As a forty-some year old man, reading Beowulf for the first time, I was caught by the humanity that rang and resonated through time and adventure. None of my observations would withstand critical scrutiny, but I’ll share here the lines that rang throughout my soul.
Beowulf, the hero of centuries, was taken for granted and dismissed by his compatriots. Though he was of noble lineage and nobler character, and though he was trained in the king’s own courtyard, his pedigree wasn’t sufficient for his peers. His great valour was misunderstood, perhaps intentionally misconstrued, by his masters and his lessers. He went on to rescue them, repeatedly, yet their perspective never changed beyond a few celebratory moments. They viewed themselves as worthy of rescue, but they found little worth in their rescuer. Nevertheless he remained loyal to them, at his own peril and great loss.
Sad at heart, addressing his companions,
Wiglaf spoke wise and fluent words:
“I remember that time when mead was flowing,
how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,
promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,
make good the gift of the war-gear,
those swords and helmets, as and when
his need required it. He picked us out
from the army deliberately, honoured us and judged us
fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts—
and all because he considered us the best
of his arms-bearing thanes. And now, although
he wanted this challenge to be one he'd face
by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,
a man unequalled in the quest for glory
and a name for daring-now the day has come
when this lord we serve needs sound men
to give him their support. Let us go to him,
help our leader through the hot flame
and dread of the fire. As God is my witness,
I would rather my body were robed in the same
burning blaze as my gold-giver's body
than go back home bearing arms.
That is unthinkable, unless we have first
slain the foe and defended the life
of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know
the things he has done for us deserve better.
Should he alone be left exposed
to fall in battle? We must bond together,
shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword."
– Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney (2000), at 2631, emphasis added.