Posted: June 6th, 2021
The phrase comitatus is exceedingly important in Anglo-Saxon culture, and is demonstrated profoundly in Anglo-Saxon texts. Comitatus means fellowship, particularly an allegiance between a chieftain and his men. This phrase refers to a very important tradition during the times of the Anglo-Saxons. It was so important because these men were constantly protecting their people from outside attacks and invasions and the comitatus was the bond that held these men together and that is what they lived for.
Specific Anglo-Saxon texts where comitatus is eminently portrayed is Beowulf, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer. Beowulf is an Old-English written epic, during the Anglo-Saxon period in which a hero, Beowulf, is shown battling three different agons throughout his life. Comitatus is tremendously present throughout this entire story. For example Beowulf sails to Denmark with fourteen warriors to defeat Grendel, out of respect and to protect their allies, the Danes.
This shows Comitatus because Beowulf is not only trusting of his men, but also risking his life for good riddance with King Hrothgar of Denmark. The reason to why Beowulf must defeat the Grendel is because of comitatus as well, because the Danes night in and night out were strengthening their friendship in the mead-hall, Heorot, and Grendel became jealous of this “fellowship. ” Another example of comitatus in Beowulf is when Beowulf is fighting the dragon and Wiglaf comes in and helps Beowulf win out of respect for his leader and his accomplishments.
Comitatus is presented numerously throughout Beowulf and represents the ideals and way of life of the Anglo-Saxons. The Wanderer is an Anglo-Saxon poem in which a warrior longs for old times, as he nostalgically ponders when he served his lord as well as feasted with his friends. The wanderer in the story has lost his fellow warriors and lord in battle, and now walks alone in exile. This poem shows the wanderer remembering times of comitatus and wishing those times were once again subsisting. He recalls his comrades and the costly hall gifts of his gracious gold friend, which he gave him in youth. ” (ln. 34-35) The wanderer dreams of seeing his lord, kissing him and experiencing pleasure of doing him favors. At the end of the poem the man talks of the present times and his soul becoming sick and dark, because comitatus is no longer a value in his life. In the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, it is much like The Wanderer in which the speaker of the poem dreams of times with fellowship or comitatus.
The man in the poem is out at sea, as days go by and he sits in the freezing cold jealous of men blessed with happy land-life. “The swan’s blare my seldom amusement; for men’s laughter there was curlew call, there were the cries of gannets, for mead-drinking the music of the gull. ” (ln. 23-26) The seafarer wants to be with his people drinking mead and listening to music and stories, otherwise known as comitatus. He speaks of his despairing mind and how there is no friend or brother or around to share his thoughts with.
He also says that no man is likely to guess how he has wasted whole winters, cut off from kind. The Seafarer truly displays the sorrow of the speaker and really portrays the importance of comitatus in one’s life, because without it he is devastated. Anglo-Saxons based their entire lives and worthiness off of comitatus, as well as making a name for themselves. These values feed off one another because while making a name for yourself you want to have others to share it with in order to make it worthy.
Comitatus is evident in many Anglo-Saxon texts and is validated in Beowulf, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer. In Beowulf comitatus is constantly shown on a regular basis and is present many times throughout the story. In The Wanderer, and The Seafarer, comitatus is not present, but rather the men of these stories wish that it was in their lives at the time. The constant display of this value as well as the desire to have comitatus in one’s life shows just how important it is in the life of an Anglo-Saxon.
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