Beowulf Attacks the Dragon

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The story of Beowulf was created during the Anglo-Saxon period. During this time, Anglo-Saxon society placed great emphasis on warfare and the glorified warrior culture. This warrior culture is clearly represented in the attitudes of the characters in the text of Beowulf. The unknown author of Beowulf is definitely pro-warfare, and throughout the text, we see parallels in the plot to the events and ideology of the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture. If Beowulf were a pacifist poem, the narration would oppose war or violence as a way of settling disputes. Instead the poem represents a warrior culture in which warfare is often the best solution to a problem. The characters in the text of Beowulf use violence as a way of settling disputes. Beowulf the main character of the text, is a warrior who stands up to beast-like enemies, prevailing as the honorable winner. In Beowulf, we can see how important the warrior culture is to the characters in the story. Beowulf, the title character, is clearly regarded as an epic hero and an ideal warrior. Beowulf enjoys being challenged by the impossible and almost always triumphs against his enemies. When Beowulf first hears news that the kingdom of King Hrothgar is under attack by a humanoid creature, Grendel, he immediately takes arms and travels to Heorot, to avenge the beast. In presenting himself to the Hrothgar, Beowulf describes his warlike traits by stating, "King Hrothgar, because all knew of my awesome strength. They had seen me boltered in the blood of enemies when I battled and bound five beasts, raided a troll-nest and in the night-sea slaughtered sea brutes. I have suffered extremes and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it upon themselves; devastated them). Now I mean to be a match for Grendel, settle the outcome in single combat" (Norton 41). This statement by Beowulf shows he will seek revenge on the enemy of King Hrothgar, by killing Grendel. This shows us that Beowulf has the attitude of a warrior, and settles his feuds in combat, where he is victorious. More evidence indicating the pro-warfare attitude of the poem can be found during the celebration honoring Beowulf for his defeat of Grendel. Even during a joyful celebration the mood of the scene places an emphasis on the warlike culture. The King's poet sets the scene, "…and the King's poet performed his part with the saga of Finn and his sons, unfolding the tale of the fierce attack in Firesland where Hnaef, king of the Danes, met death" (Norton 54). The author of Beowulf included this poem to support his pro-warfare viewpoint and to portray the Finn story as a heroic battle, in the minds of his readers. The author further supports this pro-warrior tone by stating the story of Siegmund: "After his death Siegmund's glory grew and grew because of his courage when he killed the dragon, the guardian of the hoard" (Norton 50). This is another story told within the text of Beowulf, as a way of the author to recall another great warrior who has defeated his enemy in this warrior culture. This idea of defeating a monstrous dragon will be brought up again, as Beowulf will have to face a similar situation, as he will have a chance to battle a dragon. At no point in the text does the author let the reader forget that this is based on a warrior culture. In this example, the narrator is portraying a once great warrior, Finn, who faces death during battle. No warrior can always survive the consequences of war. If a warrior succeeds at battle, he will be looked at as a great hero, and if he falls, his death will be avenged. After Beowulf has defeated Grendel, Grendel's mother avenges her son's death, by attacking King Hrothgar's kingdom once again. This event further exemplifies the warlike culture of which these characters are a part. The following statement of Beowulf clarifies this point, "It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning" (Norton 63). This statement, I feel, sums up the overall attitude of the poem. No person shall mourn the death of a loved one; no wergild will be paid to settle the disputes between the monster and the King. The only way to settle the dispute is to avenge the death of a kinsman or friend. Beowulf supports this idea by always subduing those who cause havoc and challenge his honor. Beowulf will let no one go unpunished for killing the King's people; he will seek revenge on behalf of the Hrothgar. Another example of the author's pro-warfare attitude in Beowulf is when the author mentions King Heremod. King Heremod's story displays how the warlike attitude of a king can cause great despair for his people. This is shown in the following: "Heremod was different, the way he behaved to Ecgwela's son. His rise in the world brought little joy to the Danish people, only death and destruction. He vented his rage on men he caroused with, killed his own comrades, a pariah king who cut himself off from his own mankind…" (Norton 69). The author portrays King Heremod as a king who was greedy, proud and negatively affected by his warlike manner. This king takes warfare to the extreme and causes great despair for his people and those around him. He is very much disturbed by his desire to triumph and conquer, and never be defeated. A final example of the pro-warfare tone set by the author, is when Beowulf, even as a king in his old age, battles a dragon who has attacked his own kingdom. Beowulf will never stand idle and let an enemy defeat him. He will seek revenge and defeat his enemy: "I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning," (Norton 86). The author again portrays Beowulf, even as an old man, as the ideal warrior who will face his opponent, which in this case is the dragon. The author, however, does show that all great warriors will never triumph in all battles. The venomous dragon bites Beowulf as he slays this inhuman beast, and even though he defeats the dragon, Beowulf falls to his venomous bite. The author exemplifies the idea of the Anglo-Saxon culture, that it is better to die as an honorable, brave man in battle than to live the life of a coward who is afraid to engage his enemy. So, as you can see from the evidence I have presented, the author of Beowulf expresses his positive view of war. The story of Beowulf is hardly a pacifist poem, because all the characters of the story, most of all Beowulf, engage in battles or express pro-warfare views. Everyone from Beowulf the great warrior to the King's poet expresses pro-warfare ideology in stories or with actions. The text of Beowulf was written during a period in when warfare was a part of every day life. Many kingdoms were being conquered and feuds existed between families. The Anglo-Saxon's of the time viewed warfare as an option to settle feuds, as opposed to paying a wergild. In a way this idea of warfare is still in existence today, as countries engaged in battle with each over a difference in views. The holy war currently going on in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians is an example of this warfare, as they are battling over who is the rightful owner of the land of Jerusalem.

-Joseph Demma