Beowulf: The Effects Of False Security

1601 words - 6 pages

"And you all know that Security is mortals' chiefest enemy."-Hecate in "Macbeth" By William ShakespeareFor thousands of years, since the beginning of civilization, societies have striven to secure their homes by any means possible. Even Romulus, founder of one of the world's mightiest empires, started with a wooden fence, and the French general Maginot raised unscalable walls, protecting his country from the Germans with his Maginot line. However, despite the works of the greatest minds and historical figures, none of the most solid defenses kept out the enemy for long. A man could easily jump over Rome's first wall; Maginot's line was useless when the Germans found an alternative route. History is etched by this pattern of rise and fall, and while the mighty empires may see themselves as secure, disaster often occurs during these periods of great seeming security. Seeing the pattern of history, many writers and artists have adopted this phenomenon into their works. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, many characters pay dearly for their sense of ease, and fall prey to the same enemy that defeated Romulus and Maginot.Perhaps the most obvious and tangible example of false security in the poem is Hrothgar's meadhall, Heorot. This hall, built on the foundation of a king's pride, appears to be set up for disaster. Early in the epic, the audience learns that Heorot's purpose was to be "a meadhall higher than humankind had ever heard of," and "highest of houses." (Beowulf, 63-64, 72) The whole concept of Heorot brings to mind the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, built as a testimony to man's pride, it ends in tragedy. In addition, tradition tells that God's wrath on Babel came not only from men's pride, but also from the wish to reach heaven through worldly means (Lawson). It is arguable that the sin of Heorot was not merely pride, but a trusting in things made by men. As if this were not enough, the very activities that take place in the meadhall center on praising the warriors and celebrating the worth and superiority of their people's culture. Not only does the boasting lull these men into false ease, it is also a direct cause of Grendel's wrath, as the songs worshipping God Almighty annoy the monster, luring him from his cave. Still, the material fact remains, Hrothgar's men would not have sung and boasted so loud if Heorot had not seemed so strong, and the sorrows of the surprise attacks were far greater than if they were expected.The concepts of surprise and strength are very crucial in the problem with security, and Heorot reveals this connection to the audience. In ancient tragedies, such as Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the authors chose great and powerful rulers to experience the tragedy not just because a leaders' death is more important to more people. The hero is important and great, as a king, also because he has so much to lose; the fall from greatness is much more intense and profound when a rich man loses everything than when a...

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