“So now, Beowulf, I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men. . . (63)”. Beowulf is an epic poem about the adventures, journey and maturation of a young legendary warrior from adolescence to his adulthood as a noble king. He gained his great reputation from his brave deeds of slaying the monstrous Grendel, his avenging mother, and the fiery dragon while being an honorable and selfless hero and ruler. Beowulf also presents an ideal of loyalty to thane, the comitatus bond.
The failure to live up to this ideal bond on the part of some thanes point up the extraordinary faithfulness of Beowulf.
The comitatus bond is a comradery between a master and his warriors. This relationship requires the warriors/thanes to defend their master to the death in exchange for share of wealth, protection and weapons. However, this comitatus code goes beyond the typical warrior-defending-master relationship but rather into a bond of love and friendship.
The epic story of Beowulf started out with the portrayal of a failed brotherhood. Grendel was a descendant of Cain, the most notorious slayer of his own brother and of the comitatus bond. “Cain got no good from committing that murder because the Almighty . . . exacted a price . . . [and] made him [an] anathema . . . (9).”
Grendel’s lineage and the idea of a person against his family were very dishonorable and looked down upon by the Anglo-Saxon culture. Thus, Grendel came to represent a character of resentment and malice. The unfulfillment of this comitatus bond continued with the failure of King Hrothgar’s thanes to defend Haerot Hall and their lord from the vicious Grendel. This inadequacy demonstrated the complexity and the difficulty to uphold the bond between a lord and his warriors but paved as a good introduction for our valiant hero who shall overshadow all with his extreme allegiance and honor.
Beowulf was considered a perfect hero through the idea of always living up to the comitatus. He started out as a young hero with a questionable reputation who needed to prove himself. After he heard about the attack on Haerot Hall, Beowulf felt his duty to defend it when the king’s current thanes could not. King Hrothgar believed that “. . . His goodness guided him here to the West-Danes to defend [them] from Grendel. . . (27).” Beowulf believed in what Hrothgar stood for and was willing to fight for him. Besides his allegiance to the king Hygelac, Beowulf felt obliged for a man of great power and strength to defend Haerot in order to preserve life. This obligation fulfilled the comitatus bond between King Hrothgar and King Hygelac as well as Beowulf’s duty as a warrior to defend and protect his lord. Even after he defeated Grendel, Beowulf still did not leave until Haerot Hall was rid of all evil and malicious creatures.
He knew the threat and danger Grendel’s vengeful mother posed and willfully eliminated her in order to protect the people and fully fulfill his mission. His actions and morals were defined in the comitatus code. He portrayed this comitatus image with such perfection that he can be no less than a hero and treated as such for “. . . his heroism . . . will recompense him with a rich treasure (27).” This excellently depicted the lord and thane relationship for it showed the great appreciation the lord, King Hrothgar, has for his thane, Beowulf. Even when he was given such compensation and fortune, Bewoulf further demonstrated his honor and commitment to the comitatus bond by sharing the prizes with his brave thanes, who defended and helped defeat Grendel and his mother, and to his homeland. This act depicted and emphasized his chivalrous and selfless character.
Even after Beowulf’s legendary feats as a warrior and thane, his extraordinary loyalty to the comitatus code still remained intact as a great and wise king. “He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land. . . (151).” Beowulf provided his people and thanes with wisdom, protection and prosperity for fifty years. His gradual ascension to the throne gained him more experience, knowledge and patience on ruling Geatland. However, his and his thanes’ loyalty was tested when the ferocious dragon was provoked and wreaked havoc in his kingdom. Beowulf’s amazing comitatus relationship to his people and his thanes as well as his pride and prowess ultimately led him to his own demise.
His decision to fight the dragon with just a few warriors failed to prevail because of his thanes’ worthlessness and cowardice. “No help or backing was to be had then from his high-born comrades; the hand-picked troop broke ranks and ran for their lives to the safety of the wood (175).” The thanes’ unfulfillment of their comitatus bond to Beowulf proved to be the fatal defeat for their lord and their kingdom. But despite his most of his thanes’ disgraceful actions, Beowulf’s loyalty and commitment to the comitatus persisted and finally destroyed the dragon. It accentuated his amazing devotion and allegiance to his people and his thanes for it emphasized how he’s rather die of a worthy and noble cause than of old age. Beowulf has accepted his fate in confidence and perfection and that even the greatest of heroes cannot live forever.
Throughout Beowulf’s life, he has adhered exceptionally to the code of conduct in which all warriors should live by. He has formed ties and set standards for lord and thane and turned a relationship of service into a bond of brotherly love and friendship. In spite of conflicts and disloyalty of some, his faithfulness and allegiance to his people and thanes endured and proved to be one of his greatest assets to turn him into a perfect model hero and a defender of the comitatus code.