Epic Heroic Poem
Written: 975–1010 AD
Why did I read Beowulf? For my literature class, of course. Would there be another reason? We started at the point where many consider the English language in text was birthed, which would be Beowulf. Yes, even though this isn’t a novel, I’m doing a reader reaction and counting it toward my “books read.”
Firstly, the entire poem was much easier to get through than I’d thought. Of course, that’s due to the translator, so thank you, kind sir!
Secondly, the story was much more interesting than I thought it would be. It kept my attention and I honestly did want to know what would happen to Beowulf.
Thirdly, I hated the main character. While in the first few hundred or a thousand years followed the birth of Christ it was deemed appropriate in their culture, Beowulf’s attitude frustrated me. Maybe it’s the difference that a thousand plus years will do to a people, but I cannot understand why he was praised to be such an incredible person. Sure, he was brave, but he was also full of himself. Sure, he gave thanks and credit to God, but also to himself. I hated him.
In all truth, I preferred Unferth, as flawed and cowardly as he was. At least I could relate to him.
Maybe that’s the difference between our cultures. Now, readers feel a desire to relate to the characters that they read. Then, it was all about putting the heroes on a pedestal and sending those types of figures down in history as legends. The changed mentality of humanity creates a divide between the writer of then and the readers of now. Although we may understand the concepts presented in the epic that were near laws of their time, we cannot fully grasp their effects.
Take the blood feud between the Geats and the Swedes, for example; it’s never-ending. One person kills on one side, so the other must claim an equal life, then they return the assault with the killing of another, then another, and so on. There’s never-ending murder without justice. Wait, no. That was their justice! Equal compensation for a death to be paid with another life or in other ways (though it seems to have been mostly the cost of a life). It doesn’t make sense to me. I cannot fathom the bloodshed that occurred in those times simply in the name of “justice.” Needless murder. Yes, revenge is a concept that has not died out, even a thousand years later, but our modern society has learned the worth of a life better than the people of then.
Then there’s the idea of some people being above laws. Take Unferth, for example: he was cowardly and had killed his kin, but he was still allowed to be free, despite the rules of life or equal compensation for murder. There was the question of how it would be paid: who would take revenge for killing the man when it was his own family who did it? It would mean a relation killing another family member, and so on. It’s a flawed way of receiving recompense.
Lastly, I’d just like to say that if you haven’t read Beowulf (or would it be “Beowulf” since it’s a poem and not a novel?), I strongly recommend that you do. It’s a wonderful insight into the conducts of old that feels like listening to a storyteller reanimate a world lost.