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The Assignment: Write an essay defining ONE Anglo-Saxon value and demonstrating its importance in the epic story of Beowulf. Also consider and reflect on your personal opinion of the relevance for today of the Anglo-Saxon value you have chosen to write about.
One Anglo-Saxon value that was important in the epic story of Beowulf was the value of selflessness. For a person to be selfless, he or she needs to care about others more than he or she cares about him or her self. Beowulf is a perfect example of the value of selflessness in Anglo-Saxon society.
Beowulf showed selfless qualities even as a young man. When Beowulf is introduced in the story, he is on a journey to "destroy evil wherever it exists, not merely to protect his own people or is own interests." (Moss) Beowulf is willing to risk his life for strangers, which is quite a selfless thing to do. Later on, when Beowulf is getting ready to fight Grendel, he turns to Hrothgar and says, "Great son of Healfdene, hold well in mind The solemn pledge we plighted of old, That if doing your service I meet my death You will mark my fall with a father's love. Protect my kinsmen, my trusty comrades, If battle take me. And all the treasure You have heaped on me bestow upon Hygelac . . ." (Kennedy 980) The last thing Beowulf tells Hrothgar is to take care of his men if he dies in battle. His first thought was towards his men and what would happen if he died. Another example of Beowulf's selflessness is when "Beowulf gave [A battle-sword] to the boat-warden Hilted with gold." (Kennedy 1315) This line seems to come out of the blue, as Beowulf had no reason to give the boat-warden a sword at all.
These selfless characteristics show themselves later in Beowulf's leadership style. Beowulf was chosen to be king because he had immense selflessness which was shown in his bravery, and the people "held individual bravery above all." (Moss) Beowulf also never backed down from a fight. People at that time believed that "a coward suffered the deepest shame." (Wissolik) Beowulf never ran from a fight, even the fight with the dragon that he lost. Beowulf also showed his selflessness when he was dying from the fight with the dragon. Beowulf said, "For this goodly treasure whereon I gaze I give my thanks to the Lord of all, To the Prince of glory, Eternal God, Who granted me grace to gain for my people Such dower of riches before my death." (Kennedy 1700) The first thing Beowulf had to say to his retainer (Wiglaf) when he was dying was how he was glad that he had acquired all this gold for his people.
As Beowulf fights his final battle, his retainer Wiglaf shows "bravery, loyalty, and devotion." (Moss) This loyalty takes the form of selflessness as Wiglaf ignores his own safety and helps Beowulf kill the dragon. During the fight, Wiglaf is referred to as Beowulf's "shoulder-companion," (Kennedy 1615) which is a usual term for a sword. This shows that Beowulf thought of Wiglaf as his 'right-hand man.' Wiglaf showed his loyalty to Beowulf by putting his life in jeopardy during the final battle to help Beowulf.
The Anglo-Saxon value of selflessness is still upheld in modern times. This is shown by the esteem to which selfless people have been held. Mother Teresa was a shining example of a selfless individual. She began working to help other people from a very young age, and has always tried to help others. She became the icon for selflessness and even received a nobel prize because of her work. In Maryland, Bea Gaddy was a woman who worked selflessly to feed the poor. She was even called "the Mother Teresa of Baltimore." The importance of selflessness as a virtue is shown through the public school system's requirements of service learning hours for their students to graduate from high school.
Beowulf showed the quality of selfless bravery throughout his life. This quality caused him to be made king. It caused him to be respected by his subjects. Beowulf was shown respect by his retainer Wiglaf, who was himself selflessly brave as he fought the dragon with Beowulf. It is interesting that we still appreciate the value of selflessness in our society as is seen through our emulation of Mother Theresa, Bea Gaddy, and the requirement of service learning hours in order to graduate. Apparently, we are still and Anglo-Saxon society. Selflessness was an important value in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and is still considered to be an important value today.