The Values That Bond a King and a Warrior
The poem, Beowulf was written in the 8th century, therefore it reflects the values of that culture and time period. In Anglo-Saxon culture, “battle is a way of life, a necessary function of the worthiest members of society.” (xiv, Raffel). The relationship between the king and his warriors entail that warriors are dedicated and sacrifice their lives for the benefit of their king. In return the king gives the warrior a large reward, along with fame and glory. In Beowulf, the relationship between Hrothgar and Beowulf, and Beowulf and Wiglaf demonstrate the importance of loyalty and rewards in Anglo-Saxon culture.
Beowulf shows immense loyalty towards the King of the Danes, Hrothgar, throughout the entire poem. Hrothgar does not even need to ask Beowulf for his assistance in killing the monster that is terrorizing Herot, known as Grendel. Beowulf insists that it was “[his] duty to go to the Danes’ great King.” (Beowulf 416). Not only is Beowulf willing to “die in battle [while] pressed in Grendel’s fierce grip,” he is successful in his defeating the monster (635-637). Despite his victory, Grendel’s mother returns to avenge her son and kills one of Hrothgar’s dearest friends. As a result, the king pleads for Beowulf to “save [them], once more” (1380). There is no lack of loyalty to the king when Beowulf agrees, without hesitation, to “let [Hrothgar’s] sorrow end” and “avenge [their] friends” (1385). Beowulf exhibits his bravery and loyalty to Hrothgar when he fearlessly murders Grendel’s mother. Even after risking his life multiple times to defend the king, Beowulf still insists that if Hrothgar ever needs his help again to “summon [him]” and that he will “come as [he] came once before.” (1826). Ultimately proving that the king-warrior relationship is grows stronger through loyalty.
In compensation for Beowulf’s loyal and courageous actions, Hrothgar gives him many rewards. Immediately, Hrothgar promises Beowulf that if he “purges Herot [then] [Beowulf’s] ship will sail home with its treasure-holds full.” (660). As king, Hrothgar’s promises of fame and fortune are Beowulf’s main motive for his devotion to the king. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the rewards a soldier is given indicates the honorability of their position and enhances the relationship between the king and the warrior. Hrothgar is so grateful for the death of Grendel that he tells Beowulf to “take, in return, whatever [Beowulf] may want from whatever [Hrothgar] owns” (950). Not only does Hrothgar give Beowulf “a foaming cup, a mail shirt, golden arm, bands, and the most beautiful necklace known to men” (1193-1195), but he also rewards Beowulf, after he defeats Grendel’s mother. Rewards are a necessity in the king-warrior relationship because they are the reason for the loyalty of the warriors.
After many years, Beowulf becomes King of the Geats and his brave warrior, Wiglaf, demonstrates the value of loyalty in the king-warrior relationship. When a deadly dragon comes to threaten his country, Beowulf and a few warriors plan to destroy the monster. Despite the warrior he used to be, Beowulf is now too old to fight the dragon on his own and “Edgetho’s famous son [stares] at death,” (2586), “none of his comrades [help] him … only one of them [remains] … remembering, as a good man must, what kinship should mean.” (2600). The cowardly actions of Beowulf’s warriors show absolute disgrace and disrespect to Beowulf. Although, Wiglaf manages to defend his king and proves his loyalty to his king when he says “[he’d] rather burn [himself] than see flames swirling around [his lord].” (2651-2652). Wiglaf’s devotion to Beowulf is undeniable “when Beowulf [needs] him most Wiglaf [shows] his courage, his strengeth and skill … he [helps] his lord by striking [the dragon] lower down.” (2693-2698). Even after Wiglaf’s great king passes, he remains loyal by scolding the other men for “[running] like cowards, [dropping] [their] swords as soon as danger was real.” (2871-2872). Unlike Beowulf’s devotion to Hrothgar, Beowulf’s soldiers fled when he needed their help most. Despite the majority of his warrior’s actions, Wiglaf’s relationship with Beowulf correlates with Beowulf’s loyalty to Hrothgar, by fighting for their king and sacrificing their own life to protect their king.
Beowulf expresses the aspect of rewards in the king-warrior relationship when he repays his warrior, Wiglaf, for his loyalty and bravery. After Wiglaf helps his king in defeating the dragon, Beowulf directs him to “find the dragon’s treasure … its gold is [theirs].” (2745). Wiglaf is able to “[take] whatever he [wants], all of the treasures that [please] his eye.” (2773). As well as the dragon’s treasure that Wiglaf is rewarded with, Beowulf also tells Wiglaf to “take what [Beowulf] [leaves], lead [his] people.” (2800). In Anglo-Saxon culture it is normal that Beowulf expresses his gratitude to Wiglaf through riches and the authorization to lead the people. The way that Beowulf rewards Wiglaf is very similar to the rewards Hrothgar gives to Beowulf for his loyal actions.
The values of rewards and loyalty in Aglo-Saxon culture are portrayed through the relationship between Hrothgar and Beowulf, and Beowulf and Wiglaf. In Anglo-Saxon society, a warrior is one of the most honorable rankings one can achieve. The loyalty that warriors show to their king is displayed through Beowulf’s actions of killing Grendel, and Grendel’s mother, to defend Hrothgar and his people, as well as Wiglaf’s assistance to Beowulf in killing the dragon. As a result of the warriors’ efforts and loyalty, the kings, which in this case are Beowulf and Hrothgar, generously reward their soldiers with abundant riches and endless glory.