Benedict and Beowulf each provide images of an ideal ruler and an ideal subject. Compare and contrast the descriptions of ideal rulers and ideal subjects in these texts. What qualities should a good ruler and good subject possess? What should the chief concerts of rulers be? Of subjects? How should rulers and subjects relate to each other? Do these texts provide examples of bad rulers and bad subjects? What make them bad? What do the similarities and differences between the images of rulers and subjects presented in these texts tell us about the value systems of those writing the texts.
Saint Benedict and Beowulf are both contrasting characters, one fictional and another real. As King of the Geats, Beowulf was rather despotic in his stance yet he could also be benign and compassionate in certain aspects. Beowulf is a mythical character in certain aspects but he also embodies the importance of ruling with a wise hand. Saint Benedict is a mystical character where he managed to organize the Benedictine monks and also showed strong leadership qualities in managing to control certain factions within the order. Both characters have similar traits but are also different in certain aspects which do not always show what a real leader should be but also indicate how leadership affects both the individual and also the groups in question.
Beowulf’s mystical powers are reflected in his winning of battles on the battlefield and in several conquests of territory. By contrast, Benedict did not choose the power of the sword to win conversions but he applied spiritual and temporal power to convince and create a following. Beowulf can occasionally be seen as aggressive and warlike while Benedict is peaceful and ethereal in certain aspects yet still achieved his goals.
Rulers should possess the obvious qualities such as leadership, a firm determination and the power to convince. In Beowolf’s case, these qualities manifest themselves in his determination to win battles and conquer territory whilst in Benedict’s case, the latter is more concerned in creating a spiritual order to preach and convert. However Benedict did possess substantial leadership qualities especially in his efficiency in the running of a monastery but also in his ability to convert and bring more Christians to the fold. On the other hand subjects are portrayed as being respectful and adherent to the ruler’s wishes but also standing firm when they are nt in agreement with certain controversial decisions by the ruler.
Concerns of rulers and subjects and how these relate to each other
Rulers should primarily be concerned with the welfare of their people and they should also ensure that their kingdom or in Benedict’s case, spiritual order runs on professional and productive lines. In Benedict’s case, he combined the spiritual with the mundane in the sense that he brought about spiritual peace with routine efficiency. In fact in The Rule of St Benedict there is substantial detail on how a monastery should be run which proves to be a model example on these issues. In Beowulf this is less pronounced but still one can observe the interplay between ruler and subject as well as other similar issues. Subjects also have an important role to play in any kingdom as they provide the lynchpin between what the ruler’s wishes are and what needs to be implemented in the kingdom. Both Beowulf and St Benedict of Nursia demonstrate all this will a certain pathos and their relationship with their subjects are very important to the balance of their respective stories.
Bad rulers and bad subjects
Although the texts are relatively unclear on these points there are examples when for example; Beowulf makes the wrong decisions or when he is faced by rebellion from within, in that case that is a bad subject or subjects. In Saint Benedict’s case, he faced a lot of opposition both from within and without and there were several who wished to overthrow him and his order. This is clear in several passages especially when he retreated to a hermit life and there were those who attempted to take over the order and formulate it to their own needs or wishes. Traitors and those who are dishonest are common these throughout both accounts and show us that it is important that these issues are addressed as the infiltration of bad ideas and corruption can ruin kingdoms or organizations.
Writers of the texts
The writers of these texts were undoubtedly influenced by several issues although they were principally concerned with moral issues. In the battles which Beowulf engages in, we can observe that the moral victory is a leitmotif which occurs quite frequently. When one deals with St Benedict we are faced with spiritual thoughts and issues but also with intrinsic leadership qualities which are not always factored in by the authors. Both texts are written in matter of fact prose and poetry and this adds to their mysticism which is not always clear. However the principal contrast between both texts is that Beowulf was written by a pagan group of writers while Saint Benedict’s story is written by Christians. The way and manner in which both texts are written also demonstrates the emphasis n values which tend to vary according to both styles.
St Gregory is also at pains to point out Benedict’s mystical qualities and where these shine out he also tends to exaggerate slightly in ways which perhaps the same saintly monk would not have thought possible. By contrast Beowulf contains several passages in which human weaknesses are displayed on a rather stark level and in fact everything comes together in a rather more powerful way than that with St Benedict of Nursia. Kinship is also an important issue especially in Beowulf where we can observe the intricate interplay between characters who come from the same families. The way authority is wielded is also rather interesting, in Beowulf’s case it is authorative and rather arbitrary whilst in Benedict’s case it is much more spiritual and conveyed with a sense of ethereal pathos.
Both St Benedict of Nursia and Beowulf are contrasting characters yet which serve a common purpose. The relationship between ruler and subject is examined in detail in both texts and one can learn substantially on the interplay between the characters and what it takes to become a benign and enlightened ruler as well as the pitfalls and bstancles in the ruling classes which can often spell disaster. In their own ways, both Beowulf and St Benedict provide extensive commentary on the social mores of their time as well as observing with far sighted thoroughness on the philosophy of the ruler.
St. Gregory the Great "The Life of St Benedict,", Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers 2000, Print
Alexander, Michael. Beowulf : A Verse Translation. Penguin Classics;. Rev. ed. London: New York, 2003. Print