dragon’s flank.
Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound.
They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;
that pair of kinsman, partners in nobility,
had destroyed the foe.

14 Brandon September 22, 2010 at 5:49 am

This was a great article. I really needed to read this today.

15 Tim Chilcote September 22, 2010 at 8:24 am

Great article. Thanks. For further reading, Beowulf is even better when juxtaposed with John Gardner’s Grendel. Every hero needs a worthy opponent.

16 Orion Mervin M. Yoshida September 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

Great Article

17 Peter Samuel September 22, 2010 at 9:15 am

While I agree that Beowulf is a great story, one we can learn a lot from, I think you’ve failed to see the deeper meanings and themes of the piece; namely, greed, selfishness, egotism, etc. Beowulf showed courage in the face of adversity not to save a kingdom, but to bring glory and prestige onto himself. Beowulf is not meant to be a great man caught in unfortunate circumstances, he is a warning against man’s ego and pride.

18 Debra September 22, 2010 at 9:17 am

Excellent post. I love all the literature and history on the Art of Manliness!

19 Henry Lesesne September 22, 2010 at 10:32 am

I wanted to comment on what zz wrote: “Sadly, our modern world of cubicles is almost totally bereft of opportunities to display courage of the type discussed here.”

While most of us will not encounter situations that require defeating a monster or dragon through the force of the sword, I think the reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s identification of courage as described in Beowulf does have relevance in the modern world of cubicles. Courage and heroism are not always about the world-changing events that shape the destiny of a culture through a few actions actions of a single hero. Courage and heroism are what effect world-changing events and shape the destiny of a culture through the many smaller actions of many men who take action on their principles and DOING the right thing even in the face of defeat.

In the modern world of cubicles, that defeat may mean taking a stand against unethical, illegal, or dishonorable activities and acting nonetheless, knowing that there is a consequence – a consequence of defeat in possibly being reprimanded or terminated for your job. If more men took those opportunities, both in the private and public sector, our culture could not help but be affected for the good of all – one of the reasons heroes act in the first place.

One of the lessons in maniliness we should take away from the article and Beowulf is that we should act when it is right, true and just, knowing that defeat in the form of making a personal sacrifice with potentially devastating personal consequences may be the outcome – and doing it anyway. In a world defined by the ‘Self-Made Man’ archtype discussed elsewhere on AoM, when we are defined by our jobs, total defeat is losing our jobs, losing our livelihood, and being financially distressed. That kind of defeat is something that truly requires courage to motivate to action anyway.

Acting with courage in the modern world of cubicles may mean our total defeat. Nevertheless, Beowulf gives us a lesson to aspire to. We should act because the prize is not our personal glorification, but doing something worthy of rememberance that has merit, and will impact the world, shaping it and leaving an example to those of who follow – leaving the world better than we found it.

20 Daniel September 22, 2010 at 10:51 am

Great post! And great poem of course. The outer journey of the Hero comes to an end with death, but the inner journey concludes with a triumph in courage and faith. By that, Beowulf earns immortality in legend, and Death turns into Victory.

There is also a wonderful recitation by Julian Glover on YouTube, with a great introduction by Sir John Guilgud.

21 Nick Welch September 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Very inspiring. Either to do or not to do something. It provides inspirations & warnings. It has been my favorite book since freshman year of high school when I was handed a copy by my english literature teacher. I have several copies & have read it over 12 times. Without a doubt, my favorite version is the one by Seamus Heaney mentioned at the end of the article. I highly recommend the Illustrated version. My wife got it for me on my birthday & it sits on our coffee table. It’s not a cartoon or anything like that, it contains sketches, historical recreations, diagrams, museum photos, etc. It’s a really great companion for anyone who loves Beowulf. Here’s a link to the book http://bit.ly/alsJ9Q

22 Hunter September 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

A comment on the comments.
@Henry Lesesne I agree to a point with you, however I think that it can actually be a step beyond that and mixing in a comment @zz I feel that we all have to ability to show courage in our lives.
First you have to understand that courage is not in absence of skill or guile, but is actually dependent upon it. Beowulf could not have accomplished any of his courageous deeds without both, and would have been simply another dead fool. In fact we are very much the same, and this should spur us to try to understand even more and increase our knowledge and ability out of our current comfort zones.
Secondly, a person can find themselves in many areas where their courage and honor can be used and displayed in every day life. We just have to be sensitive to those around us, instead of focused on us, or our own little cubicle worlds. Many times it can manifest in less dangerous areas, such as standing up for your beliefs at work, or in your personal life, but there are other ways that involve standing up for others and their rights and honor. Certainly this is more dangerous, but I’ve long stood by the belief that my epitaph should read as a man who died giving his life to help another, than on who dies peacefully on the sidelines. I would rather my son grow up with the idea of a father who died fighting for truth and fairness in the world, and a father that stood beside him, to afraid to really make a difference. Let us as men leave a legacy of honor and courage for our children.

BTW, this article is good, thank you, and Beowulf is awesome.

23 Chris Kavanaugh September 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Seamus Heaney of all people should have remembered his own nation’s mythology of the Invasion Cycles. Beowulf is a great read,true. But who speaks for Grendle? take the stories back far enough, as I would postulate and Grendle is a Neanderthal or even Bigfoot. Most refer to previous inhabitants remembered as Giant’s, Fir-Bolgs Tuatha de Danu or Chief Scar facing John Wayne.
Teutonic heroic ideal is a fine notion. But never forget it can be taken to exremes replete with SS runes and 6 million Grendles.

24 Mato Tope September 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Yet another awesome post, guys.
I need to read up on Beowulf, but can certainly recommend “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell for “a brilliant examination, through ancient hero myths, of man’s eternal struggle for identity.”

25 Lando September 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Damm this is really speaking to my inner thoughts right now.

26 Michael Rohm September 23, 2010 at 9:03 am

Hail Beowulf! I’ve loved it since I was introduced to it by the great Prof. Tolkien, via his writings, as a young boy. Germanic warrior society is truly inspiring.

The heroic/honour aspect of Beowulf is best understood in a Northern European context. A work from the Poetic Edda, said to be the words of the god Odin himself, states:

Cattle die, Kinsmen die,
A man himself Must likewise die;
But the fair fame never dies
For him who has earned it well.

This mindset continued well into the Christian era – unfortunately, it seems to not have survived much here in the West any time recently.

27 pib September 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

“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…
…Beowulf knows that he has no hope of surviving the battle but chooses to fight it nonetheless.”

you should do a post on tadamichi kuribayashi if you want a real life example

28 Chris Kavanaugh September 23, 2010 at 10:15 pm

kuribayashi’s only previous combat experience was chief of staff of the 23 army during the battle for Hong Kong. Ken Watanabe he wasn’t. Several documented atrocities, including torture and execution of patients and staff of Saint Stephens College Hospital ae hardly heroic.

29 Jesse September 24, 2010 at 10:10 am

I would second Mr. Tope’s recommendation of “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”. I’m in the middle of it right now, and it’s a really excellent tool towards personal growth and responsible use of ethics and religion.

30 ke September 25, 2010 at 5:10 am

good article. it’s really helpful

31 Maicon September 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Great text. The Beowulf is a great legend.

32 Days and Adventures September 27, 2010 at 5:47 am

They were right. You’re right. Regardless of what happens, it’s how we act that defines us. Thinking this way has really helped me in my life. I wrote a little on it myself a while ago – http://marcpapain.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/think-of-it-as%C2%A0a%C2%A0test/

Thanks for the great article.

33 Richard Brown September 27, 2010 at 10:50 pm

This was a wonderful article! As a matter of fact, I am a minister and I used this article as an illustration in my sermon. It fit in very well as I preached on 1 Timothy 6: 6-19. In this pericope, the Apostle is charging the young preacher Timothy to keep to the confession he made in the beginning. Timothy is warned not to be like some who are lured away by the love of money. Paul states, we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out. It is all about honor and doing heroic acts.

34 Liutgard September 28, 2010 at 9:34 am

Joi, thanks for mentioning Benjamin Bagby’s _Beowulf_ I have a copy of the DVD and it is riveting, especially as Beowulf is tearing Grendel’s arm off- delivered in a near roar. Well worth the investment.

For the record, I prefer Chickering’s translation. Heaney is poetic, but does so at the expense of the text, and tends to wander a bit.

35 seun September 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

it’s really hard to be able to feel what the great felt during their handful of time. i still believe the world of yesterday is full of turmoil, limited peace, superiority to one another, with no one succumbing to treat. The world of today is peaceful without the invasion of U s in Afghanistan and Iraq

36 John Tchoe September 30, 2010 at 3:02 am

So, I read you guys on Google Reader, and I noticed that subject of the lead pic in this article

http://content.artofmanliness.com/uploads//2010/09/beowulf2.jpg

is striking almost the exact same pose as the subject of the lead pic in the previous article.

http://content.artofmanliness.com/uploads//2010/09/mechanic.jpg

Coincidence? Surely. But take credit for your unintended slyness anyway.

37 Eivind F S October 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I loved this post. Thanks for writing it. I haven’t read the poem itself, but I have gone pretty deep with analyzing the movie. I hope it’s not considered appropriate that I mentioned my review of Beowulf on Masculinity Movies: http://www.masculinity-movies.com/movie-database/beowulf.

It’s been a while since I wrote that, but I remember that one of my primary takeaways from the process of writing that piece was the realization that Beowulf was too concerned with glory and the glamour of heroics to be a truly effective King. In the KWML archetype system by Moore and Gillette, the Hero archetype is the last rung on the ladder of boyhood, and a boy can’t be King.

I saw that pretty clearly in the movie – that Beowulf isn’t a good King since he is still trapped in the advanced stages of boyhood. In that movie, we see how Grendel’s mother abuses Beowulf’s greatest weakness – his impotence in the face of the dark feminine (which is a weakness I believe a true man doesn’t have). In that movie, I got that Wiglaf was a more mature man, though less of a Warrior.

That was the movie, though and this is the poem. I may have to read it soon. This piece inspired me.

Thanks,
Eivind

38 Cazador October 3, 2010 at 12:36 am

@ ZZ

Thank your lucky stars that we don’t have to hunt to eat meat once a week and that our life expectancy is longer than 35 years. Beyond the walls of your cubicle there’s a world in need of men of courage and resolve still. Don’t fall into the romantic trap that the age of heroes is gone.

Solid post. Very inspiring.

39 Creinauer October 4, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Those who enjoy Beowulf may also enjoy the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon”. There are no monsters or fire-breathing dragons. Just raging Vikings, a few English earls, their ill-equipped local militia, and courage in the face of all-too-certain defeat.

40 Jeff October 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Terrific insight on the part of SeanWilson.

But ZZ, WTF?! Read it again, and forget the lecture notes you took in Modern Ethical / (cultureX) Studies class. Cubicles be damned. Courage is to do that which is right even if you’ll be “defeated” (or in our case – voted most “unpopular”).

The only failure B. had was to properly train a successor. Because we all WILL be dead, sooner or later. But death is not defeat (maybe a judeo-christian idea). THe only real defeat is failure to try. Fight evil at every turn, or be a slave.

41 William Lasseter September 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Excellent post. I would add three other life lessons from this great Anglo-Saxon poem:
1. Confront your own demons. Beowulf descends into the bloody mere to fight Grendel’s dam – symbolic of self-examination and confronting the night walkers that stalk through our souls.
2. Put your trust in Providence: Hrunting, the sword given by Unferth, fails Beowulf in the time of need. The Giant Sword is a salvific blessing for Beowulf who swings the blade even while he is “despairing of life”. His salvation from that dark hole is an act of providence.
3. Beware of pride: As Hrothgar afterwards warns Beowulf, be not like Heremod who had all good material possessions, health, and fame and thus grew lazy, allowed himself to become proud, and ended in killing his own people.

42 JW December 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I would submit that ZZ is mistaken. There may not seem to be many chances for heroism inside “our modern world of cubicles”… but it only exists because of the heroes who protect it and allow it to function – our soldiers, sailors, airmen, LE, firefighters, and EMS.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter