Regarding ring-giving, treasure hoards, and loot as symbols of the courage of the men who won the gold:

According to scholar Barry Tharaud, the spoils of war are meaningless if they are not acquired through acts of bravery. “When an outlaw steals a gold cup from a dragon’s treasure hoard…it is a blow against the entire heroic system because it reduces the symbolic value of things to mere material value. It is a fall from the heroic world to a less ideal world in which symbols are deceptive and equivocal.”

When the chieftain bestowed treasure upon his thegns he was expressing admiration and recognition for their deeds, but also confidence that the men would continue to fight bravely in the future. A warriors acceptance of the gifts amounted to an oath of continued loyalty. The gifting cycle (ideally) created bonds of brotherhood and trust.

Tharaud on epics:

“Whether an epic is composed to be sung or read, its most important characteristic is that it tells the story of a society or culture — usually during a time of crisis — in such a way as to expose contradictions inherent in the values of that society.”

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