Gold and treasure has a far more meaningful presence in the poem than what meets the eye. Even though there are plenty of references to gold and other worldly treasures in the poem, and they seem to juxtapose with greatness, bravery or heroics, these worldly pleasures stand testimony of heroism and sacrifice.
Among the early surviving Germanic epics is the famous ‘Beowulf,’ which was presumably composed by a Christian poet in the early 8th Century.
The epic ‘Beowulf,’ illustrates the remarkable deeds of the great warrior, Beowulf during his youth and maturity. During this period, Beowulf kills Grendel, a menacing man-eating monster, his mother, and a fire-breathing dragon, when Beowulf is mortally wounded. The poem ends with Beowulf’s funeral pyre.
Beowulf, written in the 8th Century A.D, revolves around the heroics of Beowulf, who battles man-eating monsters, of whom Grendel stood out for his fierceness.
The epic poem, which occurs in Scandinavia, shows the hero/warrior Beowulf setting sail for the land of the Danes, at the behest of Hrothgar.
Right at the beginning of the poem, there is a reference of ‘far-fetched treasures,’ but this again is juxtaposed to greatness and love:
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat …… Far-fetched treasureswere piled upon him, and precious gear. I never heard before …The massed treasurewas loaded on top of him: it would travel faron out into the ocean’s sway. (34-42)
This infers to the importance the Danes gave their heroes on their victory or dea...
th. This particular reference is to the funeral of the Danish king Shield Sheafson; a great king who commanded respect from his people. Because of his popularity, the dead king’s body was set sail into the sea with ‘a literal boatload of treasures.’
Beowulf was undoubtedly showered with wealth whenever he went out to fight for King Hrothgar. Every time Beowulf helped the king in battle, he was showered with worldly treasures. Therefore, it can be said that though wealth played an important role in the epic, it was only because of Beowulf’s courage and success that so much wealth was being showered on him
“Finally I healed the feud by paying: I shipped a treasure … to the Wulfingsand Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance.” (470-472)
Treasure wasn’t just a mark of status to Danes and the Geats; it signified its power to buy them out of blood-feuds and wars. Every time Beowulf left to fight the enemy, the Danes knew that it was a price they had to pay for their safety. By killing an enemy, the victor was bringing about a truce, and this could be won only through treasure. While te significance of wealth is denoted here, one shouldn’t forget that it took the bravery and courage of one man to bring about this situation, and that was none other than Beowulf.
Beowulf, amid political and personal inconstancies and growth, goes on to slay a dragon. This made him a very popular man. Therefore, it was only appropriate for them to shower Beowulf with lots of gold and other treasures:
So, borne aloft, thy fame must fly, O friend my
Beowulf,far and wide o’er folksteads many. Firmly thou shalt all maintain,mighty strength with mood of wisdom. Love of mine will I assure thee,as, awhile ago, I promised; thou shalt prove a stay in future, in far-off years, to folk of thine,to the heroes a help [Chapter 24, Beowulf in Hypertext]
Seamus Heaney Translation:
‘You have won renown: you are known to all men/ far and near, now and forever. Your sway is wide as the wind’s home, as the sea around cliffs.’
Beowulf was popular with the masses because of his heroism:
‘Beow’s name was known through the north. And a young prince must be prudent like that, giving freely while his father lives/ so that afterwards in age when fighting starts steadfast companions will stand by him/ and hold the line.
Behaviour that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.’
In another reference to gold and other treasures, in the final battle against the dragon, even though Beowulf is content to having killed the mighty dragon, he is mortally wounded. He questions his action to fight with his life for money. Even though all the treasures showered on him was pleasing, he was not destined to enjoy any of it. On killing the dragon, Beowulf had won back a lot of wealth from it. However, what use was it to him now, as he lay, waiting for death to catch up with him? While he is happy that he is able to leave the wealth in the hands of the people he so dearly loves, he questions his ethics on whether it was worth sacrificing his life. In the end, for all his efforts, Beowulf would never be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor:
The old lord gazed sadly at the gold…… King of Glory, I give thanks…that I behold this treasure here in front of me that I have been allowed to leave my people, so well endowed on the day I die.” (2793-2798)
And they buried torques in the barrow, and jewels…… trove of such things as trespassing men…dared to drag from the hoard. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure…as useless to men now as it ever was. (3163-3168)
In the end, all the wealth and gold which Beowulf won for him for his heroics, was buried along with him. Though Beowulf would have loved to enjoy his gifts in life, he was not destined to do so. However, he found comfort that his sacrifice wwould help the Geats live a better life, but that was not to be. The narrator says that all the gold and treasures in the world are useless to men in comparison to life. However, when the reassure was buried along with his mortal body, the ‘ancestral treasure,’ was now “as useless to men now as it ever was.”
Beowulf knew that he was destined to die in fighting the mighty dragon and that for his deeds; his soul would find the ultimate home among the steadfast ones:
‘Twas no easy path that Ecgtheow’s honored heir must treadover the plain to the place of the foe; for
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