An Interpretation of “The Battle of Maldon”

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                                                          “I Need a Hero”

            In every good war story there is always an underdog, a hero, who is forced out of duty and respect for his country to defend his land against any invader. Nine times out of ten the underdog’s army contains fewer men then that of his foe’s army. The poem “The Battle of Maldon” depicts the story of Byrhtnoth, an Anglo-Saxon wanting to defend the land of his ancestors. His army was not as big or skilled as the Viking army, but Byrhtnoth would not back down. At the beginning of the poem a messenger for Olaf, the leader of the Vikings, comes and offers Byrhtnoth a plea bargain, but Byrhtnoth refuses saying, “We will pay you with spear tips and sword blades.”

The Vikings say that if they are paid in gold and amour that they would leave peacefully, but Byrhtnoth does not accept this bargain allowing the Vikings to enter the mainland where the two forces begin to do battle. Byrhtnoth and his men were outnumbered and lost the battle. Some of Byrhtnoth’s men retreated, and one man even rode away on Byrhtnoth’s horse.  The reader can’t help but wonder if the battle was necessary. If Byrhtnoth had taken the plea bargain from the Vikings then he and his men would not have died. Did he fight against the Vikings out of pride?

Scholars argue about whether or not Byrhtnoth’s ofermod was due to pride or great mindedness. Some scholars believe that it was Byrhtnoth’s pride that allowed the Vikings to defeat the Anglo-Saxons. However, this reader would like to think that Byrhtnoth’s ofermod was both his pride and great mindedness.

This story reminded me of other war like stories such as 300, Braveheart, and Troy. In the story of Troy Prince Hector must fight a battle that his brother, Paris, started. He knows it is not fair to his men that they should have to fight against the Greek army, but out of love for his brother and his country he does so. The story of the three hundred Spartans against the multitude of Persians also reminds me of the Battle of Maldon. The leader of the Spartans could have easily submitted to the Persians, but he did not. Was it a case of Pride? Perhaps, but in what war story or any other sort of situation in life should someone just give up?

Shakespeare once said, “A coward dies a thousand deaths, but a hero only dies once.” Everyone has a sense of pride, and while it is true that pride can get the best of some of us I don’t think it was Byrhtnoth’s ultimate downfall. Some men fight for the glory of it so that their names can live on forever, but that doesn’t seem like the case when it comes to Byrhtnoth.  I generally feel that he was fighting for his land, people, and everything he believed in.

Sometimes giving up may seem like the easiest thing to do, but if he had done this it would not have been just his pride that would have been tarnished, but also his honor. If Byrhtnoth and his men had had better tactic styles then perhaps the Anglo-Saxons would have had a better chance of defeating the Vikings.

Alfred the Great had developed a military system where they attacked head on and developed a shield or wall around their enemies, but when their enemies would sneak up on them taking them by surprised then the Anglo-Saxons would not be prepared or have to recuperate. The Anglo-Saxons seemed to fight fairly while other countries fought rather dirty.

I believe that Byrhtnoth was a strong hero for his land. It was not his fault entirely that the Vikings won. I think Byrhtnoth died in honor and that if he had submitted to the Vikings that he would have been angry with himself, not because his pride had been wounded, but because he did not fight for what he believed in.

There will always be wars and every war will have an underdog. While it is easier to submit and accept defeat, it is not always the best option. To me, Byrhtnoth is much like Prince Hector, the leader of the Spartans, and William Wallace. He fought for what he believed in and he never backed down. Pride is something that every individual has, but not having pride is worse than having no pride at all.

A hero is someone who does the right thing without recognition. They are not driven by the desire to be famous or go down in the history books. A hero is someone that follows their heart and cares about the well-being of others. Was Byrhtnoth’s ultimate goal to have his name live on forever? The poem does not make him out to be that type of man. He was a man that loved his country and did not want to see it over run with Vikings. He died for what he believed in which made him honorable and someone that the other Anglo-Saxons could look up to in a sense. He took on a battle and had hope, even when it seemed like all hope was gone.








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