What Does “Beowulf” Reveal About the Values of Anglo-Saxon Society?
“Beowulf” reveals the essential values of the heroic warrior culture that characterizes Anglo-Saxon and other early Germanic societies. Their values uphold the warrior aristocracy, including loyalty and the high value placed on kinship.
As an epic poem, “Beowulf” embodies the values of its culture. Anglo-Saxon society, as illustrated in the poem, was centered on a warrior chieftain and his retinue of loyal followers who were expected to defend him to the death. Loyalty is essential and is rewarded by the chief’s generosity toward his supporters. Lines 20 to 25 of the poem refer to this practice; the chief gives lavish gifts to ensure his future security.
Blood relations are extremely important to the heroic code. In “Beowulf,” as in Anglo-Saxon societies, an injury to a relative created a duty to seek revenge and often resulted in generations lost to violent revenge. The revenge itself may come in the form of violent retribution or as a monetary payment.
While men in warrior societies are valued for their bravery and even recklessness, women are seen as a voice of wisdom. Women provide advice in the poem, as illustrated by the character Wealtheow in lines 1161 to 1190.
While it is unclear whether “Beowulf” was written before or after the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, the character himself personifies faith in God or in fate.