18 October 2012
Anglo-Saxon Society in Beowulf
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings novels, was one of the first to realize the cultural importance of Beowulf. Much more than simply a tale of heroes and monsters, Beowulf offers us insights into the Anglo-Saxon culture. The author of Beowulf is unknown and this piece of literature has survived for thousands of years! Three aspects of their culture was religion, funeral traditions, and the armor and weapons they used during battle.
In Anglo-Saxon society their religion began to change. At the time, paganism was the primary religion; no specific god, but gods. The life you lived was short, miserable, and pointless. Many people feared death, and Christianity offered eternal life in heaven after you passed away. “Christianity opened up a bright new possibility: that the suffering of this world was merely a prelude to the eternal happiness of heaven. No one knows exactly when the first Christian missionaries arrived in Britain, but by A.D. 300 the number of Christians on the island was significant”(21). Christianity offered hope and liberty, while paganism was a false hope, there was no purpose. In the end paganism was a vanity because it made the Anglo-Saxons feel worthless, hallow, and life was pointless.
Specific funeral traditions were observed by Anglo-Saxons. If someone was murdered by another person they were expected to pay reparations. “No one waited for reparation from his plundering claws…”(41). People were not expecting to receive money from Grendel for the people whom he killed. “…In Germanic society, someone who killed another person was generally expected to make a payment to the victim’s family as a way of restoring peace”(41). The Geats “…built the tower, as Beowulf Had asked, strong and tall, so sailors could find it from far and wide…” in memory of their king(66). At Beowulf’s funeral twelve of the bravest Geats rode their horses around Beowulf’s Tower, telling about...