The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old
English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic tells the
story of a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who rids the Danes
of the monster Grendel, a descendent of Cain, and of his exploits fighting
Grendel's mother and a Dragon. Throughout the epic, the Anglo-Saxon
story teller uses many elements to build a certain depth to the characters.
Just a few of the important character elements in Beowulf are Wealth &
Honor, Biblical & Paganistic, and Man vs. Wild themes.
Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most epics, defined by
their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon culture also adds an
element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a character's importance, as well as
their wealth and status, where measured not only in monetary terms, but it
was also measured in terms of honor, fame, and accomplishments.
Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is one example of the Anglo-Saxon
measurement of importance in Beowulf. In Canto 1 the story teller describes
his wealth and importance, not as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as
his ability to "[lead] the Danes to such glory." and as his tendency to "In
battle, [leave] the common pasture untouched, and taking no lives."
Through this display of compassion for the commoner who doesn't fight in
battles, Hrothgar proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent
of his wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true
wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he fights
and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his companions,
and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor raising him to the
level of an...