“By Weapons Made Worthy”: A Darwinian Perspective on <i>Beowulf</i>

Raymond Corbey and Angus Mol

in Creating Consilience

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794393
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919338 | DOI:

Series: New Directions in Cognitive Science

“By Weapons Made Worthy”: A Darwinian Perspective on Beowulf

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This chapter explores how biologically oriented approaches to narratives relate to more traditional hermeneutic and culturalist readings. As a case study, two ethnological readings of reciprocal exchange in Beowulf are examined from the perspective of altruism theory and costly signaling theory. It is shown how the latter crucially add to hermeneutic understandings of such aspects of the plot as wyrð (“worth”) as an aspect of personal identity and sibbengedriht as a social phenomenon. The relevance of this type of analysis for the wider debate on the disciplinary identity of ethnology is discussed in terms of Tinbergen's “four whys.”

Keywords: Beowulf; gift exchange; costly signaling; Anglosaxon society

Chapter.  6744 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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