The next tradition the Maxims present is the role of woman. According to the Maxims woman during this time needed to be generous. It is mentioned in Maxims I that, “women must excel as one cherished among her people… be open-heartedly generous with horses and with treasures” (Bradley, 348). Like the king, queens were expected to be generous towards her people. But unlike the king, who needed to be powerful and unmoving, woman needed to be loved and kind. Another role woman needed to fulfil, was knowing what her people and the king needs.
The narrator also says, “she must know what is prudent for them both as rulers of the hall” (Bradley, 348). A great example of these two roles is Wealhtheow, who is described as a generous queen. Brian O’Camb dissects the way woman are portrayed in the Maxims and likens them to servants, similar to Noah’s relationship with God. He writes, “In contrast the Frisian women upholds her marital vows just as fæsthydig Noah (1347) holds covenant with God” (O’Camb, 746-7).
Noah’s love towards God is absolute and considers himself a servant of God. According to the Maxims, “she leads him in, washes his wrack-stained clothes and gives him fresh garments and sails with him to a landfall as his love demands” (Bradley, 348-9). The Maxims portray woman as needing to be servants to their husband/king. O’Camb spins it as undying love and faith for their husbands, rather than being a duty required of them.
The final tradition that the Maxims present is the importance of courage to warriors. In Nordic culture, there is an emphasis placed on courage. The Maxims narrator says, “Good comrades must encourage a young nobleman to war-making and to ring-giving. In a warrior belongs courage” (Bradley, 513). This quote personifies three of the things the Nordic culture believed which were kings must be generous, their love for war, and finally courage in the face of adversity. Courage is important to a warrior and there was nothing worse than cowardice. This is shown in the Battle of Maldon when Offa says, “Godric, the cowardly son of Odda, has betrayed us all. Too many a man thought when he rode off on horseback,” (Bradley, 525). Godric amid battle runs away, which causes problems since he escapes on the king’s horse. During the time period that the Maxims cover, there was a big emphasis on the heroic code. The heroic code states that warriors needed to be strong, loyal to their king, courageous and desired the honor from battle. Beowulf is a great example of the heroic code, because he embodies all these ideas. This code was a crucial component to Nordic life and we can see that in the Maxims I. Paul Cavill further supports this by saying, “The emphasis here is on Beowulf’s courage, and at the core of the maxim in 572b-73, there is the recognition of the need for courage in a heroic society.” (Cavill, 219). Again, Cavill reiterates the importance of courage in Nordic society.
In conclusion, the presentation of Nordic traditions by both Maxims I and II by describing a variety of customs prevalent during this time period. It is very important for readers of Old English literature to read the Maxims because it can offer insight into the time period discussed in those pieces. While reading a piece like Beowulf, the Maxims can offer insight into the heroic code, War traditions that are prevalent in the poem.
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