Beowulf Society The earliest known manuscript of Beowulf is thought to have been written in the tenth century, however, the poem had most likely been told as an oral tradition for centuries before that. In fact, the poems events date back to the sixth century. However, because there is only one manuscript of Beowulf still in tact very little is known about the poem or its author. The poem does, however, give us great insight into the culture of the people who composed and told this epic tale.
Because the poem was performed orally mainly between the eighth and tenth centuries, but dealt with subject matter of centuries earlier, it is difficult to decipher and separate the cultural context involved in the poem from one century to the next. The poem was probably unrecognizable from its original state after two hundred years of oral tradition that would have changed its content drastically. The storyline of the poem, the battles and significant events, probably maintained most of their identity while the cultural context took on another form more suited to the current culture of the people. By the time it was written, in 1000, the poem was probably most representative of the tenth century culture yet it still managed to tell a story similar to the original version. Beowulf, then, gives us a significant insight into the cultural views of the tenth century Anglo-Saxons including their political, social and moral views. The individualistic society was just beginning to replace the tribal system in which no individual had been seen as more important to the success of the tribe than any other. The individuality that Beowulf displayed helped establish new rules in society. Beyond this, Beowulf gives us an even greater insight into middle ages society.
Woven throughout almost every aspect of their culture and the poem are very strict moral codes and values. Loyalty, honesty, family ties, courage and even Christianity play a major role in this epic poem. In each of the stories told throughout the poem elements of these values are openly displayed.
All three of Beowulfs battles demonstrate qualities deemed virtuous and essential to the people of the middle ages. Beowulf, a godfearing, heroic warrior, first faces a monster that represents all things evil. The monster is a descendant of Cain, a bloodthirsty avenger of man and an outcast. Beowulf confronts this evil figure without any fear and without the aid of any manmade weapons of war. The strength of the wickedness is outmatched by the goodness and purity Beowulf. Only because Beowulf displayed no fear and used no weapon was he able to destroy this wicked force of destruction. The hero, Beowulf, is glorified more for his virtue than for his strength in defeating the monster. For those who displayed no virtue, despite their valor, the consequence was quite different.
Ecgtheows son, who displayed no bravery, for example, “had been despised for a long while, for the Geats saw no spark of bravery in him” (75). The true hero of the middle ages managed to maintain a balance between his personal glory and maintaining the good of his people. As we see in later stories of this period, like the Arthur stories, this is a very delicate balance. Beowulf became a folklore hero because he maintained this balance well.
He displayed personal heroism while at the same time keeping his priorities towards the safety of his people. Beowulfs first attack on the monster Grendel displayed many qualities that were significant in a hero of that time. First of all, Beowulf was not called upon to save the Danes from Grendel. Instead, he came on his own accord, out of duty and principle. He took responsibility upon himself in a situation that required none. The individualistic society did not require that an person remain part of the tribe, but rather encouraged them to seek adventure while doing good.
Beowulf recognized his physical strengths and he utilized them for personal gain and glory and the good of the nation. Beowulfs second battle with Grendels mother is quite similar to the first. However, because Beowulf brought along a sword as protection he is seemingly less pure and as he attempts