The Anglo-Saxons set the foundations on which the English nation developed. In spite of continual internal warfare, they built upon those foundations and developed a high degree of civilization. In Beowulf, Burton Raffel portrays many aspects of Anglo-Saxon lifestyle, especially the importance of weaponry, women’s role in society, and the significance of Christianity.
There was not a single object that mattered to Anglo-Saxons more than their weapons. The Anglo-Saxons “delighted in beautiful weapons” (Crossley-Holland 19). They associated usefulness with beauty. Anglo-Saxons decorated their swords with ornamental patterning. These warlike people considered the sword to be the “king of weapons” (Crossley-Holland 20). The gift of a sword was a symbol of the bond between a lord and his follower. Warriors remained “prepared behind their high shield” (Raffel 35). Shields were the most common forms of defense. They decorated the shields as well, which declared the wealth of its owner. It was an Anglo-Saxon warrior’s practice to be ready for battle incessantly.Order now
Women had a well-defined role in Anglo-Saxon society. A thane’s wife had responsibilities that she fulfilled on a daily basis. Her primary chores consisted of looking after the family and supervising the household. Other duties included overseeing the brewing of ale, and managing the weaving and dyeing of clothing for her family. She had a public persona, such as when “Welthow went from warrior to warrior, pouring a portion from the jeweled cup for each” (Raffel 24). Presumably, a thane’s wife was the mistress of ceremonies in the mead halls. Women also had their own rights that were “quite independent of their husbands” (Crossley-Holland 68). A woman had the right to own land, defend herself in court, to inherit money, and use it at her own discretion. The role of women in that time period was truly extraordinary.
Christianity was also an aspect of Anglo-Saxon life along with the old pagan beliefs. Old English literature shows that “the glories of Christ are great but fate is the strongest” (Crossley-Holland 103). Fate was a key element in their day-to-day lives, but it gradually faded away as they learned about Christianity. Welthow “thanked God for answering her prayers,” thus demonstrating monotheism (Raffel 24). She believed in one supreme being, rather than in many gods, as the majority of the pagan Anglo-Saxons did. The epic Beowulf portrays Grendel as having been “conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain” (14). This biblical description reflects the assimilation of Christian themes. Christianity appealed to the Anglo-Saxons for one simple reason: it offered hope.
Beowulf is the initial piece of literature that depicts a portion of English civilization. Anglo-Saxon culture is not much different from society today. Thanes were punished for being disloyal, just as there are consequences for breaking laws. They also had religion in their lives, which is even more apparent today. Their focus in life was to gain fame from their bravery, just as every young child today wants to be famous. The Anglo-Saxons laid foundations that have been built upon over time and are now edifices.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin. Green Blades Rising. New York: The Seabury Press, 1975.
Levick, Ben. “The Religion of the Pagan Anglo-Saxons.” Angelcynn: Anglo-Saxon
Living History 400-900AD.25
August, 1997. 24 January, 2000.
Raffel, Burton, trans. from Beowulf. Elements of Literature: Literature of Britain. Eds.
Robert Anderson, et al. Austin: Holt, 1989. 14-37.