The ultimate foundation of a society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment. Such a sentiment is fostered by all those agencies of the mind and spirit which may serve to gather up the traditions of a people, transmit them from generation to generation, and thereby create the continuity of a treasured common life which constitutes a civilization. Anglo Saxon Literature helps us in thinking on all those agencies of the mind and spirit fostering the binding tie of English cohesive sentiment forming present state of English Nation. As a point of literary and linguistic origins, Old English has been considered an introduction to the long narrative of the progress of English and American literature. Old English has been classed as a seed, a beginning, the essence of Germanic spirit, a reflection of primitive administration, a modified species of archaic oral poetry, and a distinctly racial literature. Most often, it is described as a beginning, as an origin point. As such, it is tied to a narrative of progress and of race.
The literary work Beowulf reflects fundamental characteristics of English race of very beginning stage. We may use Beowulf to identify, and then to recover, English people’s cultural beginnings and racial beginnings with a dominant sense of ethnicity. Evidently, the poet of the work Beowulf was conscious enough to get answers on the concerned points. The opening passages introduce the reader to a world in which every male figure is known as his father’s son. Characters in the poem are unable to talk about their identity or even introduce themselves without referring to family lineage. This concern with family history is so prominent because of the poem’s emphasis on kinship bonds. Characters take pride in ancestors who have acted valiantly, and they attempt to live up to the same standards as those ancestors.
Anglo-Saxons appear to have organized themselves into collectives. They employed fragments of their own history, including stories and documents—texts—to reproduce “their world from the scattered fragments of the past.” The episodes on blood feuds between the Danes and the Heathobards, and again between the Danes and the Frisians are examples of this type of practices. Their interpretations of these historical texts into a cohesive story of identity is a product of the inductive imposition of an ethnic identity upon the very apparatus of interpretation. So, Anglo- Saxon selves were responses to identity—personal and ethnic.
However, we must take care in discussing English ethnic identity to recognize that Anglo-Saxon England was not always comprised of a matrix of somewhat homogenous polities roughly defined by political borders. The sense of unity was based on kinship, not geography. Beowulf, on his arrival in Geatland, is asked by the shore guard, “Now I must know your ancestry,”. Characters tend to be introduced into Old English poems by their ancestry, rarely by their place of birth. It is their nobility, not their homeland, which gives them social worth.
Anglo- Saxon selves were responses to social orders. At the very beginning of the text, we are informed regarding the thriving of the throne of Scyld Shefing, who ‘taught encroaching foes to fear him’; again ‘he was a good king’. With other necessary information, here one thing is being revealed and that is—a sense of administration has been born where a good king remains and the king has his retainers giving him tribute. And this sense of administration is clearly different from present period of time. It was based on heroic codes—principles based on which the king provided his followers shelter, food and drink and, in return, the followers are to remain loyal to the king, ensure their courageous performance in war. The codes were centering generosity from the side of king and loyalty from the retainers to king. We are again and again informed regarding the thanes loyalty—obligatory loyalty according to the heroic code. Again, Hrothger builds Heorot to prove his generosity for his thanes.
The poem highlights the code’s points of tension by recounting situations that expose its internal contradictions in values. The poem contains several stories that concern divided loyalties, situations for which the code offers no practical guidance about how to act. For example, the poet relates that the Danish Hildeburh marries the Frisian king. When, in the war between the Danes and the Frisians, both her Danish brother and her Frisian son are killed, Hildeburh is left doubly grieved. The code is also often in tension with the values of medieval Christianity. While the code maintains that honor is gained during life through deeds, Christianity asserts that glory lies in the afterlife. Similarly, while the warrior culture dictates that it is always better to retaliate than to mourn, Christian doctrine advocates a peaceful, forgiving attitude toward one’s enemies. Throughout the poem, the poet strains to accommodate these two sets of values. Though he is Christian, he cannot (and does not seem to want to) deny the fundamental pagan values of the story. However, Tribal laws, myths, and traditions seem to have melded with Christian ones very early on.
Even in the paradigms of their Christian faith, Anglo-Saxons individuated themselves—that is, they found their collective and individual identity—within a sometimes contradictory framework comprising both their local pagan and increasingly local Christian traditions. While heritage may provide models for behavior and help to establish identity—as with the line of Danish kings discussed early on—a good reputation is the key to solidifying and augmenting one’s identity. For example, Shield Sheafson, the legendary originator of the Danish royal line, was orphaned; because he was in a sense fatherless, valiant deeds were the only means by which he could construct an identity for himself. Beowulf, the hero, also established his own identity by his heroic deeds.
However, throughout the whole text, through the combination of contexts and origins, we get ethnogenesis, or the recorded stories of the beginnings of a people.