Although the world is full of ancient literature, very few of these existed before the twelfth century and those that existed before then serve as pointers to the past way of life. By reading such works, a person is able to get an understanding on the beliefs and customs that were practiced in the ancient world.
In addition, reading ancient literature gives people an understanding on how they are supposed to conduct their lives by basing it to that of the characters in those works. Unlike today, most ancient works of literature were meant to educate people on the right way of living.
Personally, I view ancient literature as a source of entertainment and inspiration. Some of the ancient works of literature that I have read and which have been a great help to my life are Beowulf and Medea. In this paper, I will explain why these two works of literature interest me and then I will outline their relevance to my life and to the modern society.
While reading Beowulf, one thing that I found interesting was how the characters conduct themselves. Although the play contains much violence, nearly all the characters fight for worthy causes. In the play, Beowulf who is the hero fights for causes, which he believes are meant to better humankind. Beowulf’s life inspires me and gives me the desire to pursue only the causes that can benefit the society.
On his part, Hrothgar the Denmark king is described as a nice person who is concerned about the welfare of all his subjects. According to the author, the king is “given such glory of war, such honor of combat, that all his kin obey him gladly till great grow his band of youthful comrades.” (Francis) the character of the king teaches me the importance of humbleness regardless of the position that I hold in the society.
By examining the character of Unferth, I am able to learn the danger of being jealous of my colleague’s achievements. In the play, Grendel the monster can be used to signify people who oppress others in the society. Pushed by hatred, Grendel goes around ensuring that people do not have peace. This is best presented in the occasion where Grendel killed thirty soldiers for no other reason but that “he heard each day the din of revel high in the hall: their harps ringing out, and the clear song of the singer.” (Francis).
This character can be likened to the case where some people in society deny others the privilege of having things that they themselves do not need.
Apart from my life, the Beowulf story is also very relevant in modern society. The character of Hrothgar is a good example of how those in authority are supposed to govern. The king is depicted as a nice person who has the sense “to build his henchmen a hall uprear, a master mead-house, mightier far than ever was seen by the sons of earth.” (Francis) Hrothgar’s character is in contrast with that of many modern leaders who live comfortably while their military lives in deplorable conditions. Upon hearing news of the monster, Beowulf travels from Geats to Denmark to eliminate it.
Beowulf’s actions are in contrast with our modern day leaders who are less concerned with the welfare of their neighboring countries. (Francis)
Another lesson that the modern society can learn from the Beowulf story is on the danger of excessive drinking. When Grendel walks into the Heorot Hall, he is able to kill many soldiers because they are drunk and they cannot fight back.
Just like the Denmark soldiers, many people today are destroyed after they have had too much to drink. The Beowulf story therefore serves as a warning to people to shun alcoholism. Finally, the Beowulf story highlights the importance of courage to an individual and to the society.
It is interesting to note that the monster scared the Denmark army for twelve years but it took Beowulf only one day to kill it. Later on in the play, the importance of character is repeated when Beowulf battles a dragon that has burned his castle.
In this case, only his young assistant Wiglaf comes to his rescue and they both kill the dragon. Put together, those two episodes demonstrate to us the importance of being courageous when faced with an impossible mission. (Francis)
Apart from Beowulf, another legendary story that I find interesting is Medea. This story by Euripides highlights the plight of women and their role in the society. When Jason embarks on the Golden Fleece mission, he realizes that he cannot win on his own and decides to exploit Medea’s wisdom to fulfill his quest. Jason convinces Medea to help him on the promise that he will marry her after they complete the mission.
In the process, Medea ends up betraying her own family and killing her brother. From the beginning, it is possible to notice that Jason only pretends to love Medea in order to take advantage of her gift. Once he achieves his plans, he “dumps” her and marries another girl from the Corinth royal family in order to secure his royal citizenship.
This clearly shows that Jason had hoodwinked Medea from the beginning and made her believe that he had pure intentions for her while in the real sense he was only using her for his own selfish ambitions. (Euripides)
By following the lesson outlined in the story, I am able to look out for people whose agenda is to use me as a ladder to access higher things in life. Like Jason, such people leave us disappointed and with the duty of fixing the mistakes we made while trying to please them. This is best seen when Medea is exiled from Corinth for killing the King’s daughter.
At the same time, it becomes hard for her to return to her home country since she had caused the death of her brother while trying to aid Jason. Once Medea realizes how Jason has tricked her, she decides to cry “out to the gods to witness how Jason is repaying her favors.” According to Euripides, Medea gets to a point where “She just lies there.
She won’t eat—her body she surrenders to the pain, wasting away, always in tears, ever since she found out how her husband has dishonoured her. She’s not lifted her eyes up from the ground, or raised her head.” (Euripides)
By reading the Medea’s story, I am able to watch out for people with Jason’s character. If women in the society can learn how to spot people with such character, the pain of betrayal that majority of them go through would considerably be minimized.
By reading the Medea story, I am also able to learn what a scorned woman can do. When Medea realizes that Jason has deceived her despite the sacrifices she has made, she goes on a revenge mission that leaves many people dead. The first thing that she does is to kill Jason’s bride and her father who happens to be the king of Corinth.
Later on, she kills her own children to ensure that Jason has no heirs that can continue his lineage. Later on, Medea escapes to Athens using a dragon-drawn chariot leaving behind Jason to mourn his family. By reading this story, I am able to realize the folly of playing with a woman’s emotions. On top of this, I am also able to appreciate the roles that women play in my life and in society. (Euripides)
Medea and Beowulf are among one of the finest stories written before the twelfth century. Although the stories have been in existence for more than two and half millenniums, the moral lessons that they offer are still relevant in modern society. By reading these stories, a person is able to draw inspiration and strength from the characters in the play.
On the other hand, the stories act as a reference point for individuals to examine their lives against those of the characters. This enables us to correct the areas where we have gone astray and to improve on the areas where we fall short of expectations. Apart from individuals, the modern society also has much to learn from these stories.
Francis, Erik. Beowulf, 06 May. 2010. Web. 13 November 2010.
Euripides. Medea, 431 B.C. Trans. I. Johnson. Malaspina University College. Web. 23 November 2010. < https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/euripides/medea.htm.>