Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Role of the Heroic Ideal in Command and Control

After a few days of poring over Beowulf interpretations, it occurred to me that the importance of the heroic ideal is insufficiently discussed or understood. Specifically, if the oral tradition theory is correct that only what is important will be passed on down, then there could be something that is functionally important with respect to the heroic ideal. So what function does the heroic ideal (of fighting loyally to the very death, even against insurmountable odds) fulfill?

Well, some things come to mind:
  • Command and control for large scale operations. It takes days to pull together levies and armies in the age before top down nation army organization. But if everyone wanders off again when the troop sizes are not large enough yet, then no army will ever assemble. Sitting around and waiting for more to show up is a pretty disconcerting sensation, I would wager.
  • Command and control for specific engagements. And the Battle of Maldon where the local levy breaks and runs away is a nice example of the problem the heroic ideal is trying to avoid.
So the battle leader of the type of Hrothgar has to have some tool at hand that he can use to keep the groups together as formations larger than the commitatus operate. (Beowulf's final encounter with the dragon shows that the thanes part can be tricky too.)

This still leaves open how the tool of the heroic ideal achieves this, but that is a separate research question.

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