Heroes are examples of what is good and noble in a culture. British culture has changed their view of a hero between the 5th century and the 10th century. Anglo-Saxon literature is literature expressed orally during the Anglo-Saxon period of Britain, from the 5th century to the Norman conquest. During the Anglo-Saxon era, warriors were to follow a strict code of heroic behavior emphasizing bravery, loyalty, and vengeance. Because Anglo-Saxon was an oral culture, people could keep talking about your past deeds; being remembered makes you famous. Anglo-Saxon heroic values are revenge and boastfulness. One of the most famous Anglo-Saxon poems is Beowulf, which was written in the century. The character Beowulf is a great example of an Anglo-Saxon hero in British literature. Later in the 10th century, Christianity had spread and now Christian values were being considered heroic behavior in British culture. Christian heroic values are forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and humility; kindness makes you famous. In the 10th century, Dream of the Rood was written. The character Christ is an example of a Christian hero in British literature. Even though Beowulf and Dream of the Rood were Anglo-Saxon heroic poems, they were preserved, because the Anglo-Saxon beliefs in the poems were compatible with Christian beliefs. In Beowulf poem, the hero is Anglo-Saxon epic hero. Beowulf is a mighty and noble warrior who helps Hrothgar and the Danes. He is also is a boastful hero. A boastful hero talks about oneself with excessive pride, so everyone will know about their heroic deeds. Beowulf’s boastfulness isn’t a Christian value. But later in the poem, Beowulf becomes a wise old man who is humbled. A humble person has no pride, egotism, conceit, or arrogance. Instead a humble person has altruism, humility, and modesty, which is a Christian value. In the poem, Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, whom Beowulf serves, warned Beowulf that “ sickness or age will strip you of your strength, or the fangs of flame, or flood-surges, the sword’s bite, or the spear’s flight, or fearful frailty as bright eyes fade, dimming to darkness. Afterward death will sweep you away…” (Pg. 65) Hrothgar is not as strong as Beowulf, but he is wiser, cunning, and generous. Hrothgar foreshadows what will happen to Beowulf and that he will become like Hrothgar. In The Dream of the Rood poem, the hero is a Christian hero. Christ is a generous hero. A generous hero is a person who is willing to give and share unsparingly. This quote shows how in the poem, the generous Christ honors the cross and Mary.
“Lo! The Lord of Heaven, the Prince of Glory, honored me over any other tree just as He, Almighty God, for sake of mankind honored Mary, His own mother, before all other women in the world.” (Pg. 129) Because Mary and the cross had honored Christ, he was willing to share his praise with them. Both Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood poems, Beowulf and Christ are warriors in battle “Then the young warrior, God Almighty, stripped Himself, firm and unflinching. He climbed upon the cross, brave before so many, to redeem mankind.” (Pg. 128)
This quote shows that Christ is a warrior in battle, which is an Anglo-Saxon concept, but in this poem it is meant to show strength. In Beowulf, Beowulf is a warrior his job is to protect people from danger. He was able to protect the Danes and Hrothgar from danger by killing Grendal and Grendal’s mother, but when he was older he still able to protect his kingdom from the dragon, but it costs his life. Both Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood poems, promotes courage and describe the ideal of sacrificing oneself to save others, which is prevalent in Christianity. In Beowulf, the narrator describes how Beowulf courageously battled Grendal, Grendal’s mother, and the dragon. Beowulf fights Grendal while he is young. He courageously fights Grendal without a sword. He rips off Grendal’s arm in Hrothgar’s mead hall, Heorot. Later Beowulf fights Grendal’s mother in her cave beneath the swampy lake. Beowulf brings a sword, Hruting, which he borrowed from his friend, Unfeth, but he is unsuccessful. Then Beowulf miraculously finds a magical giant sword in the underwater cave and uses it to kill Grendal’s mother. In Beowulf the older, wiser Beowulf fought the dragon in order to protect his people. Beowulf comes fully armed and has an army to help him. Beowulf fights the dragon with his sword Naeling, which is ineffective against the dragon. The dragon morally wounds Beowulf and with Wiglaf’s help the dragon is slain. In The Dream of the Rood, Christ shows courage by climbing upon the cross and knowing his fate. In Christianity, they believe in the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the cost, which is defined as courage. According to the Christian Bible, Christ sacrificed himself to save us from our sins. The Dream of the Rood tells the Christian Biblical story to show Christ’s courage. In the story it says, “many enemies fastened me there. I saw the Lord of Mankind hasten with such courage to climb upon me.” (Pg. 127) This quote shows that Christ is a courageous hero in the poem. A courageous hero has strength in the face of pain or grief. Both Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood poems, describe judgment and consequences for one’s actions. In Beowulf, Wigluf says “ You shall have no joy in the homeland you love. Your farms shall be forfeit, and each man fare alone and landless when foreign lands learn of your flight, your failure of faith. Better to die than dwell in disgrace.” (Pg. 86) Wigluf speaks to the earls and other warriors for not being loyal to Beowulf. Only Wigluf supported Beowulf in his last battle. After Beowulf’s death, Wigluf speaks of feuds and strife after Beowulf’s death, because the Swedes are fighting with the Geats. In The Dream of the Rood, the cross describes the Apocalypse, which is the cataclysmic destruction of the world, followed by resurrection of the dead, and judgment day. Beowulf and Dream of the Rood were Anglo-Saxon heroic poems. Both Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood have the Christian ideals of generosity, humbleness, courage, sacrificing oneself to save others, judgment, and having consequences for one’s actions. Similarly, Both Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood have the Anglo-Saxon ideal of a warrior in battle. Beowulf and Dream of the Rood were preserved, because the Anglo-Saxon beliefs congruent with Christian beliefs.
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