Beowulf as a Symbol of the Heroic Code

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that the Anglo-Saxon heroic culture came to an end. There is no doubt, however, that the ideals prominent during the time of Beowulf, Hrothgar, and Wiglaf have gradually dissipated and taken on alternate forms. Beowulf, arguably the most heroic of all, is also symbolic of the Anglo-Saxon culture as a whole. His strength is their strength, and his downfall, alluded to in numerous passages throughout the poem, is their downfall. It is possible to use examples of the disappearance of the heroic code to develop a fuller understanding of the diminishment of the Anglo-Saxons.

The poem begins with a description of Shield Sheafson. Sheafson is the epitome of the heroic warrior; the author uses the litote, "That was one good king" (Heaney 11) to describe him. Sheafson perfectly fits the idea of the Anglo-Saxon hero:

The prospect of gaining a glorious name in the wÂl-rÂs (the rush of battle-slaughter), the pride of defending one's lord and bearing heroic witness to the integrity of the bond between him and his hall-companions. (Heaney website)

This, along with the desire for earthly treasure, the search for glory though warfare, the continuance of feuds, a comitatus, wergild,...

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