The Importance of the Retainer and King in the Heroic Code
Members of the Anglo-Saxon warrior society subscribed to an ethos that celebrated the heroic code. In the passage from Beowulf, the poet’s interest in the duties of a loyal retainer and the duties of a great king are evident in the specific language he uses to describe Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon. In one specific passage of this poem, Beowulf is portrayed as an ideal retainer by the loyalty, courage and fealty to the king he possesses. At the beginning of this passage, Beowulf reflects on King Hygelac and the many sacrifices and deeds he provided to Beowulf during his youth. A sorrowful mood is brought upon this specific text, as Beowulf reminisces on the death of Hygelac, “I marched ahead of him, always there/ at the front of the line; and I shall fight like that/ for as long as I live…” (Beowulf 2497-2499). Beowulf acknowledges how privileged he is to have a life of luxury and obtain such wisdom inherited by Hygelac. If it was not for Hygelac, Beowulf would not have survived such a long, prosperous life, mentoring Hygelac’s son and soon holding the throne himself. As Beowulf prepares to fight the dragon, he easily allows the warriors to stand their place and not go any further. Demonstrating his courage, Beowulf states: This fight is not yours,
nor is it up to any man except me
to measure his strength against the monster
or to prove his worth. I shall win the gold by my courage, or else mortal combat, doom of battle, will bear your lord away. (2532-2535) He believes that terminating the dragon is the duty only he can accomplish as well as longing for a feeling of satisfaction as he seeks the glory of winning the battle and knowing he has demolished the risk of danger his people will have to face.
Based on the duration of this poem, Beowulf is accustomed to the warrior duties and later on the lifestyle of a king. These two titles have...
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