Gift Giving In Beowulf And The Odyssey

1715 words - 7 pages

Gift-Giving in Beowulf and the Odyssey

Literature has always been an immensely helpful resource when discerning cultural values in societies past and present. Through the study of noteworthy historic fictional and factual, texts we are able to distinguish parallel characteristics present through many different cultures and time periods. These distinguishing characteristics are one of the main things that help us to determine when and how a society, or world culture as a whole changes as time moves forward. When similarities are identified throughout many cultures in the same time period academics are able attach general titles to that specific time expanse. The “Heroic Age” is an ...view middle of the document...

When discussing the treasure’s circulation it is important to consider what exactly constitutes as treasure or wealth in ancient Greece or Germanic times. Gold jewels and all material riches are the primary composites of a treasure; however it seems that in these times anything that is able to confer ones superior or accomplished existence can be considered compliments to a treasure as well. So from an ancient perspective Odysseus’ beautiful wife Penelope (who herself claims she’ll marry whoever brings her the finest gift), his strong capable son Telemachus, and his servants would be considered part of his mass of wealth. Beowulf and Odysseus’ material holdings like the intricate mansions, valuable lands, and undoubtedly a collection of many valuable objects are also worthy of being called treasure. These material items which they hold do not simply appear out of thin air. This treasure is derived from several sources: gifts from gracious leaders in return for military prowess, booty reaped from plundered towns, and kind gifts from hospitable hosts among other things. Hospitality and gift giving in the Odyssey go hand in hand, while this rule of hospitality is not as direct and prevalent in Beowulf, gifts of hospitality are not unheard of. When Odysseus is away, his treasure is being stolen by his wife’s suitors. Not only are they stealing his material wealth, but they are in competition for his wife, perhaps one of the things most symbolic of his status. Although this stealing of another’s treasure is amoral, it is bound to happen in this society as it is necessary to gain wealth in order to gain power, and everyone (even in the modern world) craves power in some form or another. If Odysseus died, which was the most likely occurrence, and his treasure was left untapped, that would defy the cyclical tendency of wealth. This idea of treasure being “wasted” or not completing the cycle is evident in Beowulf as well. When Beowulf knows he is going to die and bestows all he has to his trusted friend. If he did not do this there would have certainly been an immense struggle over who is able to claim Beowulf’s treasure and the respect that comes with it. It is also important to note that as Odysseus’ treasure is being plundered; while he is away he is amassing an entirely new collection of wealth from his travels. If this did not happen Odysseus would return to a mere shell of what his former estate was, and would undoubtedly lose much of the power and respect afforded to him by his fellow citizens. This cycle of giving and receiving is an integral part of both societies because without it they would not enjoy the same tolerant relationship that they have with each other.
Gift giving is essential in establishing bonds between families, political parties, friends, and countries to name a few. Once again, in the Odyssey establishing bonds through gift giving is intertwined with the hospitality motif. But the gift giving can still be...

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