Niles sees Beowulf as the only character in the poem who truly lives up to the ideals of bravery, loyalty, and duty — elements of the heroic code which appears to be “eminently practical in that societies are shown to stand or fall in accord with their ability to sustain it.”

[Beowulf] does not cause the troubles that the Geats are soon to suffer. They bring these troubles on themselves. The poet makes this point clear in Wiglaf’s speech to the ten cowardly Geats, when they emerge from the woods ‘shame-faced’ to face his tongue-lashing…
He singles out the Geats’ cowardice, not their hero’s death, as the source of their approaching misfortunes. Those who condemn the king for dying seem to assume that he was going to live forever. The important question is: Will the king leave behind him leaders capable of defending the realm with courage and strength like his? The Geats have provided a visible answer to this question by running away.

John D Niles, Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition, 1983

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