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The Glory in Death

In the world of heroes, they all have the same goal they strive to be glorified or honored after death. The Greeks use the phrase “Kleos aphthiton” or “Eternal Glory” (Van Bryan). Take Achilles in Homer’s Iliad for example. He was a strong, cunning warrior who was a demi-god renowned for his prowess on the battlefield, especially in his victories against the Trojans. You might have heard the term “ Achilles Heel” In the legend Achilles could only be injured at his heel, as when he was a child he was dipped into the river Styx and was held by his heel. So his only weakness was his heel. During a point in the Trojan War, he refused to fight due to a beautiful princess was taken away from him. Being depressed, his best friend took his armor pretending to be him then tragically dying in battle. Achilles then comes back to avenge his fallen friend and inspires his army, eventually being shot with an arrow in his heel and subsequently dying due to his “Achilles heel”(History)(Rachael Noodra). This can also be seen in the epic poem hero of Beowulf. Not a half-god but a mortal who’s a noble and courageous warrior just like Achilles. Another powerful male role model for their fellow soldiers is to fight harder for their homeland. Beowulf travels to a distant land to aid King Hrothgar, King of the Danes, to slay the Grendel who is the unholy spawn of Cain. Leading to a vicious fight with Grendel’s Mother in the Mere to a dragon as the king of the Geats. Both of these men can be called epic heroes of loyalty to their compassion. However, when it comes to death in battle, they seek the most honorable yet, dramatic sacrifices on the battlefield which is called Kleos. A “medium and a message” (Van Bryan) to the people who hear their tale from the afterlife and beyond. In Anglo-Saxon terms, the closest word would be hubris which was too much prideful way of thinking that can lead many to glorious deaths and “short-lived lives” as a society or a selfless deed for the people they’re trying to protect, especially for Wiglaf to future generations.

The Anglo-Saxon culture revolves around and is based on heroic to noble values when it comes to their people. It’s depicted with the reveal of Wiglaf when his fellow thaynes retreat. Beowulf chooses to take on the dragon alone when bringing eleven thanes to assist him, reassuring himself due to his past achievements in defeating previous monsters. Seeing Beowulf struggle brings distraught and doubt to the thaynes causing them to flee to the forest with only one standing his ground: Wiglaf. Expressing his valor and obedient attitude in lines 1573-1758 ( “ When we swore to our lord who bestowed/ these rings/ That we would repay the war gear and/armor,/The hard swords and helmets if need like/this”) whereas a thayne they owe their life to the “ring-bearer” or king. And in lines 1583-1584, (“ God knows I had rather the fire should enfold/My body and limbs with my gold-friend and/ lord. . .”) he would rather burn from dragon fire than burns from the fire of dishonor. It is a strong merit to serve when his king needs aid. To fight in battle either surviving or even dying is an honorable action rather than being shamed by fleeing. Yet, some of the more selfless acts may look like a selfish one.

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Before he feuds with the dragon, Beowulf knows that he will perish once face to face with the beast. Clouded by his hubris, his final act is to die that day as a well-respected and loved king to be commemorated. At first, it seems selfish enough when it comes to Kleos (Van Bryan) where Beowulf is acquiring immortality, not waiting for it to come. Seeming his fate is sealed, he goes by himself deciding to dismiss his thaynes. However; Wiglaf sees it differently in lines 1579-1580, (“ Should ever befall him. He chose us out/ From all the host for this high adventure.”). An old, bashed king who just wants to slay this monster as usual to not protect them, but his people too. Their king picked them (Haynes) to come with the all-mighty Beowulf on an extremely deadly adventure. Even if Beowulf decides to fight at his lonesome, Wiglaf with no hesitation runs towards the “ Storm of Strife” or fight (1587) through a “ Deadly reek” or deadly smell (1588) to be by his side. “Not allow your glory to lessen. As long as you lived. With resolute heart,/And dauntless daring, defend your life.” (1593-1595) Wiglaf is a true schilling who had learned many things from Beowulf but has to learn the lessons of hubris and pride when he becomes king.

American novelist, Chuck Palahniuk, said “ We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” This can be seen repeated in the epic poem of Beowulf where immortality is something you have to achieve not settle to be forgotten. Beowulf knows his limits as a mortal against the dragon, but Wiglaf refuses to sit back and watch his king die like other heroes. Another quote from Achilles states, “ My mother Thetis tells me that there are two in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I will not return alive but my name will live forever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me” (Van Bryan). This tradition of a two-way coin is very idiotic or honorable, but might not last long since they don’t exist like that in the present. Some values from truth to honor survived the trip of time though. Notable actions are still being sought out just to be famous, even if it’s infamous due to hubris. Wiglaf is the new king of the Geats, and his speech depicts that the virtues of the Anglo-Saxon culture might not still be around today, but is still told through this astounding epic poem. Beowulf’s achievements due to his Kleos will keep his story alive through the memories and voices of the Geats.          

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