In our culture, preoccupation with fabric goods oftentimes connotes shallowness, and the pursuit of riches is often seen as incompatible—or at least hard to reconcile—with our ethical convictions. In Beowulf, however, the Danes, Geats, and Swedes’ collective reverence for treasure is no longer represented as a shortcoming or moral weakness. In fact, the poem regularly makes use of treasure as a photo of the Scandinavian people’s most cherished cultural values.
In Beowulf, kings, heroes, and different effective guys have to continually set up their reputations, each those they have inherited and these they have earned. Characters accomplish the former thru reminding listeners of their well-known ancestors and the latter through gathering treasures. The superb rewards Beowulf receives from Hrothgar testify to the Geatish warrior’s valor and prowess, simply as the majestic Heorot signifies Hrothgar’s power.
Sometimes, a fantastic object is enough to reap a man respect, even barring his having earned it via brave deeds—the Danish shield who watches Beowulf’s ship, for example, gets a sword “with gold fittings” that in the future will make him “a revered man / at his vicinity on the mead-bench” (1901–1903).
On the other hand, loss of treasure symbolizes a fall from power. After Beowulf dies, the poet publicizes the cease of a amazing Geatish era via noting that “no follower” will wear the treasure Beowulf wins from the dragon in his memory, “nor beautiful lady / link and join [it] as a torque round her neck.” Treasure symbolizes prosperity and stability; without these attributes, the Geatish clan can no longer be viewed in jewels and finery.
The kings of Beowulf additionally use treasure to solidify their most necessary bonds: these with their followers, and these with extraordinary nations. Each king has a duty to furnish his most loyal thanes riches, a accountability indicated by means of way of the frequent use of royal epithets such as “ring-giver,” “gift-lord,” and “gold-friend to retainers.” The act is now not completely a rely of custom, but additionally of honor. Among his distinctive crimes, the wicked Heremod is accused of giving “no greater rings / to honor the Danes” (1719–1720).
In this culture, treasure is no longer for hoarding then again for circulating in socially recommended ways. On an global level, the kings use treasure to support alliances and maintain away from conflict amongst the a range of Scandinavian tribes. Friendly tribes may also additionally exchange gifts, while antagonistic worldwide places might also moreover pacify one any different with gold or with the paying of blood tributes.
In this scheme, ladies signify the most precious token of exchange, as kings frequently betroth their daughters to overseas rulers for political gain. The normal mention of the gold and jewels that enhance Wealtheow advise her political value: The queen no longer solely wears treasure, in a sense, she is treasure.
Finally, treasure additionally symbolizes the contradictory thoughts the Geats and Danes have toward death, a consistent presence in this dark, brutal era. Though the poet writes from an explicitly Christian perspective, the Geats and Danes seem to lack a notion of a divine afterlife. In this world, human existence stays confined to the mortal lifespan.
However, human beings have the chance to obtain some variety of afterlife by means of accruing wealth, prestige, and glory whilst they live: Owning vast treasure increases the possibility that one’s name and cognizance will remain on after death. At the identical time, the Geats and Danes apprehend that treasure remains earthbound, unable to accompany its proprietor into the hereafter.
Both of these notions determine into the Scandinavian funeral ritual of sending a king off to sea in a burning ship stuffed with treasure. The extra rings, swords, and coats of mail piled upon the ship, the larger the king’s glory; however, these riches in the give up burn away or turn out to be otherwise misplaced to the king’s people. In Beowulf, treasure concurrently has an everlasting and an evanescent quality.
Amidst the extensive veneration of treasure, though, come some discordant notes. In one of the poem’s most mournful moments, the narrator describes “some forgotten person” burying the collective riches of his entire, equally forgotten race. In this case, the accumulation of wonderful wealth used to be no longer ample to reap a lasting legacy, and the treasure only enhances the survivor’s horrible loneliness, as he is “left with no one / to endure a sword or to burnish plated goblets / put a sheen on the cup” (2252–2253).
Just a few lines earlier, Beowulf had imagined how the sight of the Danes carrying “glittering regalia” and “burnished ring-mail” at the start belonging to the Heatho-Bards would provoke the Heatho-Bards to viciously assault their guests. And after Beowulf’s death, the poet bitterly describes how the treasure left in the dragon’s lair is “as vain to guys now as it ever was” (3168). As the poem appears in improve to both the Danish hostilities with the Heatho-Bards and the Geatish devastation following Beowulf’s death, the creeping disillusion with wealth suggestions at the darkness looming on the horizon.