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Warfare in Beowulf

In Beowulf warfare is as ordinary as common life. In Beowulf, the warrior culture lives for battle. The character of Beowulf is the paragon of this warrior culture. The idea of warfare is seen throughout the epic narrative. Without battle a warrior’s life could never be fulfilled. To gain fame and respect from fellow countrymen and kings is the way of the warrior.

Warfare in Beowulf is depicted several times, and stories of warfare are told. The constant attacks by Grendel on Heorot and attack by Grendel’ mother (Norton Anthology, p.29, 36, and 44) are all depictions of bloody battle. King Hrothgar talks about warfare and how it has provided him with riches and power (Norton Anthology, p.28). The idea of warfare is necessary in a warrior culture. The glory, fame and possible riches obtained can change an ordinary man into a warrior hero.

For a warrior to be recognized, he must do deeds to increase his reputation and fame. Warfare, battle or bloodshed call it what you will, are perhaps the most widely used ways for warriors such as Beowulf to claim fame. Beowulf literally "jumps" at the opportunity to fight Grendel (Norton Anthology, p.36), Grendel’s mother and the Dragon. Beowulf would endanger his very existence just to be popular. Beowulf even boasts about his battles he has had. The battle under the water where "A fierce cruel attacker dragged me to the bottom, held me grim in his grasp, but it was granted me to reach the monster with my sword-point, my battle blade. The war-stroke destroyed the mighty sea-beast through my hand" (Norton Anthology, p.34).

The attitude of the anonymous author is for warfare in the poem. The author needs to make the reader believe that character of Beowulf is a hero of the warrior culture. To do so, the concept of warfare is needed. The author could not remove passages that contained warfare and battles such as the fight between Beowulf and Grendel, Grendel’s mother and Beowulf and the Dragon versus Beowulf.

The poem of Beowulf could not be seen as pacifist. The epic narrative of Beowulf was originally a song. Just like the scop sings to King Hrothgar about the battle with the Friesian army (Norton Anthology, p.40), Beowulf was first expressed in front of an audience, portraying the adventures of the character Beowulf. The King, Queen, warriors and maidens would all be listening to the adventures of Beowulf. Without the warfare and battles included in the singing, no one would listen or care about what Beowulf did. The listeners of the song want to hear the action and fighting. They want to hear about Beowulf’s exploits and hear about his reputation. The idea is to remember the person by the deeds accomplished. For example as Beowulf is slowly dying, Beowulf tells Wiglaf to make a huge funeral pyre for him, "Bid the battle-renowned make a mound, bright after the funeral fire, on the sea’s cape. It shall stand high on Hronesness as a reminder to my people, so that sea-travelers later will call it Beowulf’s barrow, when they drive far over the darkness of the seas" (Norton Anthology, p.63).