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The Perfect Ruler In The Epic Poem, Beowulf

2662 words - 11 pages

 
     The classic poem Beowulf presents the concept of the perfect king/leader/ruler. This is presented in two modes: the ideal Germanic king and the ideal Christian king.

Literary scholar Levin L. Schucking in “Ideal of Kingship” states: “I have already tried to prove that the author of Beowulf designed it as a kind of Furstenspiegel (“mirror of a prince”) – perhaps for the young son of a prince, a thought with which Heusler later agreed” (36). So the author of Beowulf had in mind a human ideal of the perfect leader/ruler which he was trying to convey to the young man who was in search of the proper way, the ideal way that a ruler, a king, should govern his kingdom. This analysis seems so reasonable since the scop lived in the king’s court, and he would have daily contact with the princes living there in the royal hall.

 

A prime component of the making of the ideal ruler is the possession of the virtue of treue or loyalty. The Venerable Bede in The Ecclesiastical History gives a true-to-life example of the loyal reciprocity ideally existing between a warrior and his lord, in the story of Lilla:

 

He entered the hall on the pretext of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the king. Lilla, a most devoted thane, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the king from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thane and wounded the king as well through his dead body (85-86).

 

So the ethic of loyalty in Anglo-Saxon society was perhaps as strong as the duty to one’s kindred. The weighing of these two ethics forms part of the conflict in the Finnsburh Episode, where Hengest has to decide whether to put loyalty first and kill his brother-in-law, or to put kinship first and respect the peace treaty (Chickering 262).

 

When Beowulf was dying after the fire-dragon’s attack, he did an examination of conscience and had a good feeling of satisfaction for having never wronged his relatives, or broken an oath, or done anything out of malice. He was proud also that no enemy dared attack his kingdom during his reign:

 

Then Beowulf spoke,          despite the gash,

the gaping wound               -he knew for certain

he had finished his days,       his joy in the world,

that his time was over,         death very near:

“Now I would want            to give to my son

these war-garments,            had it been granted

that I have a guardian           born from my body

for this inheritance.             I ruled this people

for fifty winters,                and there was no ruler

of surrounding nations,        not any, who dared

meet me with armies,           seek out a battle,

make any onslaught,            terror, oppression,

upon...

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