Beowulf’s Idea of Being Mortal and Becoming Immortal
Can you imagine waking up to screams and people crying bodies and blood everywhere? Imagine not being able to do anything. From waking up to seeing Grendel going through houses and then you see Beowulf coming to save you. Mortality in Beowulf is very present Beowulf is seen as a hero and fearless. Even so, his death is incredibly important to the theme of mortality. Through Beowulf’s death, the narrator brings in the final point of mortality in the poem. Even the strongest of humans are mortal, and heroes are the ones who risk their mortal lives to help others. Throughout the poem, death is a constant topic, nearly everything Beowulf does leads to death. While many would see this as a morbid and depressing, it is the epitome of Beowulf’s prowess and heroism.”Beowulf was granted the glory of winning; Grendel was driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt, to his desolate lair. (Heaney,55)’
The narrator of the poem constantly stresses that the warriors know they might die, but they still fight. This is where the heroic side of the poem comes in The warriors show bravery and courage by continuing to fight in the face of probable defeat. “I shall win the gold by my courage, or else mortal combat, the doom of battle, will bear your lord away.”(Heaney,171) Beowulf does fear mortality, he just does it differently than we are used to. Instead of running away or turning away his responsibility, he faces mortality. He risks himself for the sake of the people he is protecting, while simultaneously gaining renown and respect.”Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast for the last time: I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as a king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning…”(Heaney,171)
Not every hero lives sometimes they just have to die. As much as we would like to believe that somewhere out there someone has mastered immortality, living forever is a matter of fiction even in literature. The hero has to come to terms with the fact that they can die at any moment, especially in battle. Through his many battles, Beowulf begins to understand this concept. First, his winning streaks convinced him that he can withstand anything but when he faces Grendel’s mother and the dragon Beowulf develops his sense of mortality. A majority of Beowulf’s experiences center around successful fights. Because none of them have been a challenge for him he doesn’t see a need to regard death and charges into each new battle with copious amounts of courage. This remains his routine until he faces a new, unusual enemy: Grendel’s mother. Unlike other monsters, she fights in her territory and unlike her son, she has the full advantage of a swamp that’s dangerous to even approach. Faced with these odds, Beowulf begins to develop a small sense of how fragile his human body is and arms himself with armor and sword. In the final stage of this newly developed awareness, he even acknowledges aloud that he may not return and Hrothgar should take care of his men after his passing. “If this combat kills me, take care / of my young company…” (Heaney 1480-1481).
Never before has Beowulf conceited to the idea of death, but in the face of this unknown enemy, he feels no shame in talking about it. If it happens then so be it as it is the end of every man. For a proud great this is a huge step in being aware of one’s mortality. There was a moment where Beowulf was overpowered and came close to being killed at the monster’s hands. “…he pitched his killer opponent to the floor / but she rose quickly and retaliated, / grappled him here grim embrace” (1540-1542). In that instant, his mortality is realized as the monster can easily strangle him. If he hadn’t found her sword lying around the lair, he knew he would surely have died. Being in the swamp or above ground does not have any effect on Beowulf’s sense of mortality.
Years pass and Beowulf’s sense of mortality seems to fall into disuse. Becoming the king of the gets his life is far more relaxed compared to his younger days. But when a dragon begins to threaten the land, Beowulf jumps into action. Having aged considerably, he is further aware of his mortality than he was before. He arms himself not just a sword and armor, but a helmet and a shield as well. He brings along thirteen men as back up and gives his final speech because this time he is not only aware that he could die but the odds favor this outcome. “…or else mortal combat, / doom of battle, will bear your lord away” (2536-2537). He has fought just as earnestly as ever before, but in the end, his senses are proved correct as he dies from his injury from the dragon. In this way, Beowulf does not die in vain, because it has not only admitted that he is a fragile human but one will die facing a stronger enemy.Some say that against the dragon Beowulf is a little careless with his sense of mortality. He prepares himself, but his men run off and his attacks are deflected. He should have realized that his men weren’t brave enough to face the dragon on their own let alone support their king and from experience, he should have known a sword won’t likely be the answer in battle. Maybe it seems like his victory is based solely on luck, but Beowulf has the sense to bring a knife that saw the job through and loyal Wiglaf. “…drew a stabbing knife… / He stuck it deep into the dragon’s flank” (2702-2704). Through his toughest fights against Grendel’s mother and the dragon, Beowulf begins to develop a sense of mortality. This is an important aspect in Beowulf and in any hero as they cannot be so full of themselves as to believe that they are the only mortal impervious to death. Death should be the knowledge that the hero is aware of not blocked even if it takes the hero a few battles to gain this understanding. Though Beowulf has been in many fights, it takes powerful creatures for him to see that fighting monsters isn’t always easy and the dying is the alternative to winning. Because of these fights, he does not enter battle without what’s necessary to preserve his mortality as much as possible. Grendel’s mother raised the chance of death while the dragon guaranteed it. In the end, Beowulf becomes wiser with his sense of mortality making him a fiercer hero. Even though we all die at some point.
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