The themes of brotherhood and loyalty seem to be the strongest in the whole tale. Throughout, people are serving and being served. It is only when the flow of that give and take is interrupted that anything is wrong in this world.
Primarily, the camaraderie among fellow warriors is celebrated. The very purpose of Heorot is as a venue to celebrate that fellowship, and it’s importance is shown very early on; the text goes “For [Hrothgar] in time it came to pass, early, through the men, that it was fully furnished, the best of royal halls” (76-78). Not only does the plot begin in earnest with Heorot, we are even given details of its origin.
Once the hall is in use, a key custom of these celebrations also emphasizes the bonds amongst these warriors: the pouring of the mead. In Beowulf, “Wealhtheow came forth, Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of etiquette, greeted, gold-adorned, the men in the hall and then the noble lady gave out full cups, first to the East-Danes’ homeland-guardian, bade him be blithe at the partaking of beer; beloved by the people” (612-18). Not only is Queen Wealhtheow showing hospitality in this–itself intertwined with notions of brotherhood–the warriors embrace it in their own participation.
It appears in Beowulf that an important part of being a warrior is loyalty to your commanding king as well as to your comrades. Beowulf definitely starts his interactions with the Danes on the right foot, showing respect and deference. He says, “Beowulf is my name; I wish to proclaim to the son of Healfdane–that famed sovereign–my errand to your lord, if he wishes to grant us that we, the virtuous one, might greet him” (344-47). It is also worth noting that Beowulf had gotten the permission of his own king before going to assist King Hrothgar; and, of course, he will have followers of his own such as Wiglaf when he himself is king.
Beowulf’s willingness to confront the dragon despite his age also shows his dedication to his fellow men. This is now in terms of fellow Geatish countrymen rather than fellow soldiers, but the quality remains the same. Even in considering the golden treasure he is defending, he seems to forget the material enough to consider its significance. The text states “Theirs was both together in the nation, inherited land, earth by ancestral privilege […] (2196-98).” This points directly to the Norse culture where material possessions were tightly bound with personal relationships.
Lastly of all, there is special emphasis on loyalty to a much greater Lord. Right off the bat it is clear that Grendel and his Mother are the “kin of Cain” (107) and are irrevocably evil, so of course their enemy Beowulf is on the side of God and righteousness. In showing Beowulf in this way, his piety then reflects on his loyalty to his faith and as a further connection to those who fight with him–his fellow believers.
And of course, more than anything else, Beowulf’s devotion is shown through his final monologue. He says, “I for these riches to the Lord of All. thanks to the Glory-King, say by words to the eternal Lord, which I look on here, that I was able for my people before my death-day to gain such riches, now I for the old hoard of treasures have paid with my old span of life” (2794-2800). This particular passage has the benefit of recalling his devotion to his fellow Geats as well as to God.
A fine example of both the religion and of the other beautiful objects that bound these people together is the Lindisfarne Gospels–on display at the British Library–with its famous illuminations. In any Christian society at the time, the Lindisfarne Gospels would have been valued not only for their status as a sacred text, but also as a quality manuscript. This would absolutely not have been an item for an average person for different reasons. Primarily, it was in Latin–the language of religion and education rather than the vernacular (tiny English translations were later added in the margins. Also, manuscripts took a lot of work, from turning animal hide into parchment to the painstaking work of the scribes. As a major cultural artwork as well as a sacred text, it only goes to show how these various elements of family, country, faith, culture, and duty were so deeply connected.
Learn more about the Lindisfarne Gospels here.