sir, do not grieve. It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.
Beowulf utters this compressed statement
of the heroic code after Grendel’s mother kills Aeschere, Hrothgar’s
trusted advisor. Although Hrothgar’s grief seems understandable
in light of the principle of loyalty that operates in this culture,
Beowulf speaks of it as an “indulgence”—an inappropriate and ineffective
way of responding to the death of a comrade. Beowulf’s reminder
to Hrothgar that vengeance is the real warrior’s
response and the truest sign of love and loyalty reflects a fundamental
value of warrior culture, namely an aggressive approach to life.
Part of this approach involves the understanding that only reputation
will perpetuate a warrior’s existence after death. Beowulf, for
example, perceives life as a race to glory (“Let whoever can / win
glory before death”). This speech encapsulates the poem’s tension
between doom and death, on the one hand, and the necessity of behaving
courageously and honorably, on the other. Beowulf’s energetic emphasis
on action helps temper the pessimism surrounding the inevitability
of death that saturates the poem.