Beowulf Returns Home
In the Middle Ages, an epic poem was written anonymously titled Beowulf
. It is the story of a Geatish warrior who travels around challenging monsters and mythical creatures. In the epic poem of Beowulf
, Beowulf’s return home illustrates the development of a warrior, educates us about Anglo-Saxon culture, and introduces new unfamiliar terms.
Beowulf, before returning home, seems to be a well-known warrior liked by all. However, after he returns home, we realize there has been some animosity between the Geats and Beowulf, “as the sons of the Geats [consider] him no good, […] for they assumed he was slothful” which introduces a new reason for his killing Grendel and his mother (2185). According to the New Testament, Jesus states that “no prophet is accepted in his own country,” meaning that a person’s significance is rarely valued or observed by those he grew up with (Luke 4:24). Such people usually find you as just an ordinary person and an equal. Meanwhile outsiders may treasure that person for his true value.
Even though he was not liked, Beowulf still obeyed the rule of comitatus. He always stays loyal and respectful of a king and his wishes. Hrothgar regards Beowulf as “strong in might, [sound in mind, and] prudent in speech,” showing his respect for Beowulf’s comitatus (1844). Beowulf also gives all of his treasures to Hygelac, King of the Geats, to stay true to the warrior code. In return, King Hygelac gives Beowulf treasure to reward Beowulf for his great accomplishments. Regardless of Beowulf’s sense of loyalty and honor, the gift giving still creates an interesting turn in the poem. The reason Beowulf travels to Heorot to slay the monsters may not be just because he likes a challenge but more that he wants to prove himself to his own tribe. Beowulf, after proving himself, later becomes the new King of the Geats, and reigns until a fierce dragon attacks them.
Beowulf’s return home also introduces new evidence about Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs. For instance, when Beowulf describes the monster, Grendel, he mentions a sack or glove that is made out of dragon skin. In the Middle Ages, dragons were a very popular mythical creature that is usually interested in treasure and gold. After Beowulf becomes king, “a dragon began his reign [that] guarded his hoard in the high heaths” which creates for Beowulf a new challenge (2211). The mythical dragons are always shown as greedy monsters with reptile-like features. Another pagan element that is revealed in this passage is wyrd or fate. The pagans believe that their life is predestined, and if they are to die in battle, it was meant to be. When Beowulf describes his slaying of Grendel and Grendel’s mother, he claims “he barely managed to get away with [his] life – I wasn’t doomed yet” showing his belief in wyrd giving him that sense of fearlessness in battle (2140). The pagan elements in this passage help immerse the reader into the Middle Ages.
In the text, there were many unfamiliar terms being used, that were commonly used in the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxons used animal hides as a unit of measurement for land distribution. Beowulf receives “seven thousand hides of land” from his King Hygelac, which is a large amount of land (2195). It would be equal to seven thousand cow hides laid out, since this is obviously before the metric system. Another unfamiliar term that was introduced in the passage was glove. The glove in this context is not one that you would wear on your hand. The glove in Beowulf “hung huge, grotesque, fast with cunning clasps, […] all embroidered with evil skill, the devil’s craft, and dragons’ skin” which belonged to Grendel. The glove is a pouch, characteristic of a troll in Norse legend. The term “gannet’s bath” is also used to describe the sea that Beowulf travels when he finally returns home from his adventure in Heorot.
Beowulf’s character development, the history of Anglo-Saxon culture, and the middle English terms are all evident in the passage of Beowulf’s return home. Whether a new side of Beowulf is shown through narration, or we learn the reason for Beowulf’s actions through Anglo-Saxon culture, the epic poem from the anonymous writer helps us understand the middle ages and Beowulf
Liuzza, Roy. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Peterborough, Ont. Broadview Press, 1999.