John DeLellis ENG 210
11-11:50 Prof. Fulk
The Middle Ages
During the middle ages the values of Anglo-Saxon society were very much based on the
principals of bravery, loyalty, and respect. The honor and dignity of the warrior class was the
most respected class during this time period. The story of Beowulf is an excellent example of
Anglo-Saxon society with his treatment of Grendel and the dragon.
The story of Beowulf all started out with king Hrothgar who is the king of Denmark who
had a flourishing reign. He built an extravagant mead hall called Heorot for rewarding his loyal
warriors after victorious battles. Hrothgar would reward his men with gifts for their loyalty in
battle and have big feasts at the mead hall in which everyone has a grand old time by singing
songs, tell stories, and drinking the night away. The men usually pass out somewhere inside the
mead hall by the end of the night. Hrothgar’s mead hall for some time was a very safe and
peaceful place for his men to sleep and take shelter, until Grendel appears. Grendel who is the
demon descendant of Cain (who is said to be the devil), hears the songs that the men are singing
about the god creation of earth and gets angered. Once the men go to sleep Grendel appears and
kills thirty of Hrothgar’s warriors, he steals the warriors and then eats them, the warriors have no
chance against the beast. Grendel wreaks havoc on the mead hall for twelve years and the
warriors cannot do anything to stop him, they do not have a place to be sheltered because
Grendel comes nightly to the mead hall and takes it over. The Danes own the mead hall during
the day and Grendel owns in at night, the warriors have to sleep outside in the woods or in
ditches nearby so they won’t get eaten. After some time word gets out around to the surrounding
kingdoms where Beowulf, the nephew of the Geatish king Hygelac, hears about this and comes
to help fight against Grendal. Hrothgar once did Beowulf’s father a big favor, and therefore
Beowulf, inspired by the challenge and to return the favor decided to help the Danes out.
Beowulf stays in the mead hall for the night and fights Grendel when he appears to terrorize the
hall; Beowulf fights Grendal single handedly with just his hands, no swords, armor, or weapons.
Beowulf proves that he is stronger than Grendal and when Grendal tries to make an escape
Beowulf grabs his arm and rips it completely out of its socket as Grendal tries to run away.
Grendal runs back to his home in the swamplands in which being fatally wounded, eventually
dies in his home. Beowulf is then lavishly rewarded for fighting off Grendal and Hrothgar has
such a high level of respect for Beowulf, he treats him as he would as his own son. Grendals arm
is then hung at the center of the mead hall to represent the defeat of the monster. Beowulf really
proves himself to the Danish people as a reliable, highly respected warrior. Beowulf came to take
care of the problem, Grendal, and that’s exactly what he did, he was confident and stuck to his
world when he said he was going to do something.
Decades later when Beowulf was the king of the Geats he encountered another fight that
was similar to the one with Grendal. In this case Beowulf’s people were being attacked by a fire
breathing dragon in which was burning houses down and terrorizing the Geats. What started the
dragon’s destruction was a thief who stole a piece of the dragon’s hoarded treasure which
enraged the dragon and took it out on the kingdom of the Geats. Beowulf, being an old man at
this time, decides that he must take matters into his own hands and take care of the dragon.
Beowulf, being the heroic warrior he is, decides to fight the dragon by himself despite his age.
The fight is a tough one for Beowulf because he gets bit by the dragon in the neck and is fatally
wounded. One of his brave warriors, Wiglaf, hears the fight not going too well and decides to
step in and help finish off the dragon. The two of them defeat the dragon but at the cost of
Beowulfs life. Right before Beowulf passes he says to Wiglaf: “ Away you go: I want to examine
that ancient gold, gaze my fill on those garnered jewels; my going will be easier for having seen
the treasure, a less troubled letting-go of the life and lordship I have long maintained” (pg 91).
Beowulf wants to see the dragon’s treasure that he died for for his people before he passes to
prove to them what he has achieved. Since Beowulf never had children and did not have any
family around there was no one to take the title of king. So for the time being there might have
been a little bit of chaos in the kingdom of the Geats for not having a leader that the people can
trust and look up to. Beowulf was thinking that the Geats can use the treasure he died for to get
the kingdom back upon its feet. The treasure could have been used to buy off invaders for the
time being so the kingdom would not be attacked and be taken over, just enough time for the
Geats to find a new leader and be re-established.
The Anglo-Saxon society was a society based upon bravery and loyalty. Once you
became a king you had to be seen as the most trustworthy man in the kingdom from the
villager’s perspective, Beowulf was the perfect example of an ideal king. Kings during this
period were expected to fight alongside their warriors and do whatever it takes to prove to the
villagers that they were safe under their control.
Beowulf’s treatment of Grendel and the dragon were both very similar in the way of
protecting the society’s (Danes, Geats) as a whole against evil. Beowulfs treatment of the dragon
was a little different compared to Grendel’s fight because it was more of a personal fight with the
dragon. Beowulf’s kingdom that he ruled for fifty flawless years was finally attacked by this
dragon and Beowulf was not going to take it despite his age. Beowulf sacrificed his life for his
people so their safety was not in jeopardy of the dragon. Even to the last moment of Beowulfs
life he was still concerned about the safety and well being of his kingdom. Beowulf did fight the
dragon using a sword and armor unlike the fight with grendel in which he used just himself,
despite his age it was still very honorable to go against the fire breathing dragon.
The dragon represents a personal evil as to grendel represent more of second hand evil.
Beowulf is a very courageous man who’s willing to help anyone; though he did fight Grendel
because King Hrothgar (the king of the Danes) did a huge favor for Beowulf’s father and
Beowulf felt the need to return the favor. The fight with Grendel was more of a fight to prove
himself to the Danes as a brave warrior. The monsters in the poem serve as challenges against
the warrior society back in the eighteenth century. The worst thing to be seen as during the
Anglo-Saxon timer period is a coward or a thief, for they were highly looked down upon and had
very little respect in the society.
The ethical/social values of Anglo-Saxon society revolved around the principals of
bravery, loyalty, and respect. The poem of Beowulf is an excellent example of the Anglo-Saxon
society and how warriors are intended to respond to threats. The Anglo-Saxon’s were a warrior
society which represented very strong ethical and social values that were highly respected.
Beowulf the fearless warrior that he was is one of the best examples of this warrior society
during the Anglo-Saxon era.