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Life, death, and the stuff in between

Posted by nscofieldeng4accel on January 15, 2008

With the existence of monsters, feuds, etc., we are presented with Anglo-Saxon society’s attitudes (both Pagan and Christian) toward life, death, and material possessions.

Compare and contrast our society’s attitudes toward these three topics with the attitudes expressed in Beowulf.

14 Responses to “Life, death, and the stuff in between”

  1.   Abby Says:

    In modern times, our attitudes towards life, death, and material possesions have changed drastically from those of people who lived in Beowulf’s time. Beowulf and his followers viewed life as a never-ending stream of battles, victories, and rewards. They lived to demonstrate their strength and bravery, and beleived that death was preferable to a life lived in fear and shame. Today, we are alike in our life long pursuit of recongition and acheivement. We, however, prefer to be recoginized for our acheivements in the workforce rather than in battle. Our concept of death is also very different from Beowulf’s.
    In modern times, death is something mysterious that we avoid at all costs. We attend regular appointments with doctors to ensure that our bodies are working properly. We do nothing without taking safety precautions, eat nothing that is not FDA approved. Beowulf, on the other hand, views death as an eventuality that should be embraced when the time is right. If he dies doing something dangerous, it was his fate to die all along. To him, all the safety precautions in the world are useless, because fate ensures that he dies at the right time, regardless of the circumstances.
    Despite this, we, like the Anglo-Saxons, honor our dead with complex burial rituals and rites. It is considered shameful for a family not to provide proper funeral and burial arangements for a departed family member, just as it would have been for Beowulf.
    The value we place on material posessions is also very different from the characters in Beowulf. Today, we place huge emphasis on clothing, jewelery, and the size and cost of our homes, cars, and various other toys. We pass on valubles from one generation to the next, and place more emphasis on the cost of an item than anything else. Beowulf, on the other hand, placed the most value in armor, weapons, and gold. Individual people never had grand houses or things like cars. In addition to this, a persons valubles were traditionally buried, burned, or otherwise conveyed with them to the afterlife. Today that would be considered a tremendous waste. We are, however, alike in our ideas of rewarding a person with material posessions. Just as Beowulf was paid for his deeds in gold and armor, so we are paid for work, and rewarded for going the extra mile in bonuses. We can also earn rewards for hunting down felons, much like Beowulf was rewarded for killing Grendel.

  2.   Ramona Delerme Says:

    It seems to me that life and death contain the same attitudes from both times. In life, many people try to be good to earn a place in some form of heaven (depending on religion). Hell was a concrete place in those times and many people from today see it as concrete as well. Deep down death is feared, and so many want to believe that there is more after one dies. Although there are different burial rituals, the idea is the same. Treating a body with respect and make sure it is in peace, whether there is a soul in there or not.

    Possesions, however, are different. Valuable things aren’t given away. Money (gold armer and such) is more ‘owed’ and deserved than anything else if someone does a favor (more like a job) for a large group of people. In Beowulf, the rings and other shiny items were thought of more like a gift; as in now, money is just payment.

    However, things are still given to heroes as a token of apreciation that is quiet common to those times. Like the ‘key to the city’. However those kinds of gifts are not as common as it was in those times.

  3.   Jordan H Says:

    Since Beowulf’s time our opinions on life, death and the stuff between have more or less changed. For example, people during Beowulf’s time tended to believe that they were both with a purpose and therefore giving their life more meaning. However today life and the stuff in between have become combined into one. People judge their life and what it means by the stuff they are able to acuire while they are living.

    On the same note opinions on death have changed in the same way. During Beowulf’s time since they believed they were born for a purpose it also made since to die for a purpose. They believed strongly in fate and when you died it was meant to be. But today when somebody’s it is just looked at as an ending that is inevitable.

  4.   Aaron Says:


    Life nowdays has much more to contrast than to compare with the lifestyle of the anglo-saxons in Beowulf. Life back then was more “in the moment” and little emphasis was placed on the future. Life was left to fate, a predetermined destiny as sure as the stars. Now, science and reason are soon to replace most religions based in their ignorance.

    The Stuff Inbetween

    Morals have changed quite a bit since those times. Most of life back then was revolved around battle and family. Technology was not around to complicate things. Now, people may blame technology about all their domestic problems, but in reality, not much has changed. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is often the most important goal, and family’s tend to forget what is important and may seek help from classic literature, whether it be the Bible or Beowulf.


    Death now is more or less regular, and many people are either buried or cremated depending on their religious beliefs. In the Anglo-Saxon times, the people were cremated, possibly due to tradition, which may be related to convenience. Burial sites seem to be reserved for special cases and inanimate objects.

  5.   Jennifer James Says:

    The belief in Life, Death and the stuff in between has changed over the years; but there is still some similar beliefs today.

    Back in Beowulf, everyone didn’t really fear death and cherish life is such a way that they panicked all the time. They mainly believed that fate was the one calling shots on who died or who lived. Today, people are very much affraid of dying too early or living too much. It seemed that in Beowulf’s time, they lived for the present and it seems now that we live for the future.

    But our beliefs are in a way the same and that we all believe in some kind of living, death, and the suff in between. Most of us all still believe in making our life worth living, and that there is some kind of afterlife.

    But one thing has not ever changed: material possessions. Everyone has them and that will never change; whether it is a house that is all yours to a little charm that was given to you by your friend. There will always be materials that we can never let go.

  6.   Carli Says:

    During Beowulf’s time, life was living for each day and for each meal; their attitudes on life reflected their circumstances. Also, life was taken much more seriously, with people willing to give their’s up in a battle for the safety of their people, and taking the life from someone hoping to harm their people. In today’s society, life is meant for living, and living to the fullest. I do not know many people that plan their life one day at a time. Everything is set for tomorrow or next month or next year. We buy a house planning to pay it off within the next thirty years without thinking that we may not be here that long. Our schooling takes us a total of sixteen years (including four years of college) in which we are preparing for a better job that may be ten years still coming. However, in comparison to the attitudes of the people in Beowulf’s time, we (our country as a whole, and world as whole) are willing to take the lives of people who pose a threat to our lifestyle and who invade on our well being.

    Death in modern society is sad, but expected, and we gather around to remember all of the good things a person had done in their living life; all the people they had touched, all the lives they had changed, and all of the moments they had shared. We spend all of our time bringing those people back to life in our hearts and minds, while the people in Beowulf’s society spent their time preparing the dead for their life after death. While we may believe in life after death, we actually focus on the death not the life; Beowulf and the other people of his time believed in life after death and focused on the life not the death.

    Material Possessions
    Material possessions create our lifestyle in today’s society. Today, material possessions are used as great tools to determine the social class of a person, and the same can be said for the people of Beowulf’s time. However, riches among the lower class or even middle class of Beowulf’s time were usually bestowed upon the person or family by the king, suggesting that the person or family had either done something great for the king, fought a great battle, or was a loyal friend to the royatly. In modern times, material possessions among the lower or middle classes does not usually suggest a loyal friend found in the upper class, although it can, and it does not state that a great battle was fought. Owning material possessions for our society is a way to be accepted and to “fit in”. Also, material posessions to the people of Beowulf’s time were probably things like well crafted swords or armor, and possibly drinking cups and gaudy jewelry. Today, material possessions include brand names, houses, vehicles, and boats. Our material possessions are left on the earth to sell, give away, or keep as memories, but during Beowulf’s time, material possessions stuck with the person that had owned or earned them.

  7.   Carli Says:

    I would have to agree with Aaron in saying that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is definately the most common sought after goal in a family or person’s life. Our definitions of the three have changed quite durastically, but the genereal idea is still the head of the body. Also, I agree with Jennifer about dying too soon or living too much. The balance in between creates worry for today’s society and also could contribute to many of our other problems.

  8.   Jordan R. Says:

    Today I think life is taken for granted a lot at least here in this country. Today so many of our youths worries are wether or not their close or good enough to impress every one. Almost like a lot of today’s youth do not dream of true greatness their dreams are based on what can bring them the most material things. Custom fit clothes, cell phones, laptops and a huge five bedroom house for two people. In the day of Beowulf there idea of greatness was to be remembered for genuine dreams goals and achievements. I think the life goal should be to live it and live it well no matter what trials and tribulations come your way. Life is only so long and no one truly knows what is after it. Each and every day should be filled with love, passion and joy. Your life is never going to have no sorrow but what good is life if you chose to just live in the bad.

    I do not think you can really have one view on death as a society. I think your view on death depends on how right you are with yourself. For example a “perfect” Christian can walk around there whole life and be terrified to death but yet they tell every one they know their going to heaven. While another person who does not really focus on any religion just tries to live life to their fullest and be the best person they can is completely okay with the idea of death and yet the Christian is telling them they are going to hell.

    Material Things
    I think material things are way more important to us today in fact to important. For the people in Beowulf’s time it was a nice thing to get once in awhile. Today it is stuff we think we need. I cant even count how many times this week I have heard people say their life is horrible and they hate it because they could not go to a movie, get a new pairs of Nike’s or something of that sort. They need to realize there are other things to life. There are people out there who can not afford food or one pair of shoes for their kids. There are people who have a constant battle with a family member who is suffering from a deadly disease and they can not afford to pay medical bills. This is not just something you can’t do anything about. If you just take the time to get to know people you think don’t meet up to your standard of friends, I grantee you will find a story behind things and see how truly blessed you are. It’s all around you; you just have to open your eyes and want to help.

  9.   Grogan Says:

    Life and Death

    Life in Beowulf’s time was seen as something that should be spent with meaning. Dieing for a cause was not seen as a “loss” because not only did a heroic death promise eternal rewards, but lets face it, the life expectancy just wasn’t what it is now. If you didn’t die at 16 in battle, well by 30 you would have died from the plague anyway. Today, fewer people are really willing to die for glory. Now, more people are apt to want to live a “long and fulfilled life” that doesn’t include dieing at the age of 16. Sadly, some people even choose to live even when they can’t live their lives by being hooked up to machines that physically keep them alive. Who can really say if that’s living, but then if you were faced with that choice could you “unplug” yourself or someone you cared about? Yet, while we as a society today see living in different terms, we still root back to Beowulf’s basic primal urge to be something, maybe that doesn’t mean famous but everyone wants their life to mean something.

    Material Possessions

    Strangely enough, this topic is entirely inverted from logic (but who knows, maybe Beowulf was right). In today’s time, when someone dies their material possessions are handed out to family members and loved ones. The dead have no use for gold. Back in Beowulf’s time, possessions were taken to the grave. The more gold you were buried with, the more glorious your place on this earth must have been and the more you will have in Valhalla.

    Hmm… I didn’t think of Possessions the way Ramona described them… interesting point of view and very true.

    I have to agree with Jordan R.’s point of view describing the stereotypical “perfect on the outside yet internally flawed” Christian. It shouldn’t matter what religion you practice, if you live your life and don’t do anything too horrible, who’s to say that just because you don’t name Him by the same name as others that you will go to hell? I’m sure that we’ll all meet Beowulf wherever it is were supposed to go… or we’ll rot in the ground. Whichever.

  10.   Jadi Crawford Says:

    In the time of Beowulf, it seemed that people did not fear death as much as many people do today. For example, when Beowulf was about to fight, he mentioned that if he died, it would be by fate and that is what was going to happen, and he would be remembered for a long time because of his bravery and heroic acts. If he survived the battles, then that would be his destiny to conquer whatever he was going up against. It seems that today, death is not looked at in that way. It seems that whatever you can aquire in your life is a sign of your accomplishments. I think that a big emphasis is put on the material things of the world today, rather than being known as a hero or having courage like in Beowulf’s time.

  11.   Jack Says:

    In the tale of beowulf and in anglo-saxon times in general life and death were not directly seperated. Their pagan beliefs lead them to beliefe that they meant as much during life as after. And this also carried over to their view on material possesions, less emphasis was put upon them.

    In our day and age however we dont all believe there is something more after we die so we put more emphasis on life and don’t embrace death like the anglo-saxon culture did. On the same note we put more emphasis on material posessions because they are going to be there as long as we are and after that we do not really care.
    In all, in many ways the anglo-saxon culture was a more grounded culture then ours.

  12.   Samantha James Says:

    Hmmmm…life and death and stuff in between…
    Now, in our day, life is concidered to be a great thing. Whether you are rich or poor, thin or fat, tall or short, mean or nice…life it taken very seriously to the majority of the human race. Takinga life is concidered to be one of the worst things you could possibly do. Not as back when Beowulf took place…life was still important. But it seemed to be more important as to how you died; if you died with or without honor meant everything.

    Death, in my eyes, is more tragic in our present time. During Beowulf, people worried more about how they died than how long they lived, when it is the complete opposite now. Well the is what I understand.

    And finally Material things. People today rely too much on materials possessions. Back in Beowulf you were looked as a great man depending on the great things you did. Men attracted woman by how strong and couragous they were. Today it almost seems like a lot of woman look for bigs cars and big houses and a lot and a lot of money.

  13.   Erin Says:

    life, death, and the stuff in between…wow how I could elaborate on this one. Anyway back on topic…

    Life and Death

    I think Society as a whole takes life for granted. People are so worried about prolonging life and “living life to its fullest”. I believe that a person who dies when they are twenty can have just as full of a life as someone who lives till they are eighty, depending on how you choose to live it. It is all a matter of what you want to get out of it and how much you put into it. I think people of Beowulf’s time were not as worried about dying and living so much as just surviving. Those times were hard. The Majority of people did not live much past 40 or 50 and knew that they were going to die. They were more worried about what their next meal was going to be and whehter their children would live past childhood.

    Stuff in between…

    The world, ecspecially the United States, is so obssessed with material possessions that they don’t take time to consider the things that really matter in life. Dr. Cook told me one time that you are not successful until you are happy. I live by this saying only because of the number of people out there doing a job they hate, making millions of dollars, but still hating life. Money can’t make you happy, sure it can help but you are only truly successful if you are happy and content wiht the life you are leading. Beowulf is givin tons of gold and riches as a reward for kiling Grendal and his mother, but I truly believe that his glory, bravery, and self-confidence were more important to him than all the gold that Hrothgar could have given him.

  14.   Ashley Ivan Says:

    In today’s society we hear the expression, “life is too short, live every day like it’s your last”. Going along with Jack, most people attempt to abide by this, not thinking about the afterlife. We feel like this is our one chance. In Anglo-Saxon times however, you had basically two lifes to live, the present and the afterlife.

    Our views are also very different in circumstances such as battles and wars. Beowulf and people of his time were more than proud to go out and die for a purpose. Yes, I understand we have those people as well who are more than willing to die for our country. Yet, at the same time, we have those people who don’t want us to be in Iraq fighting this war. We definately value our lives more than in Anglo-Saxon times.

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