Beowulf's Wyrd Mind Set


      Wyrd is an Old English feminine noun from the verb weorthanwhich means"to become". The modern term is known as weird meaning unusual which before dealt with supernatural means such as the Goddess of fate. Wyrd, inescapable fate, was believed to be the controlling force of the world for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture, the influencing factor in the writing of Beowulf. In Beowulf wyrd plays a significant role but it is not alone a dictating factor to the development and outcome of the story.

            To begin with, the idea that wyrd often saves a hero as long as his courage is good clearly affects Beowulf, the protagonist’s, actions. Beowulf states that fate saves the living when they drive away death by themselves (Raffel 27).  This belief encourages him to fight Grendel, a savage and lethal monster, with neither weapons nor assistance. Beowulf believes that if he is meant to defeat this beast he will, thus he decides to fight Grendel bare he allows God and His wisdom extend His hand where He wills and reward whom He chooses (Raffel 32). While a man's courage holds out he has a hope of winning because wyrd will help this man if he is not cursed but if a man iscursed then not even his courage can help him stand against the outcome of a situation. In other words, a courageous hero will be successful in battle only if it is in his destiny to. After Beowulf is denied glory for the first time in his life he fights with fait against him, this battle with the dragon becomes his curse, his first and last failure

While in Beowulf the protagonist believes fait is predetermined I believe it can be changed through actions. In Beowulf’s mind wyrd is the only factor that determines whether he wins or loses a battle but in reality his actions greatly influence his success. When considering how wyrd really works one can look at the structure of a spider’s web. Each section of the web is a necessary part of the whole. The tiniest insect may set the entire web vibrating. The spider winning her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances the captured insect has to free itself. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome. Let’s look at Beowulf’s battle with the Grendel’s mother.  . Beowulf began to fasten his armor, not afraid for his life but knowing the woven mail, with its hammered links, could save that life when he lowered himself into the lake… Horthgra’s helmet would defend him; that ancient, shining treasure, encircled with hard-rolled metal, set there by some smith’s long-dead hand, would block all battle swords, stop all blades from cutting him when he’d swum toward the bottom…(Raffel 64). Beowulf is successful in this battle but what determines his success is not fate itself. It is Beowulf’s skillful actions, his armor and the weakness of Grendel’s mother that allow Beowulf to succeed as the spider’s quick reactions, her strongly woven web and her weak prey allow her to feed. Another battle that was shaped through Beowulf’s actions was his battle with the dragon. Beowulf’s belief that God allows a man to grow famous and lets his kingdom reach as far as the world runs makes him take the choice to fight the dragon on his own(Raffel 73). Beowulf does decide to use weapons because he acknowledges that the monster cannot be defeated bear but his mistake was to face the dragon alone. Beowulf lamentably looses this battle. The outcome might have been different if his actions would have varied just a bit. The differences between the successful battle with Grendel’s mother and the devastation one with the dragon were Beowulf’s himself, his skillful quickness, his web, his armor or army, and his prey, the beasts. If Beowulf would have fought with a well built army and if his actions would have been a bit quicker, like they were at his youth, then he would have been successful even though his enemy was stronger.

All in all wyrd is a concept that can be viewed as determined by fait or built by one’s actions. While in this epic poem the protagonist decides to believe fait is the cause of his success or failure I believe that someone can shape their own destiny. If Beowulf had believed in a self-written destiny instead of in fait he would be ruling his kingdom. Inescapable fate was the dictator not of this epic poem but of Beowulf’s mind and this caused him an inescapable doom.


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