Beowulf And Society

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate October 2001

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Today's society has many similarities and differences compared to the society in Beowulf's time. Although today's society shows more tolerance compared to the society back then, the overall basic structure of the society of both civilizations are generally the same. Throughout the ages, the bases in both societies remain unchanged. In this essay I will discuss the comparable and contrasting factors "“ from government to human nature "“ between the two societies.

Human nature has a tendency to find or create heroes. These heroes are then glorified. Because humanity is not perfect, we all make mistakes. Therefore, humans feel the need to create heroes "“ people to look up to and try to imitate, people who we try to live our lives by attempt to be more alike. In Beowulf's society, the heroes were "knights-in-shining-armors" who slaughtered monsters and defended the honor of their kingdom. These days, the definition of a hero varies from person to person.

The word has evolved into many forms and definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a hero is "a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability." The definition suits the heroes from "Beowulf" very well. Yet, we have modern-day heroes in our midst. They are not mythological figures, but ordinary people who perform or have achieved extraordinary accomplishments. Today's heroes are the likes of the deceased Mother Teresa, to the police officers and firefighters who gave their lives on September 11, 2001, to the celebrities we watch on television and in the movies. All of these examples, however different they may seem, are all heroes.

Even though there are many resemblances between the two societies, there are also key differences. In Beowulf's time, young men sought to be a hero and those successful used their fame and skills to make heroism their career. Beowulf is a prime example of this. Today, heroism is not a taught skill. Instructional classes on bravery and heroism do not exist. Although heroes today are still glorified by society and the media, most heroes only receive their "fifteen minutes of fame." No one can make a vocation out of heroism, unlike Beowulf who did in his lifetime. Fame was Beowulf's motivation behind his heroic acts. Although he was a virtuous man, his actions were not based on his goodness alone. Nowadays, fame is a result of heroism. There are also many unspoken heroes who have never received praise or even credit for their heroic actions. Therefore, a heroic action does not automatically gain a person fame. Another key difference is that back then, only men were considered as heroes. Females were denied the title. Today's society recognizes the accomplishments of women and generally treats women equally. Women like Princess Diana have been given the honor of being considered as a heroine.

The governments are also very different. In Beowulf's time kings and queens ruled the kingdom. Leadership and power was gained through family bloodline. Bloodline made individuals special. At the moment, the United States of America's government is democratic. It is a free country whose constitution is based on liberty. Leaders or the president are voted into power by the people or the citizens. Family name and wealth might contribute to a presidential candidate's campaign to power but bloodline does not necessarily inherit the position of leadership.

Today's society is very similar to Beowulf's fantasy society. Many differences can be named but the fundamental bases of each civilization's society remains the same.



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