Loyalty as the most important value in the world of Beowulf
The epic poem Beowulf was first composed between 680 and 800 by an unknown poet (Crossley-Holland 67) in the age of the Anglo-Saxons (Crossley-Holland 69). Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf: A new Translation, published in 2000, will be used as primary source. It is set in Sweden and Denmark where the Swedish warrior Beowulf saves the mead hall from King Hrothgar of the Scyldings in Denmark from two monsters. After, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and as old man has to fight against a dragon and dies while defeating him (Crossley-Holland 67). The poem could represent history and myth “as a ‘mythistory’ that confirmed a set of values among the Anglo-Saxons by connecting their current world to a fabulous ancestral past” (Niles 213). Beowulf outlines that in this time the most important values for a warrior were loyalty, honour and bravery. This essay is going to argue that the warrior’s loyalty to the king is the main reason for a solid society. Thus, loyalty defines a society; if warriors stop being loyal to their king society collapses. It will be shown that in Hrothgar’s case society falls apart because of the lack of loyalty and in Beowulf’s case society survives because one warrior stays loyal to the king during the fight against a dragon.
A king like Hrothgar needs to show that he is the most powerful men in the kingdom. That is why “he handed down orders/ For men to work on a great mead-hall/ Meant to be a wonder of the world forever” (68ff). All a king does and all his property needs to be the greatest of all known. Only then he will be accepted by his men, who are his “force that grew/ To be a mighty army” (66f). A king without money, great property and a big army has no power. That is the first step to gain loyalty. The second step is to be a just leader. Hrothgar “would dispense/ His God-given goods to young and old -/ But not the common land or people’s lives” (71ff). He is just because he won’t risk his people’s lives for nothing worth it and he is a grateful leader. The third step to gain loyalty is to pay the warriors. Hrothgar “doled out rings/ And torques at the table” (89f). The warriors got paid by gold rings and the one with the most gold rings on his body was the biggest warrior. In consequence people respected Hrothgar, he built a stable society and his “utterance was law” (79), so he was the only one who made the law.
Therefore it seems that King Hrothgar could trust his men. But when the monster Grendel appears to be stronger than the king his men run away to the “bothies” (140). “Whoever escaped/ Kept a weather-eye open and moved away” (142f). They do not trust their king anymore, because he broke the first rule to gain loyalty: to be the most powerful . Grendel does not only destroy lives, he destroys the loyalty to the king and in consequence he destroys Hrothgar’s society. Because the only glue which holds a society together is loyalty to the king. Although the...