Warior Values in "Beowulf" and "The Wanderer"

Term Paper, 2009

9 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Historical context

3 Warrior values

3.1 General considerations

3.2 Beowulf and The Wanderer

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

In this essay I will examine the warrior values of the Anglo-Saxon society. The central part is formed by a detailed assessment of Beowulf and The Wanderer. Before I turn to the literary works in question, however, I will present general considerations drawn from a number of scholarly sources which will form the basis of my argumentation. The first chapter outlines the historical context necessary to comprehend the full complexion of the topic and to justify the choice of the texts used.

2 Historical context

Old English (OE) poetry is largely an oral one. While OE prose can in most cases be traced back to a certain date, location, even composer, the context of heroic poems and elegies is much less clear, making it difficult to attribute them to a specific author and establish their proper surroundings. A mere 30,000 lines of written text are actually in existence, though often in a less than perfect condition. (cf. Alexander) Among those which survived, however, are what can only be described as pure gems. They include the great epic Beowulf and the Exeter Book, a collection of writings "containing the best of the poetry outside Beowulf', (Alexander 3) e.g. The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Wulf and Eadwacer and Wife's Lament. "These poems, which link Anglo-Saxon culture with its Germanic places of origin, embody the oldest expression of the Germanic heroic spirit in Anglo-Saxon." (Wrenn 74) While Wulf and Eadwacer and Wife's Lament, if on an almost impersonal level, deal with love, (cf. Wrenn) the topic of the Wanderer, the Seafarer and also of Beowulf is the life and heroic conduct of the warrior, the principles of which are deeply rooted in Anglo-Saxon culture - so deep, in fact, that they survived the conversion to Christianity from the seventh century onwards.1 Beowulf, thought to be composed in the eighth century and thus clearly under a Christian influence,The co nonetheless retains "the values of courage, strength and honour described by Tacitus in Germania". (Alexander 24) And both in Beowulf and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1066 can we find the phrase typical of OE poetry waelstowe wealdan, meaning 'to possess the place of slaughter', which was attributed to the victorious party after a battle and which here serves as an illustration of the continuing importance of those ancient beliefs. (cf. Alexander)

3 Warrior values

"It is by glorious action [t]hat a man comes by honour in any people."

(Beowulf, ll. 24/5, quoted in: Alexander)

3.1 General considerations

"Bravery, loyalty, mutual trust, camaraderie, respect (and often more) for good leaders, contempt for cowardice and treachery, and disregard for life" - those were the traditional warrior values as stated by Mitchell (199). In fact, as we will see, those were the values considered the highest in Anglo-Saxon society. A most exciting proof of this is certainly the Sutton Hoo ship burial or cenotaph from the seventh century. Unearthed in Suffolk in 1939, it renders account quite spectacularly of ceremony and manner of a hero's burial and grave:

[T]he principal personal belongings which are to travel with the buried lord are warlike; the jewels are part of his armour; and the lyre, the drinking horns and the coins testify to an heroic glory based on war. (Alexander 24)

Suddenly, historians were presented with undeniable, palpable evidence of a world hitherto known to them through poetry alone. It was a world characterised by two extremes ʹ the mead-hall and the battlefield.

Quirk et al. note that "[o]ver and over again the poets insist that the thing most desired is to leave a good name behind after death" (9) and that "[t]o gain this good name the warrior must be bold and loyal, the king must be generous".


1 The conversion of Edwin of Northumbria, which took place in 627, is described by Alexander.

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Warior Values in "Beowulf" and "The Wanderer"
University of Duisburg-Essen
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ISBN (eBook)
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Warior, Values, Beowulf, Wanderer
Quote paper
Sebastian Altenhoff (Author), 2009, Warior Values in "Beowulf" and "The Wanderer", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/164239


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