The Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic people that crossed the North Sea to Britain in 449 AD. These Germanic tribes brought along many ideals. They were a people who admired men of outstanding courage and heroic ability. They also placed high importance on loyalty, which was an essential ingredient to achieve the success of not only the tribe but the entire kingdom. They were also a people that realized the shortness of life and therefore completed heroic acts to achieve fame. These three ideals of the Anglo-Saxon culture namely: loyalty, heroism and fame, are clearly manifested in England's heroic epic, Beowulf.
In Beowulf, loyalty is made evident by means of the way the "Band" treated their prince Beowulf, and the way the soldiers treated their king, Hrothgar. Although Beowulf's Band realized that their efforts against Grendel were insignificant they still were favourable inclined to give their lives on behalf of Beowulf, their prince. For example, the poem stated, "All of Beowulf's Band had jumped from their beds, ancestral swords raised and ready, determined to protect their prince if they could". So the Band's subjection remained even though they had recognized the fact that Grendel, the coward that he was, had laid spells that incapacitated their weapons. Another means by which loyalty was made apparent in the poem was by the reaction of Hrothgar's soldiers to Beowulf after Beowulf had achieved victory. The soldiers could have easily forgotten about their king, Hrothgar, while Beowulf was being praised for his generosity and success in defeating Grendel.
Hrothgar's men, however, took care not to berate their king. In lines 514 and 515 the poem stated, "No one meant Beowulf's praise to belittle Hrothgar, their kind and gracious king". Another ideal, heroism, is developed in Beowulf by means of Beowulf's heroic acts. Beowulf became a hero for the people because he had eliminated a "bloodthirsty fiend" that threatened the lives of the soldiers in the mead hall. The first step of heroism on the part of Beowulf, was making the long journey across the North Sea. The poem mentions in lines 479 and 480, "He who had come to them across the sea, bold and strong minded, had driven affliction off, purged He rot clean".
Hrothgar's men had realized Beowulf's amazing victory and expressed their feelings as shown in lines 510-513, "And over and over they swore that nowhere on earth or under the spreading sky... was there a warrior worthier to rule over men". The emphasis on heroism in the poem clearly shows its importance in the Anglo-Saxon culture. The Anglo-Saxons, however, were not only interested in the heroic act itself, but the fame that would result from heroism. The Anglo-Saxons had recognized the fact that man had an extremely short life span.
From this fact they logically concluded that the only way to make themselves known and preserve their identities was by completing a heroic deed and becoming famous for it. Beowulf did exactly that; he achieved fame and his legend lives on even today. However, Beowulf shows us how Beowulf's fame was made apparent. To illustrate, in lines 519-522 the poem states, "And sometimes a proud old soldier who had heard songs of ancient heroes... would weave a net of words for Beowulf's victory". So in Anglo-Saxon days, shops or wandering poets would recall these battles and the names and legacies of courageous, brave and heroic men would live on even after the heroes themselves had died. This is clearly demonstrated in the last part of the poem.
In conclusion, Beowulf does an excellent job of highlighting the three main elements of Anglo-Saxon society: loyalty, heroism and fame. The people displayed subjection to their kings and leaders, and the completed heroic acts to achieve fame, and become models for others to follow. Every society has their own ideals, as the Anglo-Saxons did. Each and every one of us should give consideration as to how these ideals contribute or hinder our modern societies.