January 25, 2011


The theme here lately is Beowulf, although you'll also find links and comments about current events below. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this oldest English epic is a bit like a cross between The Hobbit (dragons and monsters and all that) and The Sopranos. No wonder the world it portrays is so dangerous.

The kind of society portrayed in the poem isn't all that different from that of the Iliad. It's a warrior society based on a culture of honor. Culture of honor have been discussed here before (search blog in upper left hand corner form more). They have appeared in all kinds of societies and neighborhoods down to the present day.

To make it plain, a culture of honor is one in which the good things of life are easily taken away unless one responds vigorously to any and all slights or Nike stomps.

Beowulf also shows a glimpse of a "heroic" society dominated by lords and their thanes or retainers, who spend their time getting sloshed in mead halls when they aren't out raiding. The lord/thane bond was a very serious one, but it wasn't maintained with tyranny. Rather, the lord gained the loyalty of his retainers by generosity. In the poem, the lord is often called "the ring giver." As the poem puts it,

...a young prince must be prudent like that,
giving freely while his father lives
so that afterwards in age when fighting starts
steadfast companions will stand by him
and hold the line. Behaviour that’s admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.

Within the poem and in other Anglo-Saxon sources there are several stories about the lord/thane bond and the duty of a retainer to fight for and if need be avenge one's lord, even if he has already died and even if the fight is hopeless.

It's also a culture where feuds are common and can drag on and on. It wouldn't take much to get one started. Imagine a bunch of drunken warriors exchanging boasts in a mead hall. Bragging gives way to insults, which gives way to violence and then it's on. One good killing deserves another, unless the offender pays the wergild or blood price.

Finally, it's a culture composed of many rival bands and little kingdoms, each of which are prepared to move in on another's territory at any sign of weakness.

And all that is without taking the monsters into account, about which more later.

BUDGET CUTTING AUSTERITY MEASURES when taken to extremes can lead to disastrous outcomes.

COURTING TROUBLE. This article looks at the risks of climate change denial.

GET MOVING. Here's an NPR tribute to America's first fitness guru, the late great Jack LaLanne.

WHAT'S IN A SMILE? Apparently, quite a bit.


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