Anglo-Saxon Values & Culture in Beowulf

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  • 0:00 The Heroic Code
  • 0:38 Bravery
  • 1:09 Truth
  • 1:35 Honor
  • 2:00 Loyalty and Duty
  • 3:02 Hospitality
  • 3:31 Perseverance
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

The Anglo-Saxon Heroic Code was the cornerstone of life for warriors living in the time depicted in the epic poem ''Beowulf''. The core values of the Heroic Code can be seen clearly in the poem. Learn about some of them in this lesson.

The Heroic Code

The Heroic Code was the collective values of the Anglo-Saxon period in English History. Beowulf as both a character and a literary work shows this code in action. The poem and the society it depicts revolved around a warrior king and his band of thanes, who were expected to defend him, even at the cost of their own lives. In return, the king was generous to these followers. Some of the most Anglo-Saxon values, as illustrated by Beowulf, include bravery, truth, honor, loyalty and duty, hospitality and perseverance. Let's look at these in a bit more detail.

Bravery

Thanes were expected to be brave all of the time. These were the warriors, the ones the rest of the culture looked up to. Bravery was mandatory, whether it was in facing a battle or fighting a monster. Such bravery is evident in Beowulf himself, as he faces and defeats Grendel, Grendel's Mother, and the dragon. A lack of bravery is seen in Hrothgar's men, who cower in their beds while Beowulf and his fellow Geats face the monster Grendel. The Geats are the true followers of the Heroic Code.

Truth

The Anglo-Saxons valued the truth. Though they were known to boast and brag, like Beowulf does when he tells of the swimming match with his childhood friend Breca, their boasts had to be rooted in the truth. These warriors were expected to prove their valor, and a boast would have to be backed up. Any thane who lied, like Unferth, the Danish warrior, does when he challenges Beowulf's account of the swimming match, would be disgraced.

Honor

To Beowulf and his men, honor was everything. They showed their honor through service to the king, backing up their boasts, and in their treatment of each other. A king's honor depended on his generosity to his warriors. Honor also caused men to avenge killings, leading to the creation of the system of wergild, where an amount of gold could be paid to satisfy a family's honor if a thane were killed, thus avoiding a blood feud.

Loyalty and Duty

Loyalty was perhaps the most important value to the thanes. Loyalty to the king was placed above everything else, even loyalty to one's own family. In Beowulf, both loyalty and lack of loyalty is witnessed. Beowulf is loyal. We see his loyalty in how he gets permission from his king, Hygelac, to help Danish king Hrothgar kill the monster Grendel. His successes earn him much fame, and the love and respect of Hrothgar, but Beowulf remains loyal and returns to Hygelac and Geatland.

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