Significant Quotations

Beowulf, having been written in Old English, has a variety of different translations. As a result, the essence of some of its quotes may be well known, but different people may prefer different translations of those quotes. Much of the poetry in the language may be lost in the translation, and most readers simply do not know Old English and consequently have no frame of reference for the beauty in the original source material. However, many of the translations infuse the poem with their own beauty, so that some of the quotations are notable for their imagery, while others are notable because of their meaning within the context of the poem.

Quotation One: And a young prince must be prudent like that,/giving freely while his father lives/so that afterwards in age when fighting starts/steadfast companions will stand by him/and hold the line. Behaviour that’s admired/is the path to power among people everywhere.

This quotation provides a concise explanation of why reputation was so important to Anglo-Saxon men during the Middle Ages, and also helps explain the code of comitatus. The idea was for warriors to build their reputations when they were young and when they could risk the dangers to which it would have been irresponsible for established kings to expose themselves. By doing so, they would build up respect and admiration among their warriors, so that those warriors would stand by them and help protect their people as the kings aged. This helps explain why Beowulf was so concerned with building up his reputation even when it seemed as if he would not directly benefit from doing so. It also explains why Hrothgar was not eager to enter into direct confrontation with Grendel.

Quotation Two: Nor have I ever seen,/Out of all the men on earth, one greater/Than has come with you; no commoner carries/Such weapons, unless his appearance, and his beauty,/Are both lies.

This quotation refers to Beowulf and helps explain the impression he makes when he comes...

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Essays About Beowulf