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Essay: Symbolism in Beowulf

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
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  • Words: 1,742 (approx)
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  • Tags: Beowulf essays

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Within the poem, the author cited numerous objects that are significant and hold a symbolic meaning. The poet utilized symbols to portray an additional meaning about a particular event or individual. In addition, the objects may be interrelated to societal qualities found in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. During the Anglo-Saxon rule, there were unique societal qualities such as the role of greed. At the beginning of the fifth century, Rome began to centralize and leave the island known as England. Once the Roman’s departed, Anglo-Saxons began to solidify their rule in regions including Southern England. Between 410 to 1066 A.D., the Anglo Saxons proved to be dominant until the arrival of Duke William II. During the time Anglo-Saxons flourished, countless societal qualities and expectations were established such as the belief of dragons hoarding gold. Throughout Beowulf, the poet provided symbols that served to portray literary and historical aspects. In relation to literature, the symbols serve the role of depicting an idea in relation to events and characters. The poet wisely utilized paganistic symbols to convey refined ideas such as greed which was also perceived to be negative and harmful in Anglo-Saxon society.

In the poem, the dragon symbolized greed due to the constant protection of treasure and gold despite the creature’s inability to utilize the element. The dragon was known to be a creature that guarded the gold of a lost race. During the course of Beowulf’s reign, there was a dragon that slept in a hidden burrow filled with an abundance of golden treasure. Within the poem, the dragon was “Driven to hunt out hoards underground to guard heathen gold…though to little avail” (line #). Throughout Beowulf’s rule, the dragon would act as a protectorate of the treasure and gold. Once the hoard was found, the dragon became secluded and hid the gold from other forms of life. In history, greed has always been found in numerous societies such as the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The term Greed, in biblical terms, is stated to be an individual that became obsessed with materials rather than god. Therefore, an individual that has placed more importance in materials than god is considered to be exceptionally greedy. The creature has shown to be nonsensically greedy due to the constant protection of gold. The organism cultivated a deep interest in collecting gold despite the element holding no purpose. The chemical element held no value due to the monster’s inability to utilize specific instruments such as goblets and dishes. The unwillingness to share the treasure with Geat people further illustrated the dragon’s selfishness and greed. In the Christian Bible, greed has aspects that align with the dragon’s behavior such as desiring additional material and valuables. Similar to the Bible, the dragon demonstrated that he desired much more treasure than what was present in the hoard. During Beowulf’s reign, the dragon increasingly embodied the idea of greed that could never be met nor satisfied. Within the poem, a slave that was fleeing an owner managed to discover the hidden hoard and dragon. In reaction to distress and fear, the slave mistakenly stole the goblet from the dragon’s hoard. Once the dragon awoke from rest, he “Saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen too close to his head” (line #). As the day came to an end, the prowler “Could wait no longer behind the wall, but hurtled forth in a fiery blaze” (line #). The dragon’s greed escalated due to the thief that stole his beloved golden goblet. The dragon is proved to be materialistic and greedy through his actions such as killing innocent Geat citizens. Once the dragon grew aware of the robbery, his greed inevitably increased due to his hunger and cravings for additional treasure. In relation to the bible, greed is never satisfied and will continue to grow until an individual is met with doom. According to Christianity, the concept of greed inevitably grows as an individual feeds his or her desire of materials such as accumulating treasure. Similar to the definition of greed, the dragon’s demonic attacks on the villagers were due to his nature of growing desire. The dragon’s attacks proved his increased greediness and also demonstrated immense selfishness. In an organism, once greed is escalated there may be additional traits coexisting such as selfishness. The dragon grew selfish due to his acts of killing Geat villagers that were innocent and posed no harm. In conclusion, the dragon embodied the idea of greed that escalated and inevitably resulted in the development of selfishness.

In Anglo-Saxon Society, the dragon held importance in the role of societal beliefs such as greed. During the course of history, dragons have remained a prominent creature that are commonly found throughout many cultures. As a result, dragons are primarily found to hold numerous meanings and definitions such as a guardian of gold. In regards to European culture, dragons are perceived to be an evil force that is inevitably defeated by a heroic individual. The identity of the dragon becoming a guardian of gold is traced back to Greek and Roman culture. In relation to Ancient Greece, the term Dragon was believed to have been defined as one “Who watches.” The Greek terminology inevitably diffused into the culture of Romans and Germanic tribes. The original Greek definition of a dragon was commonly found throughout Europe which in return formed an image of the creature. The cultural diffusion that took place led to an image which portrayed the dragon as a guardian of gold. In addition, many Europeans believed that dragons were creatures of another realm which sought to make relationships with the dead and gold. Despite the common idea of a dragon, there were different Germanic tribes that added numerous ideas and beliefs to the creature. The tribes believed that societal ill created a dragon that could only influence the community rather than a nation. In contrast, Greek and Romans believed that dragons were ordered by masters to guard certain multitudes of gold. The dragon in Beowulf is the most accurate reflection of what the Anglo Saxons and Germanic tribes believed. In Anglo-Saxon literature, dragons played an influential and significant role in the plot of a poem. In Beowulf, the dragon was primarily perceived to be an organism that was greedy which resulted in unavoidable death. In Anglo-Saxon society, greed is an aspect in which was perceived extremely in negative light. For instance, Anglo-Saxons believed that gold was an object meant for gifts towards others and as a symbol of the king’s worthiness. In the Germanic culture, the act of hoarding gold was considered to be significantly greedy and selfish. At that time, the church played a pivotal and influential role in the lives of an ordinary Anglo-Saxon. As in most cases, the church openly opposed greed and encouraged acts of generosity. The church further demonstrated that greed was an aspect that could not coexist with Christian literature and lifestyle. According to sociological evidence, greed a harmful character quality that possibly leads to theft and robbery. In Anglo-Saxon Society, the act of stealing is strongly perceived to be destructive due to the resulting economic impacts. The first documentations of a dragon hoarding gold was mentioned in the composition of poems known as the Maxims II. The poet of the Maxims II stated that “He [the dragon] must seek out a hoard in the earth where, old in winters, he guards heathen gold though he is no better by it” (2275). Anglo-Saxons believed that collected gold is sinister and an aspect of another abnormal religion that was not widely practiced. An important religious figure, known as Ælfric, was strongly influential in shaping the public image of material wealth. Ælfric believed that wealth shall be shared amongst other neighbors in order to reduce an individual’s burden. The righteousness of the rich in the mortal world, Ælfric believed, became cemented once he or she shared material goods. The sermon delivered by Ælfric conveyed the idea that greed, in relation to hoarding gold, is irrational due to the lack of purpose. Ælfric believed that the act of hoarding gold was rather harmful due to the fact that the element provoked greed. Despite the negativity associated with greed, Anglo-Saxons continued to perceive gold as a valuable element worth hoarding. The primary function of gold in society was to honor and worship kings such as Hrothgar. As a result, Anglo-Saxon’s passed legislature for the purpose of preventing and punishing selfishness such as theft. Wulfstan was an English bishop that passed many laws that sought to prevent greediness such as Institutes of Policy. The act required that a king shall suppress all thieves and robbers whose motives was primarily greed. Greed is an aspect of human nature that naturally diffused into Anglo-Saxon society which was strongly reflected in Beowulf. Although the conception of greed was diffused, the position of the poet in relation to selfishness is primarily based upon Christian values. The poet’s belief was evidently portrayed to be against the mass accumulation of wealth due to greed. Throughout Anglo-Saxon culture, there is a presence of mistrust with individuals that collect gold and exploit valuables. In regards to culture, anthropologists have discovered ancient Anglo-Saxon weapons with animals drawn along jeweled hilts. The illustration of dragons on weapons created an idea that the particular creature is significantly associated with treasure. In conclusion, there is an enormous history regarding the role of dragons and greed within the Germanic tribe.

Throughout the poem, the dragon is strongly interpreted to be a creature associated with greediness. The dragon was an organism that irrationally and illogically hoarded gold, which secluded the wealth from thousands of Geats. The act of hoarding valuables for oneself is, in biblical terms, extremely harmful and greed to one’s character. The dragon conveyed the idea that excessive greed will inevitably lead to a gruesome death. In relation to the dragon, Anglo-Saxons held a firm belief that greed was negative and punishable. In order to prevent greed, there were many legislative acts passed such as the Institutes of Policy. Once Christianity diffused into England, Anglo-Saxons public perception of greed strongly reflected biblical values. The dragon was a creature known amongst many cultures that played an influential role in depicting greediness. In the poem, the author cited numerous pagan symbols such as the dragon in order to convey greed which also reflected Anglo-Saxon’s belief upon greediness and materialism.

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