Beowulf is the cornerstone of the medieval literature evolution. It is known as the basis for following epic stories of heroism, valor, and conflicts between man and himself. Beowulf was never actually written, therefore it does not have a credited author. It is said that this poem was passed through time by an oral poetic method. This simply means by word of mouth.
Beowulf was finally placed into its actual poetic form by and unknown poet. The poem was performed for many years by what is called a scop. This person, or scop, would perform Beowulf by singing or chanting in front of a live audience. There has been much controversy between scholars of weather or not Beowulf should be thought of as a pagan story or as a Christian allegory. Another trying factor in this poem is the idea of comitatus and its influence on the development of feudalism.
This essay will discuss these two factors along with the tragedy of the fight scene between Beowulf and the dragon. Many scholars see that Beowulf as a pagan story in the tradition of the Germanic heroic epic emphasizing the virtues of the comitatus. Other’s see the poem’s spirit to be altruistic and believe it may have been intended as a Christian allegory. I believe that Beowulf was written more as a Christian allegory. Many elements of Christianity are found throughout the poem.
Beowulf makes reference to God as his protector. After his fight with Grendel’s mother he states: The fight would have ended straightaway if God had not guarded me. I felt a sense through Beowulf’s heroism that this protection over him by God was earned through his courage and pride. Besides the idea of God as a protector, I also see him as being portrayed as ruler over all. Hrothgar tells Beowulf that the status of king is achieved through God when he states: he turned away from the joys of men, alone, notorious king, although mighty God had raised him in power, in the joys of strength, had set him up over all men. Along with these references to God throughout Beowulf, there is a major Biblical reference as well.
Grendel is said to be a descendent of Cain. Cain was the son of Adam and Eve in the Old Testament who killed his own brother, Abel. The practice of comitatus and its impact on the development of feudalism is seen throughout Beowulf. The practice of comitatus consists of a great lord on a mission, primarily military, who attracts many followers. Our text defines feudalism as the linking together of the personal element of vassalage with the property element of the benefice (223).
There was to be an honorable relationship between the chief and his followers. Our text also tells us that by the eighth century one who served a lord in a military was known as a vassal (222). A vassal was to stand behind his lord at all cost and even fight to the death if necessary. In reward for the vassal’s honor, his lord would grant him his protection and land. This land is stated in our text to be a benefice (222).
Beowulf is known as the great lord in the poem Beowulf. The first example of the practice of comitatus in Beowulf is when he first travels to Denmark to fight Grendel. He takes with him 14 of his finest men, which are better known as thanes. Later in the poem when Beowulf is the king, he travels once more to Denmark to fight the dragon. Beowulf, the great lord, took 11 of his finest warriors.
In return, Beowulf had protected his men and given them land. These are prime examples of how the practice of comitatus was used in Beowulf, as well as the impact over the development of feudalism. A tragic, as well as memorable, scene in Beowulf was the fight between Beowulf and the dragon. To the people in Beowulf’s time, the tragedy of the fight scene is that they lose a great leader, Beowulf, and they also realize that their system of feudalism has failed. Beowulf was a noble and strong warrior who had led his people through so much. During the fight between him and the dragon his eleven men became frightened and ran away only allowing Beowulf to die.
This obviously defeated the entire point of the system of comitatus that these people had developed. There are many themes in the poem Beowulf, but only one seems to be the most important in the guidance of the moral lesson that is given in the poem. Loyalty is a vital part of Beowulf’s virtues considering his honorability as a noble warrior. Beowulf first comes to the assistance of the Danes as payment to his own Geatland king. Later when he is king, he shows the importance of loyalty to his men although he was deceived in the end.
This is where we learn the moral lesson in Beowulf. The tragic ending is due to lack of loyalty by Beowulf’s men. I agree with many of this points discussed about the wonderful poem of Beowulf. To an extent I believe that the practice of comitatus should be practiced today. Always be loyal to those who watch over and protect you and never deceive them or turn your back on them for it will only lead to a great loss and or failure.