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Bravery, Comitatus, and Pride Essay Sample

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Bravery, Comitatus, and Pride Essay Sample

Beowulf the 7 to 10th century poem is an epic, a long narrative poem with a serious tone, spotlighting a heroic figure whom carries the responsibility of a nation. Beowulf is a tale of heroes, monsters and the bond of comitatus. Comitatus is defined as bond of companions, typically between a leader and his followers. This bond has the strength to bring two warring tribes together, and has the power to win battles. This relationship is shown in more than one way throughout the story of Beowulf. One example of this relationship is the comitatus shown by Beowulf to Lord Hrothgar and his tribe, when he arrives to help defend the tribe against the monstrous Grendel, as well as when the young warrior Wiglaf comes to Beowulf’s aid as he is battling a dragon in the final moments of his life. Even though both of these examples show an extreme loyalty to a leader, they are different in the aspect of purity. The comitatus shown by Wiglaf to Beowulf is more pure than the comitatus shown by Beowulf for Hrothgar and his people, Wiglaf was humble and selfless, his loyalty was fueled by bravery and love, while Beowulf was strong and prideful, his loyalty was fueled by the desire to prove himself as a brave and skilled warrior, not by love.

Beowulf the hero of the tale is a great and well known warrior, he was known for his bravery and strength. He is skilled in combat and cunning in his attacks. Beowulf uses his talents in combat to aid Hrothgar in defending his people against the fiendish Grendel. Upon the slaying of the murderous adversary, Beowulf proves his heroic ability and earns the respect of Lord Hrothgar; to display his gratitude Hrothgar bestows gifts upon the hero and delivers a sermon of virtue. In the famous sermon Hrothgar speaks of the value of morality and warns of the danger of pride, “Defend yourself from wickedness, dear Beowulf, /best of men, and choose the better, /eternal counsel, care not for pride,/ great champion!” (1758-61). Hrothgar recognizes Beowulf as a great and noble warrior by addressing him as ‘“[G]reat champion!”’ and ‘“[D]ear Beowulf”’ shows his affection for the young hero.

Beowulf’s actions in the battle against Grendel earns him these affectionate words and the respect of Hrothgar and his men, as well as, reinforces the bond between Beowulf and his own men. Beowulf’s victory and Hrothgar’s respect was the foundation of the comitatus, not only between the two men, but between the two tribes. This new found bond brings great riches and a strong following for Beowulf. The word of his bravery and cunningness in combat spreads. Hrothgar not only recognizes Beowulf for his greatness, but also warns the beloved hero of pride, ‘“[C]are not for pride”’; pride is defined as a feeling of pleasure from one’s own achievements and is one of the seven deadly sins.

Hrothgar repeats his warning of pride several times in his sermon to Beowulf. Warning of the dangers that pride carries for a warrior. He informs Beowulf how it can blind and weaken a champion, “[T]he slayer too close/ who, sinful and wicked, shoots from his bow” (1743-44), having a heart full of pride can weaken a warrior. Hrothgar describes pride as ‘“[T]he slayer”’using this as a metaphor for how pride comes close and creeps up within a hero. Pride rears its ugly head and can quickly take hold of even the strongest of warriors. Pride can easily be fueled by success or by praise, which Beowulf receives both for his heroic deeds. Hrothgar describes pride ‘“[S]inful and wicked”’, this is not the friend of a warrior; pride can wound, hurt, and cause death to a hero.

With the praise from Hrothgar not only comes gifts and a large following for the hero, but also the forewarned pride.“[P]ride within him/ grows and flourishes, while the guardian sleeps” (1740-1). With each great deed and each act of bravery it is easy for pride to arise. Pride, a deadly sin becomes tempting. Regardless of the king’s warning pride begins to well up in Beowulf. The comitatus between Beowulf and Hrothgar, as well as, his tribe and the success of two winning battles leads the hero to be filled with pride, ‘“[P]ride within him/grows and flourishes”’ but Beowulf is not aware of the changes beginning within his character, ‘“[W]hile the guardian sleeps”’.

Beowulf’s loyalty is no longer lead by love for Hrothgar, or his own bravery, it is fueled by his pride, that has blinded him to the true virtue of a hero. Beowulf feels extreme pride not only for his strength and bravery, but also for the approval he receives from the Lord Hrothgar and his men. The pride that has taken hold of Beowulf from his successes tempts him to go astray, to leave the path of virtue. Not only does Beowulf’s pride blind him to virtue, but muddies the comitatus between him and Hrothgar’s nation. The comitatus between Hrothgar and Beowulf is no longer built on a virtuous foundation, but is built on the pride in Beowulf’s heart and his desire to prove himself as a strong hero. The warrior’s bond with the lord is weakened by pridefullness. The comitatus is no longer good and pure.

The comitatus between Beowulf and Hrothgar is not the only example of the theme of comitatus and loyalty presented in the epic poem. Comitatus is also shown between Beowulf and one of his chosen warriors, Wiglaf. Wiglaf is noted by the author as a humble, brave and a wise soul, he is chosen by Beowulf to accompany him into battle to defeat a dangerous dragon. Wiglaf is chosen along with other warriors for their bravery and loyalty. These virtuous qualities set the foundation of the comitatus relationship between Wiglaf and his lord, Beowulf. Wiglaf never loses sight of this relationship, even when he was facing deadly battle,”Now the day has come/ that our noble lord needs our support”(2646-47). Wiglaf’s respect and loyalty to Beowulf drives him to stand up to help aid his leader in combat against a deadly threat. Wiglaf’s loyalty for Beowulf strengthens him and helps fuel his bravery, “[D]espite the heat,/ grim fire-terror.

God knows for my part/ that I would much prefer that the flames should enfold/ my body along my gold giving lord” (2649-52). Wiglaf is willing to die for his lord “[P]refer that the flames should enfold/ my body alongside my gold giving lord”, this shows not only his loyalty but his bravery.“His courage did not melt, not did his kinsman’s legacy/ weaken in war” (2629-30). In the face of an overwhelming battle Wiglaf’s ‘“[C]ourage did not melt”’, he is brave and does not forsake the loyalty he has for his lord, unlike his fellow warriors, who abandon Beowulf in his time of need. In this battle there is not only the literal fire being produced by the dragon, that Wiglaf is willing to let enfold his body, but there are also figurative flames. Flames that cannot melt Wiglaf’s courage, as well as, a figurative fire within the young warrior himself, fueling not only his bravery but his loyalty. Wiglaf’s loyalty for his leader is unyielding he does not lose sight of “[H]is kinsman’s legacy” even in the face of danger.

Beowulf in his pride told his band of warriors to hold back, that he would face the dragon alone. Beowulf was a skilled fighter, but his pride was too great. Wiglaf recognizes that his commander needed assistance in battle. In the last moments of his leader’s life Wiglaf comes to his aid, “[W]ith all your strength/ you must protect your life – I will support you” (2667-68). Wiglaf’s loyalty makes him willing to fight to the death and lose his life for his Lord Beowulf. The comitatus that Wiglaf has for Beowulf is so pure and so strong that he places himself in a dangerous situation to do what is right for his leader, to follow his heart and be lead by his loyalty. Wiglaf is not blinded by pride, or even fear he is driven to an act of greatness by his strong character and even stronger comitatus bond to his lord.

Beowulf is an epic poem highlighting the Angelo-Saxon warrior culture, which places high values on bravery, loyalty, and the bond of comitatus. Both the characters Beowulf and Wiglaf display these qualities, they both show bravery in battle and loyalty to their leaders. Both of the comitatus relationships, that between Beowulf and Hrothgar and that between Wiglaf and Beowulf start out pure and built on the desired characteristics of a warrior hero, but Beowulf’s comitatus with Hrothgar soon crumbles under his pride. Pride leads Beowulf astray, away from his comitatus relationship with Hrothgar, and to his death in the final battle against the dragon. Wiglaf’s comitatus relationship with Beowulf never crumbles to pride, but remains humble and is fueled by loyalty and bravery, two of the valued characteristic in the Angelo-Saxon warrior culture.

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