The Middle Ages were a very difficult time for individuals to try to live and succeed on their own. Most people did not live life this way, most lived in large communities. The same is true in the epic poem Beowulf. In fact, community is such a major theme of the poem that it almost seems like there is a constant reminder on every page. Every aspect of life is engulfed in communal affairs; every meal, every gathering, every celebration is done as a whole. The good times as well as the bad times are shared within the walls of the kingdom, together as one municipality. Community is extremely important to the populations every day life in so many ways. The place of gathering in the story is Heorot, a magnificent mead-hall constructed by the King and Ruler, Hrothgar. Hrothgar was a very powerful ruler of the Danes; he was successful in many battles and therefore had grown to become a great emperor. He decided to build Heorot so he could have the most splendid hall in all the land, as the author says: he handed down orders/ for men to work on a great mead-hall/ meant to be a wonder of the world forever; (68-70). This became, according to the story, the wonderful gathering place for the Danes and all their people.
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Having a place to gather is one essential aspect of a community, but an even more important presence is the common goals of the people that comprise it. In the Middle Ages, and especially in Beowulf, having a common foe brought together a community in times of need. This is shown when Beowulf travels to Heorot to fight the evil monster Grendel. He is immediately welcomed as soon as he steps off his boat, even though he is an unknown traveler at this point. The poem says, Nor have I seen/ a mightier man-at-arms on this earth/ than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, / he is truly noble (257-50). This is said to Beowulf when he is first confronted by the Danes coastal lookout. After defeating Grendel, the Danes feast and celebrate and welcome Beowulf and his men into their community, for he has saved their kingdom and their glorious Hall. Beowulf is then showered with gifts from Hrothgar, another sign of a strong, powerful leader showing his gratitude, thanks and welcoming. In this community there was also a strong loyalty among the King and the people, this was crucial because it made ruling for the king and complying for the people that much easier.
Mead-hall, or Heorot, had its own society within the walls. Its majestic appearance is so evident by all of the descriptions of the parties and celebrations and wonderful glamorous times. During the parties and festivals there were often times where stories of great battles and triumphs were told. One important part of these parties was where people sat and positioned themselves. It was very noble of Hrothgar to seat Beowulf next to him and his family. Maneuvering for position was a very important and difficult thing inside the great hall, but with Beowulf s success and Hrothgar s recognition of this, it became very easy for Beowulf to maneuver his way to the top. It didn t matter how important or trivial a person in the community was, they were all respected and recognized as contributors to the overall success and wealth of the society.
To have one place you could call home where you were well respected and well known during the Middle Ages was difficult enough of a task, but Beowulf managed to have two lands in which he could call home. Beowulf was a Geat, he came from far away and after defeating Grendel s Mother he decided it was time to go back home. Upon arriving to his homeland, Beowulf is warmly greeted and welcomed back. Hygelac, the King of the Geats was very anxious to here all of Beowulf s stories of triumph, and Beowulf was just as eager to tell his stories. He then proceeded to show his loyalty to his King by giving him a bounty of the presents and treasure he had received while in Denmark. When Hygelac fell, Beowulf became ruler of the kingdom he called home, He ruled it well/ for fifty winters, grew old and wise/ as warden of the land (2208-10). He was rewarded for his heroics and it showed well because his kingdom was prosperous. Beowulf had successfully become the single-most important person in two communities, in two different kingdoms, in two different roles. In Denmark he saved the great mead-hall Heorot from countless attacks, and in his homeland of Geatland he ruled as a powerful and successful King for fifty years. He saved one civilization and revitalized another.
Community is defined as a group of people living in the same locality and under the same government; similarity or identity: a community of interests; sharing, participation, and fellowship; society as a whole; the public. The story of Beowulf gives a constant reminder to the reader just how important community was to every day life during the Middle Ages. There is another message also however; this message is that community wasn t only important back then. While it may have been the most important thing a thousand years ago, it still bears great importance to every day life in the twenty-first century. It seems as though society doesn t always remember that however, with all the murders and horrible acts of violence that occur in every day life. Society was simpler years ago, life was more uncomplicated too, but it doesn t mean that there weren t any good things going on. The community aspect in Beowulf is something that is desired and wished upon by myself and should be by the rest of the population too.