In Anglo-Saxon culture and literature, the term “hero” describes for someone who will do anything for his lord and his men. Through the comitatus, which is a pact between the king and his warriors where the lord gives his warriors shelter so they can be loyal to him in battle, the “hero” becomes such by doing what is needed for the king. The warriors of this culture achieve the heroic status when they achieve grandiose deeds and withstand difficult conditions, and when they do this, they achieve the fame that they desperately wish for. This is seen in medieval literature such as “The Wanderer,” and “The Dream of the Rood,” but especially in Beowulf.
In “The Wanderer,” a warrior laments for his lord. He has lost his king and is searching for a new one. It is as if a person is nothing without having a lord, the one who gives him treasures, food, and shelter. These characteristics are perfectly described by the warrior in “The Wanderer.” He says, “It is custom for a man to lock tight his heart’s coffer, keep closed the hoard-case of his mind, whatever his thoughts may be… Therefore men eager for fame shut sorrowful thought up fast in their breast’s coffer” (Norton, 112). “Real” men don’t cry. That is what this is saying. Men like “The Wanderer” can deal with anything, even if they suffer because of their lord’s demise.
“The Dream of the Rood” demonstrates a hero very effectively. Christ is described as a hero and as a warrior just like Beowulf, but perhaps even greater than Beowulf, for he suffers for all of mankind, and not for only one group of people. In the poem, he is seen approaching the cross with an active attitude, instead of passive. He appears to be ready, willing and able to get on the cross: “Then the young hero, got ready, resolute and strong in heart. The warrior embraced [the cross]” (Brock).The poem sees Christ as “heroic, fair and mankind’s brave king” (Brock).
So far in “The Wanderer” and “The Dream of the Rood,” the hero approaches tough situations willingly, with absolute eagerness, and never letting out any doubts he might have. In Beowulf, this theme does not change. Beowulf could be seen as the ultimate hero because he is so powerful, with the strength of thirty men in one arm. He shows his capabilities and achieves fame by fighting monsters, such as Grendel, his mother, a dragon, and sea monsters among other things. He fights all these fantastic creatures and survives. Again, a true hero wants fame desperately and lives his life trying to attain it. Beowulf achieves fame especially because he obeys the wishes of the king. He is loyal to Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, and in return Hrothgar gives him great treasures, just like the Geatish king Hygelac. They follow the comitatus, the warrior code.
When Anglo-Saxon culture and literature mention the term “hero,” they mean a man who is courageous, strong, resilient, and who would die for his people. A hero is willing to look danger in the face and laugh. He is excited to go into battle to defend his king and bring peace where there was none before. All the works define a hero as someone who stays strong even in the toughest times, someone who takes on obstacles with a smile on his face, and who fights fearsome monsters for his king to bring fame to himself.
Brock, Jeannette C. “The Dream of the Rood and the image of Christ in the Early Middle
Ages.” 14 Feb. 2008. .
David, Alfred. “The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed.
Stephen Greenblatt and M.H. Abrams. 8th Edition. New York: Norton & Company,