Traditions and Customs
A huge theme in the story of Beowulf involves the traditions and customs of the people because characters are repeatedly asked to tell about themselves, always rewarded for sacrificing for the greater good, and constantly showing loyalty to their king or leader. When traveling to another land, the traveler is asked to state his name, family, home,and purpose. If something is done for the good of the king and the people, those warriors are rewarded with praise, treasures, and long-lasting relationships. In life and in death, the folk never fail to show loyalty and appreciation to their leader.
Common traditions such as how folk from different lands approach and greet each other, how people display gratitude when something is done for them, and how the common people stay loyal and show appreciation to their leader are consistent throughout the poem. When someone journeys to another kingdom in this time period, they cannot do so without passing by a coastguard and stating who they are, where they are from, who their family is, and what is their purpose in coming to their land. As Beowulf begins his journey, he is asked multiple times to state those four things.
The first time is when he and his crew arrive to their destination, the Danish land. A curious sea warden sees them dressed in armor and immediately travels to where the strangers are to ask, “’Who are ye, then, ye armed men, mailed folk… tell your folk and home, lest hence ye fare suspect to wander your way as spies in Danish land. ‘” Beowulf then replies that they are followers of Hygelac from the land of the Geats, and “’To folk afar was my father known,noble atheling, Ecgtheow named… we on mickle errand, to the lord of the Danes.. ‘” (Gummere, Ch. 4).
With that along with much more said, the coastguard agrees to lead them to the king. After Beowulf and his clansmen pass through that guard, they are lead to the mead-hall to seek the Danish king, Hrothgar. Before they can enter to see the king, however, they have to answer to another warrior guarding the hall, Wulfgar. Beowulf then repeats what he said to the first guard, “’Hygelac’s, we,fellows at board; I am Beowulf named. I am seeking to say to the son of Healfdene this mission of mine.. ‘” (Gummere, Ch. 5). Wulfgar carries this message to Hrothgar who sends the warrior to bring Beowulf to him.
Beowulf informs the king of his homeland, his king, and his mission to defeat the monster that is putting the Danes in such misery. Although the Danes are very curious and suspicious in the beginning, they, like many other folk, are extremely grateful and appreciative to anyone who offers and succeeds in helping them during a crisis. Before he even meets Beowulf, Hrothgar states that he hopes “’to give the good youth gold for his gallant thought… ‘” (Gummere, Ch. 6). After Beowulf defeats Grendel, he is given much praise from the common folk and many treasures from both the king and the queen.
Hrothgar promises to love and treat him as a son and that “’thy fame shall endure through all the ages’” (Gummere, Ch. 14). He also gives Beowulf “ a gold-wove banner, broidered battle-flag, breastplate and helmet, and a splendid sword” (Gummere, Ch. 15) as well as a saddle covered in jewels that was valuable and important to him. The queen kindly greeted Beowulf and “Of wounden gold, she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain, corselet and rings, and of collars the noblest.. ” (Gummere. Ch. 18). As more crisis came, more treasure and appreciation was given.
After the defeat of Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar honored the Geats with a banquet, an even stronger friendship, and more wealth. He states that his “’landfolk towards friend and foe are firmly joined, and honor they keep in the olden way.. ‘” while rewarding Beowulf with “treasures twelve, and the trust-of-earls bade him fare with the gifts to his folk beloved.. ” (Gummere, Ch. 26). The Danish were not alone with their custom of showing gratitude and rewarding treasures to heroes. Although the Danes had their troubles and heroes, the Geats also had their own.
Hygelac’s brother was killed in a battle between the Geats and the Swedes, and while they were still fighting, Hygelac was trying to get revenge. Two men, Eofor and Wulf, assisted in the killing of his brother’s killer. Hygelac promised them wealth and gave them each huge masses of land and linked rings. He honored Eofor with “his only daughter in pledge of grace, the pride of his home… ” (Gummere, Ch. 39). Hidden inside all of this wealth, praise, and gratitude is another traditional characteristic frequently shown.
While receivers of the good deeds are showing appreciation, the givers are displaying a tremendous amount of honor and loyalty throughout the poem. Some acts of loyalty are minor. For example, Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother took longer than expected. The Danes gave up on waiting for the warrior, despite the great amount of loyalty he had shown them, but his men stayed by his side and “ sat on,stared at the surges,sick in heart, and wished, yet weened not, their winsome lord again to see.
Another small loyal motion was made in the battle between Beowulf and the dragon. When the odds were in the dragons favor, all of his comrades ran for safety in the woods, “but the soul of one with care cumbered. Kinship true can never be marred in a noble mind.. ” (Gummere, Ch. 33). Remembering the trust and honor his king had for his warriors, Wiglaf went in after his lord and ended up weakening the dragon and inspiring Beowulf so he could could kill the raging monster. After returning home from the Danish land, Beowulf showed a major motion of loyalty towards his king, Hygelac.
He tells his lord of the treasures he was rewarded. Instead of keeping it all for himself, he says to Hygelac, “Now to thee, my prince, I proffer them all, gladly give them.. ” (Gummere, Ch. 29). He even presents the necklace given to him by Hrothgar’s wife to his own queen, and “Thus showed his strain the son of Ecgtheow as a man remarked for mighty deeds and acts of honor.. ” (Gummere, Ch. 29). Beowulf was always loyal to his uncle both as a warrior and a nephew, and in the end, that grand amount of honor and loyalty was given back by a dear friend and warrior of his.
During his fight with the malicious dragon, Beowulf was bitten, and eventually that bite lead to the death of the great, honorable king of the Geats. In his dying wishes, Beowulf asked Wiglaf to look after the kingdom and build a statue in his memory so people can see it and remember what a great king he was. Wiglaf granted those wishes. He gathered a group of men ,and together they built a pyre and “hung it with helmets and harness of war and breastplates bright” (Gummere, Ch. 41) in honor of his success in the many battles he fought.
Afterwards, they built Beowulf’s Barrow and surrounded it with the treasures collected from the dragon’s cave. Lastly, a band of twelve warriors rode around the statue “ to mourn their king, chant their dirge, and their cheftain honor.. ” (Gummere, Ch. 41). All of these actions were taken out of nothing other than loyalty and honor. In conclusion, the theme traditions and customs was demonstrated endlessly in Beowulf because characters had to explain themselves when traveling to another land, were rewarded and gave rewards for good deeds, and expressed a marvelous amount of honor and loyalty for their leaders.
Beowulf was asked several times to state his name, his family, where he came from, and his purpose for journeying away from his homeland. Beowulf as well as other characters accomplished various good deeds for the benefit of others earning themselves treasure, weapons, life-long relationships, land, loyalty, and a variety of other rewards. Enormous amounts of loyalty and honor were shown from kings, warriors, and common folk alike. The theme of traditions and customs plays an important role and stays consistent throughout the story of Beowulf.