As long as there has been recognized sin in recorded history, there has been the virtuous equivalent by which good people live their lives. Before Christianity, there were the Pagan virtues, and when Christianity came into dominance in Scandinavia, it adopted these virtues and added several spiritual virtues of its own. Each virtue can be seen as a reflection of societal thought. The virtues tell how the ideal person lives their life, and this idea of the virtuous person is often reflected in literature.
In fact, ever since the philosophical writings of Aristotle and the Greeks, there have been tales of characters who embody these virtues.
The protagonist of Authun and the Bear exemplifies these seven virtues, and this technique can be seen in modern literature as well, particularly in the 1986 novel, Forrest Gump, by Winston Broom. The virtuous character used must be first defined as morally pure. This chastity sets about them an aura of childhood innocence in many representations.
The seven heavenly virtues were first displayed in their current form in the epic poem, Psychomachia, around year 400 (Prudentius). They were the counterparts to the well-known seven deadly sins and chastity is perhaps the broadest of them all.
It stresses the importance of honesty and purity of the soul in all walks of life. This was meant to be portrayed to society through the story of Authun and the Bear, as Authun lives a completely pure life in terms of morality. He is open and honest with all those he encounters throughout the story, even those who might otherwise be his enemies. When facing the rival king of Denmark, he maintains that he means to give his bear to Denmark’s king (Jones). By expressing this virtue in a traditional tale which was most likely passed on for years before being written down, it appealed to many people on a very personal scale.
Authun may not have always lived the pure life he does in the current form because the story was written down after the shift away from shamanistic principles, when Christianity stressed the virtues. Ever since Christianity took hold as the dominant religion in Western society, there have been tales focusing on characters who represent the virtuous life. Forrest Gump is a modern example that distinctly outlines the idea of a pure character. He only has one love, is open and honest in all his dealings, and carries about a childhood innocence throughout the text.
The effect of tales such as Authun and the Bear and Forrest Gump has made an undeniable mark on society; it has led to the reverence of a chaste life in all aspects of the word. In order to live a life of purity, one must also live by the virtue of temperance. Authun shows balance in many aspects of his life. Although he leaves on a journey for himself, he ensures that his mother is provided for before doing so (Jones). In Scandinavia, this can be seen as a shift away from the gluttonous pillaging of the Vikings.
It was meant to impress upon the citizens that a life lived by moderation can be just as successful and fulfilling as an immoral life of greed. The vices were being brought to the light and this continued with many pieces of literature exposing them. Georg Stiernhielm, in Hercules, condemns gluttony through his personification of the vice in Ruus . This trend is prevalent all the way through to the 20th Century where in Broom contrasts the virtues Forrest with the greed of others in Forrest Gump. Forrest finds balance in his life by not overindulging in any one activity, but living a life of variety and virtue.
_____________________ A clear offspring of the temperate life, is the participation in charity. For a society where it was once thought that the rich had the right to supplement themselves and let the poor remain poor, this was a monumental shift in social thought. This principle is displayed by Authun in his gift of the bear to the king of a foreign land, but more important is the reaction of the king. Kind Svein returns Authuns gift with marvelous treasure which Authun humbly accepts. The king also finds Authun a poor and sick man, but scorns those who scoff at him saying, “He has provided better for his soul than any of you” (Jones).
With this new idea of Christian charity impregnated in traditional folk tales, Scandinavian society was able to move in a direction where assistance of the less fortunate was commended. This attribute of Authun and the Bear was especially standout for a time when kings meant to project images of power and might. Snorri Sturluson did not include the tale of Authun in his original book of King’s sagas, possibly meaning that the tale was created years later to suit Christian ideals. Either way, charity has been impressed on world culture as a virtuous characteristic, and has been noticeably prevalent in literature.
While the virtuous character must be concerned with providing for others, he or she must also have intrinsic motivation to accomplish the tasks at hand. This is where the person of virtue must come to embody diligence. This virtue is set to combat the vice of sloth, which can be devastating to a productive society. By showing the success and happiness of a zealous man in Authun, the impression is that one can reach similar achievements by applying this motivation to their own life. This idea has been around many years as a necessary trait of citizens.
In Plato’s Republic, the citizens are raised to work diligently at their tasks so that the entire city can prosper. Christianity saw the rewards of this work ethic and therefore preached that the virtuous life requires it. Forrest Gump continues this trend into the 20th Century by following the successful life of a man who excels at all tasks because of his persistence. Intelligence is not stressed in the virtues and neither Authun nor Forrest shows any signs of great intellect. Christianity did not need its followers to become extremely educated, because that was not deemed important for an ideal society.
John Ruskin, a writer and critic of art, architecture and society in the 19th Century said, “Nearly all the evils in the Church have arisen from bishops desiring power more than light. They want authority, not outlook. ” By teaching people to be diligent and hardworking rather than speculative and questioning, the Church gained power and authority through citizens who did not question its corruption at the time. Authun and the Bear was written prior to the Modern Breakthrough, where writers began questioning authority and tradition.