On the Transvaluation of Viking Values: Nietzsche Reads Beowulf


In his Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche traces what he calls the “slave revolt in morality”, an episode of the “transvaluation of values” in which Western notions of “right” and “wrong” were inverted. As a consequence, the “master morality” of the Greco-Roman world (embodied in its epics) was replaced by the “slave morality” of Judeo-Christian world (embodied in its scriptures) and what was formerly “good” became “evil” and what was formerly “bad” became “good”. This lecture will apply Nietzsche’s paradigm to Beowulf — arguably a “Christian Viking” work about the “pagan Viking” past — in an effort both to better understand the poetic significance of the life and death of the great hero Beowulf and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Nietzsche’s theory.