Beowulf: A Must Read for Every Red-Blooded Man
While I normally like to review books I read, the hubris involved in “reviewing” Beowulf would be so immense and detestable that I decided against attempting to do so I finished reading it. It’s been a classic for over a millennium, and for good reason. At this point, it can’t be reviewed, only passed on and recommended.
For that reason, I thought it would be best to write about why you should read it.
Before that, however, a bit of background is necessary. We don’t quite know when Beowulf was written, but, given some of the historical or semi-historical characters in it, it was probably composed in its current form around the 9th century but was created in a different iteration, passed along via oral storytelling, centuries before. It’s the tale of a hero, Beowulf, who slays the monster Grendel and its mother before becoming a wise ruler that, in his later years, sacrifices himself to defeat a dragon that threatens his kingdom. It’s a story of bravery, heroism, glory, and wise leadership.
And, to put it simply, that’s why you should read Beowulf. It’s values are values that we have lost, being a nation of weak men, but must recover.
Heroism and glory, the two concepts at the root of Beowulf, are sorely lacking in our modern, industrialized world. If you read about the lives of the noble Greeks, read about the Roman Republic, hear the stories of the Vikings, Alfred the Great, Napoleon, Florian Geyer, and even the Founding Fathers, it’s easy to say that past times were far different than ours. For all of those men, bravery and the earning of glory were demanded by society and, when men were exceptionally brave or successful on the field of battle, they were rewarded for it.
Sure, that love of martial champions still somewhat exists, but with our military being focused more on flight suits for pregnant women than celebrating the feeling of plunging cold steel into an enemy’s breast, it’s hard to imagine that the US Army is the same sort of organization that brought eternal glory to such greats as Leonidas, Alexander, Alcibiades, and Scipio Africanus. They were encouraged to be merciless and wage war in a way that brought glory on their society and themselves. Soldiers today are often punished for accidentally shooting a civilian or for using a bit of enhanced interrogation to get what they need from a terrorist. To be blunt, we need warriors like Beowulf or Pompey, not wimps like the diversity chief for SOCOM.
Men in our society don’t have the same opportunities to earn what they have with blood and iron rather than gold. Consumerism, meekness, and conformity are the defining facets of our society, not the desire for glory and celebration of bravery that define the culture in Beowulf.
That needs to change, and reading stories like Beowulf is, I think, the best way to do it. As long as we celebrate working your way up from a minimum wage McDonald’s employee to manager of a local McDonald’s franchise more than we celebrate the modern versions of Alcibiades, Beowulf, and Julius Caesar- men like Erik Prince, Chris Kyle, and de Gaulle or Putin (loosely but respectively), our society will retain the dark malaise that has settled upon it.
The allure of adventure, the sweet song of clashing swords or thundering artillery, that is what drives real men and has always driven real men. Read Beowulf. Read The Bronze Age Mindset. Men don’t want to be like the manager of your local Walmart. They want to be Beowulf, Perseus, Theseus, or Charlemagne. They want to conquer, mercilessly crushing their enemies and showering rewards upon those loyal to them.
That is the mindset that has been lost as society has grown far more regimented and feminized. Boys are told not to fight. Women are told to be cogs in the corporate machine rather than homemakers that raise and educate honorable children. Men are told to sit in a cubicle all day, toiling away on some ultimately useful task, rather than living and building outside or in their study, letting the fresh air of freedom fill their lungs.
Do you think Beowulf or Hrothgar (another character in the story) cared about figuring out how to shave a penny off the price of a can of beans produced in Guadalajara and shipped to Omaha, or whatever their contemporary equivalent would have been? Nope, they didn’t sit in a BCG cubicle; they fought and conquered.
Was Alcibiades likely to sit idly by as his boss demeaned and nagged him? Nope. In fact, when his native Athens tried to do so, he switched to the side of the Spartans and changed the outcome of the Peloponnesian War.
Were Theseus, Perseus, Aeneas, or Beowulf worried about “offending” those around them? No. They did what they knew would bring them glory and cared not a whit about those that were lacking in their courage, other than perhaps seeking to protect them (as in Beowulf slaying the dragon). But, other than fulfilling their duty to protect their people, they did what was in their interest, the perception of those beneath them be damned. Just look at how Beowulf deals with a detractor, Unferth, in the story. As Tywin Lannister says in Game of Thrones, “the lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep!”
That is what you will gain from reading Beowulf, that attitude, an attitude that the modern American male is sorely lacking. I know I included lots of Greek mythology and history in this post in addition to the examples from Beowulf, but that is just to hammer the point home and mix up the examples. You’ll get the attitude from Beowulf alone.
The point is not to be cruel or a tyrant. Beowulf isn’t. But he is brave. He is glory-seeking. He fights and brawls, being proud with his martial exploits and many victories rather than being ashamed at having killed. He’s not a tyrant, but is a strong king that leads his people to victory.
Americans, especially young American men, need to recover that spirit. Exercise and learn how to fight with your hands and with arms. Be dangerous. Don’t let anything get in your way. Be a history maker that, like Andrew Breitbart would say, walks toward the fire. That’s how you end up in the stories told long after you’re gone, just as we’re still talking about Beowulf, Octavian, and Alcibiades today.