Beowulf vs. Modern Society
Are there any similarities between life in modern America and the world of Beowulf? Is it possible for such a technology oriented world such as ours to have anything in common with a world which had not even heard of electricity? Has this technology really separated us from prior civilizations? Is our thinking today any different from the thinking of ancient cultures? Although it may not seem to be true, there are actually many similarities between our world and that of Beowulfs. These similarities are readily seen in all forms of media and entertainment, as well as noted sources of culture such as music and movies. If the similarity between the two cultures is accepted, it will not be hard to comprehend Beowulf.
The first and most notable similarity is drinking. King Hrothgar built a giant mead-hall, namely Heorot, to accommodate his celebrations. Throughout Beowulf it can be seen that celebrations of any kind are always accompanied by drinking. Drinking is just present today as it was thousands of years ago. People today always include drinking in their celebrations, whether it be a birthday, anniversary, or marriage. Heorot is nothing more than a tremendous bar. The festivities of the warriors in Beowulfs time can be seen every night in any local bar or pub.
Another similarity of course is violence. Violence is obviously present in Beowulfs world. The determinant of status holds its roots in violence. The only way for a warrior to prove himself is through battle, or violence. Specifically this can be seen through the character, Unferth. He was not respected as a warrior due to his inability to win battles. He tried to find faults in Beowulf to raise his own ego. The disrespect given to this man was due to his unsuccessfulness in violent engagements.
Modern violence is present all around us. No matter which way one turns, violence will be there to greet him. Whether it be on the street, in school, or even at home, violence cannot be avoided. The presence of this violence in society leads to stress. This stress is to a large extent the cause of the similarity mentioned earlier, namely drinking. Anyone from the local bully to a armed robber can be representatives of modern violence. Although it is present in everyday life, this violence can be seen easier in any form of media. There are virtually no movies today that do not depict some form of violence.
The choice movies of modern America are such titles as Scream, Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. It seems that every modern movie is followed by a sequel that provides more blood and gore. Not only are the "villains" of these movies representing violence, but the "heroes" and "heroines" are as well. All these movies begin and end with bloody, gruesome death. Another movie that has not even been released yet, Waterboy, stars Adam Sandler, the comedian. This movie is about a young boy who takes his inner frustration out on others as acts of violent behavior. It is unfortunate to see that even comedy has resorted to violence.
Movies are not the only forms of entertainment that send out these violent messages. Pick up any popular CD or tape and you will hear an endless array of frustration and discontentment in the form of "music". Whether it be rap, rock, or even pop, violence will be present. These songs are filled with vulgar language, and suggestions of violent acts such as rape, murder, and even genocide. It is actually quite sad to see people disturbed to this extent. Violence is even featured in childrens cartoons. Yosemite Sam is always carrying a gun, hunting for Bugs Bunny; the coyote is always experimenting with one violent act or the other in his attempts to capture the ostrich; while Sylvester is continuously plotting a scheme to seize Tweety bird. The news is another source of violence. Although the stories they report are important, it is not necessary for them to focus only on the most gruesome material.
Unfortunately, media today gives the impression that this violence is normal. This message, which all these forms of entertainment are sending out, is what is causing the real violence in society. People do not know how to express their feelings, so they follow in the footsteps of their heroes.
The blood and gore is comparative to the actions of Grendel. Grendel was a monster in Beowulf who would literally eat his enemies; he was a cannibal. There was no mercy in his attack. The same frustrations of modern day are also seen in Grendel. He is frustrated with himself and his status. He wants attention just like everyone else.
Yet another similarity is the idea of comitatus, the relationship between a king and his subordinates. Today, we see this in many relations. Society members feel this sense of loyalty towards their President, or Prime Minister. Army cadets feel this loyalty towards their commanding soldier. To some extent students feel it towards their teachers, and children towards their parents. In the world of Beowulf, it was honorable to die as a soldier. This seen as Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar: "Sorrow not, wise warrior. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn. Each of us must await his end of the world's life. Let him who may get glory before death: that is best for the warrior after he has gone from life. Arise, guardian of the kingdom, let us go at once to look on the track of Grendel's kin" (Norton, 45). Beowulf is clearly saying that there is glory in death. This idea is also present in modern society. The death of a soldier is looked upon as an act of extreme courage. Just as people who lack this courage in the armed forces are looked down upon, so was Unferth. His lending of Hrunting (his sword) to Beowulf was an act of cowardice.
It might be argued that we have grown far ahead the characters of Beowulf, but with a closer look, this obviously does not hold so much truth. All the habits and values presented in Beowulf are still present in todays society. No matter how much we evolve, we are still the same people inside.
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