THEMES IN BEOWULF L. Turner-Dixon ENGLISH 4 REVENGE The death of a kinsman must be avenged by his male relations, in blood or in money. WERGILD
The wergild is the law of vendetta, which specified that a person who had suffered damages through the killing of a relative might exact a sum of money from the murderer as an expiation of the crime. The value of the wergild was set depending on the social status of the person killed. An earl was assessed higher than a freeman, and a freeman higher than a commoner (or churl).
Men were assessed higher than women of the same class. KINSMEN The Germanic tribe had an enlarged definition of kin, including friends and those to whom one owed favors, even over generations. BURIAL PRACTICES Burial at sea is the most familiar form of
Germanic tribal burial, but they also buried warriors and kings in mounds and in a stone barrow. Burials often included the weapons and wealth of the corpse. Sutton Hoo, the remains of a burial ship discovered in Suffolk, England, was discovered in 1939. This find proved that the ostentatious descriptions of the burial of kings at sea were not just descriptive language, but a true description of life during this time period.
BOASTING Boasting was considered an art and the prerogative of a warrior. FATE Pagan tradition depicts nature as hostile and the forces of death as uncontrollable. Blind fate picks random victims. It is sometimes referred to wyrd which could be pronounced as word or
weird. Fate was out of human control, but man could control the way in which he met his fate. ROLE OF WOMEN The female role in Beowulf is twofold. First it involves peacemaking biologically through a womans marital ties with foreign kings as a peace-pledge or a mother of
sons. Secondly, it involves peacemaking socially and psychologically as a cuppassing and peace-weaving queen within a hall. COMITATUS Germanic tribes which invaded Britain held strong beliefs in the basic family unit and were industrious and warlike. They chose their kings for birth and their generals for
merit. Even poor tribal members could become rich and powerful if they were willing and able to prove themselves brave and adept in battle. The practice of comitatus (a term used by the early historian Tacitus) was an agreement by which a youth would attach himself to a strong leader for the purpose of gaining riches and prestige. This arrangement could have been the precursor of the lord-thane relationship of feudal
institutions of the time, which can also be observed in Beowulf. CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE Christianity: The poet of Beowulf is Christian, but the society he describes is not. Sometimes the narrators voice comments from a Christian perspective on pagan values, beliefs, and customs.
SOCIAL CLASS Classes: There were two classes of people in Anglo-Saxon society: members of the aristocracy (the privileged ruling few) and the common people, including bondsmen and captives. Only a few exceptions were called freemen, a status held as some type of reward or special favor.
WARRIORS Warriors kept their armor and weapons at their sides at all times. The Beowulf poet praises the Geats, They were always prepared for war, whether at home or in the field, as their lord required (1246-50). The warriors kit would include a helmet, shield, spear and chain main,
and, if he had high status, a sword. They used crested or combed helmets from the 7th and 8th century, with a very sturdy all-iron construction. Mail shirts consisted of rows of riveted rings alternating with of butt-welded rings. The rings were of gray steel, skillfully formed into an intricate mesh, and they linked and jingled on the move. Shields and spears were part of the basic fighting kit of the war-band. Swords were powerful heirlooms to be prized for their power and might; they may have had names, or carried owner inscriptions and images of the mythic past. They had richly decorated hilts, and with their iron blades were fierce, doubleedged weapons, which needed two hands to swing them. The seax,
was a single-edged weapon, just as effective as the double-edged WAR For Germanic tribes, war was considered a natural, desirable and constant part of life. WEALTH One of the roles of the king was to share wealth. Part of the function of a hall was to provide a setting for the sharing of wealth with the kings
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