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The Perfect Ruler in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

The classic poem Beowulf presents the concept of the perfect king/leader/ruler. This is presented in two modes: the ideal Germanic king and the ideal Christian king.

Literary scholar Levin L. Schucking in “Ideal of Kingship” states: “I have already tried to prove that the author of Beowulf designed it as a kind of Furstenspiegel (“mirror of a prince”) – perhaps for the young son of a prince, a thought with which Heusler later agreed” (36). So the author of Beowulf had in mind a human ideal of the perfect leader/ruler which he was trying to convey to the young man who was in search of the proper way, the ideal way that a ruler, a king, should govern his kingdom. This analysis seems so reasonable since the scop lived in the king’s court, and he would have daily contact with the princes living there in the royal hall.

A prime component of the making of the ideal ruler is the possession of the virtue of treue or loyalty. The Venerable Bede in The Ecclesiastical History gives a true-to-life example of the loyal reciprocity ideally existing between a warrior and his lord, in the story of Lilla:

He entered the hall on the pretext of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the king. Lilla, a most devoted thane, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the king from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thane and wounded the king as well through his dead body (85-86).

So the ethic of loyalty in Anglo-Saxon society was perhaps as strong as the duty to one…

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These words celebrate the deceased as a ruler who has shown a father’s benevolence and warmth of heart in relation to his people. This is Christianity in action, the gospel applied to life, the perfect king.


Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Collins, Roger and McClure, Judith, editors. Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Robinson, Fred C.. “Differences Between Modern and Anglo-Saxon Values.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

Schucking, Levin L.. “The Ideal of Kingship in Beowulf.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson. Notre Dame, In: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963.

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf – Sources for Beowulf

Sources for Beowulf

Many of the characters and episodes and material artifacts mentioned poetically in Beowulf are likewise presented to us from archaeological sources, from literary sources, and from English and Scandinavian records.

“I suggested in an earlier paper that the Beowulf poet’s incentive for composing an epic about sixth-century Scyldings may have had something to do with the fact that, by the 890’s at least, Heremod, Scyld, Healfdene, and the rest, were taken to be the common ancestors both of the Anglo-Saxon royal family and of the ninth-century Danish immigrants, the Scaldingi” (Frank 60). Scyld, the ancestor of the Danish royal family, the Scioldungas, bears a close resemblance to Skioldr, ancestor of the Skioldungar, although the Beowulf story itself does not occur in Scandinavian literature (Ward v1,ch3, s3, p10). Healfdene and his sons Hrothgar and Halga are mentioned in Scandinavian sources as well; they are identical with the Danish king Hafdan and his sons Hroarr and Helgi mentioned often in The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. There can be no doubt that Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s nephew and colleague, is the son of Helgi, Hrolfr. And Hrothgar’s son Heoroweard may be identical with Hiorvarr, the brother-in-law of Hrolf in The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. Hrethric, the son of Hrothgar, may be the same person as Hroereker, the successor of Ingialdr.

Beowulf uses historical sources too. The Heathobard who was predicted by Beowulf to perhaps take vengeance on Hrothgar may be Hothbroddus in Saxo’s Danish History who slew Hroarr (Roe). King Froda in Beowulf and his son Ingeld, Hrothgar’s future son-in-law, correspond to King Frotho IV and his son Ingialdr, both kings of the Danes. In Beowulf the …

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Clark, Gorge. “The Hero and the Theme.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Cramp, Rosemary. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Frank, Roberta. “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

The Holy Bible, prepared by the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.


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