Beowulf is full of Gnomes...and no, not adorable garden gnomes who’re just trying to save you money on vacations. Find out more about what a Gnome is by checking out this video.
Morality and Ethics
Tradition and Customs
his mother makes her way to town
the night after his death, no less.
And, as you might imagine, she wants revenge.
Revenge a big theme in this era.
So, luckily, Beowulf comes to the rescue again
and tracks her down beneath her leg,
ending her life and taking Grendel's head as a trophy.
When he returns victorious,
Hrothgar has more than just material gifts to give him.
Although he does have plenty of those, as well.
So, tell us about the wise gifts of Hrothgar.
Gift-giving and revenge and the whole notion of
paying for your sins financially
seems to be a meaningful theme here.
So run us through that whole structure.
Economy, I guess.
Right. We'll talk a lot about - in an upcoming lesson -
about the material gifts, right?
So, right now we're gonna talk about
the gifts of wisdom that Hrothgar gives Beowulf.
And these have a name to them.
We call them "gnomes,"
- like little garden gnomes. - Yeah, those little...
Yeah, but not.
And they're basically like little pithy
phrases of wisdom.
So these are pieces of wisdom that are given
from one character to another.
But we're also supposed to take them to heart
So it kind of has a double meaning.
An example of a gnome from today
would be something like, "don't bite the hand that feeds you."
These are just like little things that people say to each other.
And it means something when Hrothgar says it
to Beowulf and it also means something when
we, as readers, look at it.
So, Hrothgar tells Beowulf
not to boastfully give gifts.
If you're gonna give gifts, it shouldn't be boastfully.
He tells him not to be arrogant.
And he also warns him about the fleetingness of life.
He says, "But a little-while lasts thy life-vigor's fulness.
'Twill after hap early,
that illness or sword-edge shall part thee from strength."
So, it's basically saying, like,
"Yeah, you're great and all now, but life's short."
When we hear these words of wisdom,
again, we can't just take them at face value and move on.
We have to think about what they represent
about the culture's values at the time.
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you"
is something we say today.
That is something that represents
a cultural belief that we have,
that you should respect, kind of, the people who are
giving you what you have.
These gnomes are a pretty good way of figuring out
what was important to a society.
After Grendel's mom comes
and kills a bunch of people,
Hrothgar is like all "woe is me."
He's really sad, and one of his
you know, closest associates has been killed
and he's mourning.
And Beowulf comes up to him and is like,
"Dude, suck it up.
We need to get revenge.
Stop mourning, stop wallowing.
We're gonna get revenge."
And he does it through a little gnome.
And it shows us that that's what important in this society,
And that's not a bad thing.
That's just how they worked back then.
So when we hear these gnomes,
we can say, "Oh, okay.
Check. Revenge was important back then. Not mourning."
So what was -- Revenge is almost a moral compass, then.
It's a balancing act that, you know,
for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction.
So you kill my cousin, I'm gonna kill yours.
Or you, or whatever, right?
Exactly, and that's where that death price comes into play.
Because, either "you kill my cousin, I kill yours,"
or "you kill my cousin,
and now you pay me a ton of money." Exactly.
Exactly. So, but it is, it's a really -- It's a balancing act.
And it -- Life is worth some finite amount, right?
Again, if we can -- Someone gets killed and then
you pay some amount of money
or gifts to make up for it.
Life has a specific value
and the only way to get, you know,
precise equal value is by taking another life.
Got it. And, I mean, it applies in today's legal courtrooms.
You know, when people are guilty of a product liability
and the air bag didn't deploy, you know,
GM does a discounted cash flow analysis
of what the person's profits would have been
the remaining part of their life,
does some adjustments to it, and says,
"Well, this life was worth 842,000 dollars."
Exactly. And to us, that seems kind of, like,
vulgar, right? A lot of people are like,
"How can you say this person's life was worth,
you know, 800,000 dollars?"
But, back then, that's just what it was.
It was not vulgar; it was not looked down upon.
That just was how culture worked.
What is a gnome
and why would Hrothgar want to give gnomes to Beowulf?
What are some gnomes from our own culture?
What can we tell about the culture of the time from gnomes in Beowulf?
Are there similarities we can draw between our culture and Beowulf's?
How was revenge viewed
and dealt with in Beowulf's time?
What about now?
To us that seems, kind of, like, vulgar.