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The idea of being a hero seems to be praised in almost every culture throughout history. What is it about a heroic person that always creates interest in the minds of the people? A hero in Anglo-Saxon culture was a man with insurmountable strength, who always lived up to the comitatus code of conduct, and the only way in which he could be destroyed is through Anglo-Saxon fate. This idea of fate seems to be a strong part of what makes the hero so interesting. No matter how perfect the Anglo Saxon or modern day hero may be, there remains the fact that he will die. This inevitable fate of death will always keep people fascinated with hero's lives.
The Anglo-Saxon hero's perfection is portrayed through the idea of always living up to the comitatus. The comitatus is the honor code between the lord and his thanes in which the lord gives shelter and riches to his men, in exchange for protection. In Beowulf, this idea of living by the comitatus code is portrayed excellently by the hero, Beowulf. Beowulf, who is the strongest of all men, defends the hall of Lord Hrothgar. The hall of Hrothgar, which has been being attacked for over ten years by the monster Grendel, is in need of help. Because the current thanes of Hrothgar cannot fulfill the comitatus code of defending their lord, Beowulf provides the strength and courage needed to defeat the monster, Grendel. Beowulf knows his own strength, and because of it, he feels that he must help defeat Grendel to preserve life in the great hall Heorot: "When I was younger,/ I had great triumphs. Then news of Grendel,/ hard to ignore, reached me at home:/…how it lies deserted,/ empty and useless once the evening light/ hides itself under heaven's dome"(41). To a man of great strength it would seem as an obligation to defend Heorot. But to Beowulf, he sees the situation as his duty as a man of great strength and power, to defend such a great hall as Heorot. The comitatus defined how the warriors of Anglo-Saxon times were supposed to act, and when someone portrays this image with perfection, the man can be no less than a hero.
The idea of the wyrd sisters cutting the string to represent the length of a man's life was an idea of fate, which the Anglo-Saxon culture believed. In the story "The Wanderer," the Anglo Saxon idea of fate is portrayed well: "Fate the mighty; and storms beat on the stone walls, snow, the herald of winter falling thick binds the earth when darkness comes and the night-shadow falls sends harsh hailstones from the north in hatred of men"(101) This is a vivid description of some of the hardships that warriors experienced. But the idea of fate, knowing that this wickedness was destined to happen to them, kept the warriors in good faith with their lives. Though an Anglo-Saxon hero can have great strength and honor, he can never defeat the wyrd, or fate. Even Beowulf accepted this idea of fate in his life. "I won't shift a foot/ when I meet the cave-guard: What occurs on the wall/ between the two of us will turn out as fate,/ overseer of men, decides"(86). Because Beowulf has accepted the idea of fate, he is able to go into the battle with additional courage and confidence. This could also be a reason why wyrd was so heavily influential upon the Anglo-Saxon culture. Furthermore, even Beowulf, who is the greatest of heroes, and has defeated many great monsters, can not live forever. So while a younger Beowulf may have defeated the dragon with ease the fate of aging comes to all of us. Though the dragon kills Beowulf, it is really just the wyrd sisters cutting his string. The ideas about fate the Anglo-Saxon warriors held gave them a strong peace of mind as well as additional courage to help defeat their enemies. When one accepts his fate in confidence and perfection the result must be Beowulf.
The modern-day hero shares similarities and differences with the idea of Anglo- Saxon hero. The modern-day hero is also looked upon a near perfect representation of what it is to live in our culture. For example, many people see Ted Williams as a modern day hero because he represented excellently what it was to be a man of his era. He was the hardest working of baseball players, and his playing reflected it. And when it came time to go to war he bravely fought for his country. This is why so many people, especially men, look upon Ted Williams with such great admiration. The qualities that Williams portrayed were almost exactly the same characteristics that many believed to be those of a perfect U.S. citizen. But Americans don't believe in the fate of human beings. We believe Ted Williams was a great baseball player and war hero because he decided to be, not because he was meant to be a great baseball player, and a war hero, but because he decided to bust his butt with hard work, because he wanted to be the greatest hitter ever to live. This shows how important work is to our culture. The people we see as heroes are the people who have worked the hardest in their field. But we do believe in the inevitability of death, just as the Anglo Saxons did. This idea that our heroes have the capability to be harmed oddly makes us love them more. This is mainly because we would like to be as closely related to the hero as possible. This makes us feel much better about ourselves, knowing that even this person who is perfect in all other respects will die just as we will. People keep buying comic books because they want to see their heroes get hurt and possibly even die. That is why the Superman comic book in which Superman dies is one of the top comic book sellers of all time. People were almost relieved to know that even Superman who is perfect in every can also die. The ideas of strength and strong social values play an important role in what it means to be a hero during Anglo-Saxon culture, as well as our American culture.
The Anglo-Saxon hero, similar to heroes of all time, represented what it was to be a perfect citizen of that culture. But what separates the ideal warriors of the Anglo-Saxons from some other ideas of cultural heroes is the strong idea of fate that they embraced. Their heroes welcomed fate and showed the people how it should be used to help shape and enrich their lives.
By Damian Nash