The World of Beowulf and Modern America

Beowulf

In the epic story Beowulf, the parallels between the time period of the story and the modern day society are very evident, along with the obvious similarities between the United States and Beowulf. The United States being a “warrior-like” force and coming the aid of other countries when needed, similar to how Beowulf and his men came to the aid of the Danes after hearing about Grendel’s attacks.

There is a social similarity in the cultures between modern America and Anglo Saxon era Scandinavia. There is the same idea of people coming together to relax and talk while drinking alcohol. In Beowulf, the mead hall is the perfect habit for this type of social interaction, a way to relax from the pressures of the warrior life. This is very similar to American society now. Bars and similar establishments have replaced the mead halls, but the overall purpose is still the same. People are taking time to relieve stress from their work and family pressures through socializing and drinking alcoholic beverages.

Forms of entertainment are fairly similar as well, although it has increasingly advanced since the Anglo-Saxon period have retained the same general idea. In Beowulf’s day, a scop would sing and tell stories to entertain those gathered at the hall; today theater, operas, and movies do the same. In modern America, looks, strength, and pride are essential in today’s society.

In Beowulf, these qualities carry great importance as well. At the celebration following Beowulf’s victory over Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar, warns Beowulf not to rely on his pride, youth, and strength because they are all fleeting: “Have no care for pride, great warrior. Now for a time there is glory in your strength, or fire’s fangs, or flood’s surge, or sword’s swing, or spear’s fight, or appalling age; brightness of eyes will fail and grow dark; then it shall be that death will overcome you, warrior.” ( Norton p.49 ) This warning can be given today as well, because it applies to American society just as it did to Beowulf’s, if not more.

Another similarity is the concept of a “bad guy” or “monster”. Coming from the Latin word “monere” meaning to warn, a monster is someone or something with the intention to harm the innocent. In modern society the word monster is used to mean “an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and, frightening”. In the time of Beowulf, Grendel’s actions cause his classification as a monster. In the epic, the description of “man-eating” Grendel is as follows “a fiend out of hell, began to work his evil in the world. Grendel was the name of this grim demon … he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts… and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants too who strove with God time and again until He gave them their reward”.

Even though Grendel is doing bad things, he is so different from the humans. He is killing people for his own reasons, which is the same philosophy used by the Anglo-saxons when invading ancient Europe. Grendel is jealous of the humans and his inability to be like them, “Then a fierce evil demon suffered distress, long in torment, who dwelt in darkness.

For day after day, he heard rejoicing loud in the hall: there was music of the harp, and the clear song of the scop, who sang of creation, the beginnings of men far back in time.” causes him to kill those same people he envies “The wicked creature, grim and greedy, was at the ready, savage and cruel, and seized in their rest thirty of the thanes.” Murders are acts of revenge in some cases in the story such as the death of a soldier caused by Grendel’s mother for her son’s death. Killing occurs in the story for very simple or petty motives, showing the human nature in even the villainous monsters.

Today we live in a technologically advanced world filled with sophisticated machinery, yet human nature has remained the same, since the Anglo-Saxon period. Actions in modern America are parallel to those seen in Beowulf because although times have changed, people have stayed the same. Corruption, greed, and jealousy exist today, as do courage, bravery, and nobility. A struggle between good and evil existed then and will continue to exist for centuries to come. The greatest challenge is in choosing whether we want to be like Beowulf and Wiglaf, noble and courageous, or like Unferth and Grendel, evil and greedy.

Today we live in a technologically advanced world filled with sophisticated machinery, yet human nature has remained the same,  since the Anglo-Saxon period. Actions in modern America are parallel to those seen in Beowulf because although times have changed, people have stayed the same. Corruption, greed, and jealousy exist today, as do courage, bravery, and nobility. A struggle between good and evil existed then and will continue to exist for centuries to come. The greatest challenge is in choosing whether we want to be like Beowulf and Wiglaf, noble and courageous, or like Unferth and Grendel, evil and greedy.

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