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Creating ConsilienceIntegrating the Sciences and the Humanities$
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Edward Slingerland and Mark Collard

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199794393

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199794393.001.0001

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

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

(p.372) 20 “By Weapons Made Worthy”: A Darwinian Perspective on Beowulf
Creating Consilience

Raymond Corbey

Angus Mol

Oxford University Press

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

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