A Characteristic Of Beowulf
Beowulf: The Perfect Hero
Websters defines the term hero as a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. This definition of the term hero might as well have the old English character Beowulfs picture next to it.
Beowulf is a Geatish hero who fights monsters, kills dragons, and is said to be the strongest and smartest warrior around. He exemplifies all of the characteristics of the perfect hero; courage, strength, honor, discipline, and loyalty just to name a few. Beowulf shows these characteristics to be true in the story by constantly doing heroic things for himself and more importantly, others. While dining and relaxing at King Hrothgar of Denmarks mead-hall (a place to eat, drink, and share war stories), the extreme noise coming from the warriors awakens Grendel, and disturbs him greatly. Grendel, a monster who lives in the swamp, would terrorize the subjects and worse, kill them. All the warriors efforts did nothing to stop Grendel for years. That is until Beowulf arrives. When Grendel comes to the mead-hall to terrorize some more, Beowulf confronts Grendel and fights back heroically. He ends up killing the ugly beast with out using much effort at all. He cuts off Grendels arm and hangs it in the mead-hall as a trophy. The people of Denmark praise their great hero Beowulf and celebrate their good fortune with a feast in his honor.
The conflict isnt over though. Outraged after hearing about the death of Grendel, Grendels mother becomes enraged and comes to Herot for revenge. There Grendels mother kills Aeschere. Aeschere was one of Beowulfs advisors. Beowulf is now understandably upset, and he takes his men to Grendels swamp for revenge of his friend. Beowulf dives down into the water and eventually kills her with a giant sword. This fight was a bit more challenging for Beowulf, but just like any brave and heroic warrior, Beowulf came out victorious. While in the swamp, Beowulf finds the remains of Grendel. He cuts off his head and brings that back to Hrothgar. Hrothgar and his subjects are thrilled to see Beowulf and they all celebrate the victory and praise their hero again. Now that there isnt any immediate danger anymore Beowulf decides to leave Herot. He returns to his home in Greatland. He is reunited with his King and Queen.
Eventually the King, Hygelac is killed in a war against their enemies. Hygelacs son is understandably upset and seems lost in his ways. Beowulf takes him under his wing and supports him instead of just running for the throne like any other warrior would do. This act shows Beowulf as a loyal and noble individual. Again showing characteristics of a great hero. Beowulf eventually ascends the throne after Hygelacs son dies. He reigns fair and just for fifty peaceful years. That is until a dragon starts causing problems in Greatland. Beowulf heroically travels to fight the beast and protect his people. He again succeeds in defeating the dragon, with his strength, bravery, and his determination to win. Once again these are all Heroic traits. This victory was bittersweet however. While fighting the dragon, Beowulf was bitten on the neck. The poison from the bite eventually killed the great hero Beowulf a few minutes after the dragon was killed. The people of Greatland had a massive funeral for Beowulf and buried him overlooking the sea, just as he wished. Beowulf did everything in his power to be the best person and the greatest warrior and King that he could be. These things show Beowulf to be one of the greatest heroes in English literature.
At the time when this story was told, there was a set of values that warriors followed. These set of values were known as the Germanic Heroic Code. The code consisted of the following traits: strength, courage, loyalty, generosity, and overall respect. Beowulf lived his life every day by these values, further making him out to be a great hero. He not only lived followed the code, but he went above and beyond the call of duty numerous times in the story by helping so many people.
Beowulf was also a very prepared individual. He didnt ever show fear or worry. He just wanted to complete the task at hand, and defeat whatever he needed to rid people of their troubles.
Beowulf got ready,
Donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;
his mighty, hand-forged, fine webbed mail would soon meet with the menace underwater. (Beowulf 1442-1445)
This quotation in Beowulf shows just how powerful and heroic Beowulf is. It states that he is indifferent to death, which symbolizes courage and bravery.
Beowulf may very well be one of the greatest heroes in English literature. He really does exemplify all of the characteristics of a great hero.
Beowulf: a Great Hero Of Our Time
Beowulf: Hero Comparisons and Differences Then and Now
Beowulf is an excellent story of good verses evil. The story is both fantasy and reality of the ideal qualities a hero should possess. Although the story was written many moons ago, it serves as a great source of reference for what a would be hero should strive to achieve in modern times. Although Beowulf was a great hero of his time, how would he compare to today’s heroes? How are today’s heroes the same and how are they different?
The author of this story knew what he was doing when he chose not to take recognition. What I am trying to say is that Beowulf was a truly great man and a very inspiring story. By not taking credit for writing it, allows for interpretation of characters rather then the author’s intent. People need heroes and Beowulf was a character one could look up too. He was very brave and he loved his kingdom. He would do anything in his power to protect them from evil. He was also very loyal to his men and in battle he would not allow any of them to die in vain. Beowulf was a true warrior and a true hero. Even by today’s standards.
People today are always judging others to see if they measure up to a preconceived idea of what they believe a hero’s attributes should be. In Beowulf’s day heroes were mainly the protectors of the country. They were warriors and kings. But today with everyone having a preconceived idea about heroes, some people choose to look up to celebrities and athletes. Others even choose to elect their heroes in a democratic election even though that person whom they have elected has never served a day in the armed forces guarding their country. These people believe that if a person can make them more money then that person is a hero at least in their mind. In Beowulf’s day if the people thought that way then they would soon find themselves being ruled by a tyrant and any extra money they might be so lucky to earn would be given to their new king. Many people today are content with reaping the rewards earned by others so long as it doesn’t effect them. They are content with hiding out and remaining quiet. If Beowulf was alive today to see their cowardness he would surely find a way to teach them a lesson. I don’t believe he would foresaken them because he was always faithful to his countrymen and he put their needs above his own.
Personalities and job titles have changed but some heroic attributes haven’t changed. In the United States instead of a king we have a president. Some of his duties are much like Beowulf’s duties were. He must still keep up with the foreign affairs including wars in order to protect our country. He must also be able to foresee any affect that foreign affairs might have on the country in the long run. It is our president’s responsibility to ensure that our military divisions, including the airforce, navy, army, and marines are prepared and able to defend our nation or our nation’s allies in time of war. Of course our president also rents out rooms in the White house to visiters and Beowulf would have let them stay as guests for free in the castle, but this is primarily a cultural difference and lets hope it is a short lived cultural trend. The story of Beowulf also speaks about the historic background of the Germanic people. Throughout the story great examples of how people should conduct themselves are given. The story defines a hero by telling a story of one who was victorious in battle and unafraid in death. It is centered around respect and qualities of a person such as honor and bravery. Times have changed for us for many people in the United States it is better to be an athlete who possesses these qualities only during an event when people are watching and when they aren’t the athletes tend to be content with their big salaries and attending big parties in order to keep their popularity high. For they know that as long as they are rich and famous then people will look up to them and in their minds this makes them wise men for others seek their approval.
Beowulf possessed many super human powers, at least he was able to call on them in his time of need. This mystique is what helps to hold how attention. Beowulf began as a humble man who did not have very much money. He was honest and had a big heart. He was content letting others boast of valor and wouldn’t think of challenging someone for the accuracy of their tales. It is only by chance that Beowulf is even discovered as the rightful heir to the throne. But he never forgets his humble beginnings. This is true even today when our country has been at war many a silent hero has emerged. There have been many selfless acts performed in order to save a fallen comrad. People who never thought of themselves as a hero risked death so that others might live. Some of these men have gone on to be very successful in business but they have never forgotten where they came from. This is evedent every year on Veterans Day you can see bike rallies, parades, and special functions given in honor of the men and woman that have defended our country and at each of these events you will find the true heroes telling others in their speeches that what they did they did because we are all Americans. Rich or poor if you allowed one to die because you were to scared to help him then what right do you have to be free? They give inspiring speeches and tell others how they might be able to contribute to the war efforts even if they don’t physically pick up a weapon. Mental support and encouragement are very important to a soldier. Beowulf had the support of his kingdom and that helped to inspire the other knights to continue to press on. Of course his men weren’t always as brave as he might have liked but he never stopped setting the example of what a true hero is to be. This brought much humility and shame upon his knights and many were re-inspired and returned to fight with honor. It is the duty of any great hero to be able to inspire others to do the right thing even when your mind is telling you to run. The hero will tell you to listen to your heart. This was true in Beowulf’s time and it is still true today.
Today people don’t want to think of combat as a way of determining who is a hero and who possess the necessary skills to kill someone. Perhaps this is why Americans and even the world are turning to athletes to find their heroes. As a parent myself I would not want to think of my child as having to go to combat in order to achieve hero status. I would hope that there are other examples that my child could look up to. I know that in Beowulf’s day there were no other examples because the kingdom was always being threatened by outside forces and fighting was a way of life. Today an athlete who stands up and tells children that if they want to succeed in life then they shouldn’t use drugs in my eyes is a hero. This is because there are a great number of negative influences out there that. You can’t see them but they are evil just as the evil forces that threatened Beowulf’s kingdom these forces threaten ours. Whether it is drugs, which craft, communism, or what ever, if a great athlete can take time out to send a positive message to the public and inspire them to make the right decision then they are considered to be a hero.
Beowulf risked his life many times in order to protect his fellow knights and warriors. He always did his part on the battlefield just as each of his men did theirs. He knew teamwork was important. Today there are many other heroes who also believe in teamwork. The silent heroes, the ones you never hear about. They are the teachers who work with our children everyday, they know that everyone must be on the same sheet of music in order for the message to be clear. The firemen who risk their lives everyday, they know how important teamwork is for if they don’t do their part then someone might die. Policemen who help to make our streets safer also know of the importance of teamwork, and to each of these groups not a single hero emerges because they are all heroes. Just as the brave knights that fought along side Beowulf are also heroes.
Beowulf selflessly attempts to dispose of the dragon in order to alleviate the fears of his people. His own men because of fear abandon him when they were faced with the dragons fire. All except for one, Wiglaf who was another great warrior tried to save Beowulf’s life but was unable too. He did manage though to avege his death by killing the dragon himself. Later Wiglaf becomes king and fulfills Beowulf’s last request by building a tall monument in which Beowulf’s treasures and ashes remain. The tower serves as a guide to saiors in directing them for safe passage. That tower is the final gift to his people. By todays standards Beowulf is a true hero. For many people have followed his example. Many a wealthy person has died and willed their belongings to a hospital or a charity in order to help others after they have gone.
I guess all in all Beowulf as a hero of his time would still be a great hero of our time. He has shown us that a hero is not a hero because he is wealthy or popular. A hero is someone who through their selfless acts have improved the quality of life for others, and Beowulf shows us that it is never to late to become a hero. Of course many may argue that the story is to far fetched and there is no way a person in modern times can compare to Beowulf. But I say to them that believe this that it is true that he was able to receive special powers in order to stay under water for long periods of time and he had special armor that protected him from harm, he also had a brain and mighty courage. Today we are able to call on special powers that will give us super human strength and we can also call on this source to provide us with more courage and wisdom. Today we call this the power of God. Maybe Beowulf as a hero back then is not so different then the heroes of today. Jesus is a good example of a timeless hero.
How The Honorable Men During Beowulf’s Time Are Different From The Modern Men
Beowulf is an epic hero from the famous Anglo-Saxon poem ‘Beowulf.’ His character was said to be larger than life. Beowulf was known to have the strength of thirty men in his hand grip. Beowulf was an honorable man, and he was a great warrior. During Beowulf’s time which was about 900 years ago, to be a hero was to be a warrior. Beowulf is a typical example of the heroes of the Anglo-Saxon era. He used his strength to fight against evil instead of using it for his gain. Beowulf was courageous if he were not courageous, many people would have lost their lives. He gave them freedom from their fears. Time has changed so are the human beings. The honorable men during Beowulf’s time are different from the modern men.
During old times, strength and courage were considered to be an honor for the men, but the definition of honor is different in modern days. The honor is above the individual feelings and desires. People built their honor codes which cannot be judged by others. Modern men should be respectable to get the honor. Even if you lose a game, shake hands. Losing in a game or any competition is not losing the honor. Modern men are considered honorable if they do something which makes their family, country, etc. proud. Code of honors is still there in our society. Mostly code of honors are codes of morality. Men get shamed for breaking the code of honors, but the society is less judgmental towards men.
The idea of honorable men during Beowulf times was associated with strength, warrior skills, courage, and intelligence. Men had to fight all the odds for his people and honor. He should have died while fighting for his pride and people. Men should have the strength not just mentally but also physically as Beowulf could take off the arm of Grendel with just his strength. Honorable men during Anglo-Saxon times were considered to be fearless. They were supposed to not feel afraid by anything. The honorable Anglo-Saxon men used to help the people when they cry for help even if it means to lose your life. For example, In Beowulf poem, the king of Danes appealed for help from Beowulf when Grendel’s mother came to avenge her son. Beowulf like a truly honorable man got ready to fight with Grendel’s mother. Death was an honor for the honorable man during Beowulf times. Honorable men were willing to die for the pride and glory. The honorable man was there for the people. They helped the people in need. The idea of an honorable man was to decide the right thing at the right time. He was supposed to make the right decisions, and he had the strength to face all the odds.
About 900 years have passed since the Beowulf times, People have changed, and their mentality has also changed. In Anglo-Saxon times, Honorable men were the men with physical strength. When they used to come back home after winning the war against the powerful men they were honored by their family and everyone like when Beowulf came back after winning the fight against Grendel’s mother. He was honored by the king and also his family. But in modern times, men do not have that much physical strength. Honorable men are the normal people with the respectful attitude towards others. No one needs to have immense strength to be an honorable man. In Anglo-Saxon times, Honorable men need to have great wisdom, and they were supposed to make the right decisions. If they would take a wrong decision, then they would become dishonorable. But nowadays, people know that no one can always make the right decision. So one bad decision cannot turn the honorable man into dishonorable. But sometimes it depends on the type of decision. If the decision of an honorable man was to kill many people or hurt them, then they will get hate from the people. In modern times, Honor is associated with respect, kindness, and intelligence whereas, in Beowulf times, honor was associated with strength, courage, and intelligence.
People have changed with time. Their thinking process, their ideologies have also changed. The change is mostly due to their experience. They have realized that violence is not a way to show strength. Even though violence is still present in modern days, there is not as much as in Beowulf times. But it is not considered to be an honorable thing. There are characters like Superman in our modern stories who has the physical strength like Beowulf, but the idea of an honorable man is not associated with physical strength in modern times. It has more to do with mental strength and thinking about the well-being of the people and humbleness.
The Main Characteristics Of an Epic Hero Beowulf
The main characteristics of an epic hero that Beowulf shows is brave deeds, he is a strong and responsible leader, risks his life for the greater good of his people and his kingdom, has a great amount of courage, his inhuman strength, and his faith and gratitude.
Strong and responsible leader
Beowulf stepped up for his people and his men and risked his own life to defeat the dragon. He sacrificed his own life so that his people could live peacefully again.
Beowulf’s courage comes from his ability to fight on, even after all but one of his men abandon him at his final battle. Beowulf is left dying, but he does not try to escape but he sits and waits for his end. Beowulf sits awake in uncertainty of what comes in the depths of the everlasting night. This shows that Beowulf has a lot of courage. Beowulf risks his life for the greater good of his people and his kingdom.
Beowulf swims against Brecca. Beowulf is dragged to the bottom of the sea by a monster. He ends up killing nine monsters during this.
Beowulf without armor
Beowulf kills Grendel. He does this without any armor. Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother. Beowulf also kills the dragon. Even though his men left him and he still attempted to battle. Beowulf stepped up and called his men together and convinced them to battle when they were needed. He is also full of fear, but with courage he is able to control this fear. He thought more about his people than he thought about himself. Beowulf fights for those who are not his people, but he fights as if the people of Herot were his own.
Also when Beowulf fights the dragon, he sees the great amount of treasure as a win for his people.
Beowulf is able to defeat Grendel who is much bigger than he is and rips his arm completely off. He is also able to defeat Grendel’s mother. She is about to defeat him but then he finds a sword. He uses the sword to decapitate Grendel’s mother and to behead the corpse of Grendel.
Faith and gratitude
Beowulf is a man of deep personal faith. Before his battle he offers a prayer. After the fight with the monster, he gives credit to God, who, He says has allowed him to kill the monster. Beowulf is defined by his strength, courage, his sense of honor and loyalty, and by his religious faith.
The Ironic Juxtaposition Between Beowulf – The “Hero” Of Poem- And Grendel The “Monster”
When faced with the question whether humans and monsters in Beowulf are opposed, I believe that humans are just as monstrous as the monsters and the monsters are more humane than humans at points in the poem. This essay will address: the ironic juxtaposition between Beowulf – the “hero” of poem- and Grendel the “monster” who attacks seemingly for no reason at all, the human female character that lack any individuality or choice, are constantly leading their male superiors towards doom in contrast to female monsters who’s loyalties are clear –when Grendel mother comes to attack to avenge her son’s death. I will analyse the three main battles which take place in the poem and draw my conclusion from evidence provided.
Prior to Grendel and Beowulf’s battle, we are introduced to the character of Grendel who is described as this unknown quality, shadowy figure who has glowing eyes with a “grim light”(II.727) , we see his existence as isolated and depressing as he seen constantly attacking Hrothgar’s meadhall. He upholds the general stereotype which follows monsters in medieval literature as a vengeful, aimless, beast. Grendel persists to attack the Hall every night for twelve years, killing its inhabitants and making the exceptional mead-hall dysfunctional. Beowulf hears of these attacks and leaves the Geats to destroy Grendel. Beowulf and his men are welcomed by Hrothgar. Grendel’s daily ritual is his sole source of contentment as he attacks the hall his “rage boils over” and his “glee was demonic”, the use of demonic suggest that maybe Grendel isn’t truly in control of his emotions or even of himself. During Grendel’s attack of the hall, Beowulf’s men are ambushed but Beowulf watches from afar as he stalks Grendel engulfing one his men. If Grendel can be excused for monstrous behaviour as result of his primitive animalistic instinct then what can be said for Beowulf who exhibits similar attributes-watching his comrade eaten alive heavily implies that like Grendel – Beowulf shows little respect human life and suggest that he has only taken up this role to raise in status . Despite that a utilitarian’s view point Beowulf approach can be justified as it would potentially lead to many people being saved – but can use of one person to save other ever be justified in any case. From the description we are given of Grendel’s large figure we assume that Beowulf is foolish to think that he has the slightest chance against the Herculean-Grendel – whom is yet still protected by a magical charm which protects him from harm’s way. Nonetheless, Beowulf successfully attacks Grendel – who begins to realise he’s been faced with his match : ‘he ne mette middangeardes, / eorþan sceata on elran men / mundgripe maran’ [‘he had not met in the world, in any corner of the earth, a greater handgrip in another man’], (ll. 751–53) . Another aspect of Beowulf’s savage nature is shown when he dismantles Grendel’s arm to the point where he’s left motionless for death to take him.
The next idea we are faced with in the poem is the general opposition of human and monster females in the poem which was written in the medieval era, the audience of the poem expect all female to be presented as peace weavers however, the “monstrous” female we come to know as Grendel’s mother is anything but. When placed in the situation where she’s faced with her son’s corpse she decides to what many people would do in her situation and seeks to avenge her son’s death. Many may argue that her thirst for vengeance is unjust; on the other hand it can be seen as the most human-like gesture in which any monster does in the poem. “The hell-dam was in panic.” connote her hesitation with the action she about to do which may suggest that unlike her son and Beowulf she’s not used to resorting to violence to sort out her issue nor is she comfortable with said violence, but does it in a way which she deems is the most loving and maternal thing she can do to honour her son. With the human female, the previous passages illustrate the objectification of females within medieval society; women are seen as chess pieces in the game which their male relatives are playing – they have little say and were often used to tie two conflicting families together.
For example, during the celebration of Beowulf’s victory over Grendel, a poet retells the story of Hildeburth and Finn, Hildeburth is married off to a Frisian prince named Finn to settle a peace agreement between the two nations. However, after a period of peace conflict breaks out once more resulting in the death of both Hildeburth’s son and her brother which eventually lead to mourning period in where they had a joint funeral – an uneasy truce followed, the Danes were left restless and attack again on the pretences of vengeance which results in the murder of Hildeburth’s husband and Hildeburth being brought back with them against her will. Her tale is seen as a victory for the Danes despite it being brought on by blood-spill and death. We are shown a once strong woman- lose her agency and become less and less in control of her life. The question we begin to ask ourselves here is what separates us from monsters and who’s to say that we’re not monsters in our own way, because what type of people would kill a person’s entire family without thinking out about the consequences of how it would affect them? In the case of Wealtheow though it’s a different story we see a strong elegant queen who, to all intents care’s about her people which can be inferred from the word “golden’ (II.1162) which suggests her regency and duty to her people, however her sincerity is overshadowed by the idea that her husband and nephew ‘still trusted each other’ (II.1164) which foreshadows the idea that there will come a point where they don’t. The later betrayal of her nephew which was preceded by his ascension on to the throne that Wealtheow encouraged, suggesting that it would better for their family and the land, pushing aside her husband’s proposition of bringing Beowulf to the throne emphasises the idea that she was solely fuelled by her egocentricity that later proves to her decision to be her downfall in form of the murder her children. These human females are shown to be helpless and lead their male counterparts- although not directly- towards their death. Whereas Grendel’s mother, the only female monster we are shown completely differs from said character, as she answers to no male and acts on instinct rather than selfish impulses; which demonstrates that she has more control than Hildeburth and Wealtheow proving that she is more humane than them by purely acting on her maternal intuition rather than allowing herself to be overshadowed by a male. All three of the female characters are join together by through the idea of them all being mothers and the loss of their children, the only differences being that one of them is “monster”.
The third and final of the monsters appears during Beowulf’s fiftieth year on the throne, when a dragon attack his land, he’s now eighty and is no longer the young warrior his once before however he decides to face the dragon himself. Unlike Grendel, we are sure of the dragon’s reason for attacking which was a fugitive stealing a gold flagon from him. Despite his old age Beowulf insists on fighting the dragon himself – along with eleven of his warrior. He seeks out his sword Naegling, that later proves no match for the monster Again we’re presented with Beowulf stalking another creature. Beowulf attempts to fight the dragon – armour at the ready – except he realises he’s not as strong as the dragon, “The blade flashed and slashed yet the blow/ Was far less powerful than the hard pressed king/ Need at the moment” (II.2578-80), he begins to struggle. A thane named Wiglaf see’s the king in distress and rushes to his aid. With Wiglaf aid, Beowulf slays the dragon – “He lunged at the enemy /…. sword sank into its belly” they “destroy the foe” but Beowulf is badly injured and has lost a lot of which eventually leads to death. When Beowulf is faced with Grendel is his equal in strength ,whilst the dragon is more powerful than him as it takes more than one person to kill him, which suggest that he’s far from human as he only attacks to retrieve his belongings –implies a sense of honour that the dragon possess . In the poem we can argue that the true hero is Wiglaf who “displayed his inborn bravery and strength”, Wiglaf isn’t one of the warriors chosen by the king despite this he still helps the king rid of the dragon. In this battle we see the ignorance of human , if the fugitive didn’t steal then there would’ve have been no battle , but we are also shown a truly selfless- Wiglaf – human in poem where it seems that they’re presented as equally or even more so as evil as the monsters.
Beowulf as a poem shows that we should redefine the meaning of what we perceive as monsters and that we shouldn’t look at any conflict as a success, as it usually in end the pain of one party or both. In the case of Beowulf and Grendel, we see a Beowulf- a high-strung hero and Grendel a bloodthirsty monster who attacks for no reason, but as we are given the image of Beowulf watching Grendel engulf one of his comrades we begin to see that Beowulf is just as monstrous as the monster which terrorise the town. With the females in the poem, the human female character that lack any individuality or choice, are constantly leading their male superiors towards doom in contrast to female monsters who’s loyalties are clear –when Grendel mother comes to attack to avenge her son’s death. Hildeburth is objectified by her male relatives and is used as a pawn to wage peace with their opposition. However their plan back fires leading to the death of her husband, son and brother, she’s unwillingly take from her people and “returned” back to her land.
Wealtheow is presented as selfish as she encourages her husband to make her nephew next in line to throne rather than having Beowulf succeed her husband leading her nephew to the brutally murder her two son. The final battle presents the ignorance of human beings, if the fugitive didn’t steal then there would’ve have been no battle. Nonetheless we are also shown a truly selfless- Wiglaf – human in poem where it seems that they’re presented as equally or even more so as evil as the monsters. He provides his king with aid and enters a battle where many noble would fear to enter. in my opinion I believe that monsters and humans aren’t entirely opposed, however in points of the poem humans posses monstrous attributes and vice versa, if we take a closer look at this allegorical poem the message of the poem is clear –good always over powers evil and vengeance shouldn’t be sought after as it ends in shed blood. Loyalty is important trait – it’s evidently shown through the persona Wiglaf and through the maternal vengeance of Grendel’s mother. In the poem we come to wonder if Beowulf’s reputation is more important to him than his heroic acts, even when it came to battle Beowulf- despite his old age insisted on fighting the dragon himself. The concluding words of the poem, declare that Beowulf was “most eager for fame’ (3182) . To draw a conclusion, all the humans seemingly betray one another in the poem and we see a strong familial bond between Grendel and his mother than the human character, the dragon shows reasonable motives – retrieving his belongings back.
When Beowulf Met the Bible
Despite origins in a pagan culture, Beowulf features numerous Judeo-Christian images. Beowulf was originally composed by various scops and bards, who shared the stories of the epic hero Beowulf as a didactic tool to spread ideals such as honoring courage and valuing loyalty. Although Beowulf was handed down from bard to bard orally, it was eventually set down by a Christian monk (Leeming 19). The written version featured slight alterations to the epic poem in order to include more allusions to the Old and New Testaments. The changes to Beowulf allowed it to circulate Christian values in addition to traditional Anglo-Saxon values. Anglo-Saxon monks inserted Christian imagery into the epic poem Beowulf to disseminate their religion across England.
The opening lines of Beowulf are constructed to evoke images relating to Genesis. The poem alludes to “the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling/The Almighty making the earth” – in essence the creation of the earth (ll.6-7). The inclusion of this imagery by the monk is primarily to spread the message of creation – that G-d created everything, a foundational teaching in Judeo-Christian tradition. Canto 1 also contains numerous references to light and illumination, representative of both the creation of the universe and the dichotomy of heaven and hell. The images commonly associated with divine creation were added by monks to subtly educate the populace on the Christian beliefs.
Grendel is introduced with a direct allusion to the Bible, described as a descendant of Cain. Cain is the original murderer, and his sin is continually carried out by his progeny as well. Grendel not only evokes the imagery of sin, but also of the devil. He is described as making his home on earth a hell, as well as possessing “hell-forged hands” – a kenning that exemplifies his sinful power (l.64). Beowulf’s eventual victory over Grendel can be viewed as a metaphorical victory over sin. Monks included demonic and biblical descriptions of Grendel to highlight the downfall of sin and the importance of its defeat.
Beowulf’s battle with Grendel is not only a religious metaphor but also a direct biblical allusion. Beowulf’s decision to wrestle Grendel barehanded evokes the story of Jacob and the angel. For defeating the angel, Jacob earns a literal name for himself, Israel. For defeating Grendel, Beowulf makes a figurative name for himself as he establishes his reputation as a “warrior worth[y] to rule over men” and set the path to his ultimate kingship (l.542). The parallels between the two battles also lies within their timeframe – both happen before the break of day. The monks alluded to Jacob’s struggle with the angel to emphasize the similarities between the older pagan traditions and the newer Christian traditions.
The events leading up to Beowulf’s confrontation with Grendel also have a direct biblical allusion, in this instance the Last Supper. Upon being accepted as the savior of the Danes, Beowulf is invited to “a banquet in [his] honor” – an event that can be viewed as a communion (l.223). The meal features a large cup that is passed around the table and drunk by all, similar to the Holy Chalice passed around at Jesus’ last meal. Additionally, Beowulf asks his men to stay awake with him but they all fall asleep after the large banquet, just as the disciples dozed instead of serving as a lookout for Jesus when he was to be taken. Again, the monks include these direct references to the Bible to relate the Christian culture to the Anglo-Saxons.
Beowulf is one of the many tools utilized by Christian monks to assimilate their religion into Anglo-Saxon culture. As Thomas Foster notes, “Beowulf is largely about the coming of Christianity into the old paganism of northern Germanic society” – the significance of the poem is not only its literary nature, but the role it had in spreading Christianity throughout the British island (Foster 46). The added Christian images serve largely the same purpose as the original poem, as a tool to educate the people about values and traditions. The biblical allusions only serve to reinforce the didactic nature of the epic. The Christian monks employed the addition of religious images to the pagan epic poem Beowulf in order to spread a religious message.
The Issue Of Immortality in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” And The “Beowulf”
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the character Gilgamesh exemplifies the value of immortality in the Babylonian culture. Similarly, in Beowolf, Beowulf portrays a different idea regarding immortality and how immortality can be achieved. The only way that Gilgamesh can be able to achieve immortality is through the works of cultural accomplishments. These being things such as what he has built, which will last long after his death. Rather than searching the earth on a journey to find something that will grant immortality, Beowulf attempts great deeds such as performing heroic acts of bravery or displaying exceptional physical ability. By performing these acts, Beowulf receives a generous amount of recognition which will be glorified and remembered in songs and stories long after he is gone. These differences in ideology highlight major variations between Babylonian and Anglo-Saxon cultures and how a hero exemplifies the value of his culture. Gilgamesh and Beowulf are very different heroes from different cultures.
In the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is a power-hungry and arrogant tyrant. Although he is a hero, which is defined as “a figure in whom the gods take a special interest” Gilgamesh is also very flawed. He abuses his people, beats up men and rapes women. His people can’t bare him any longer and pray to the gods for relief. Anu commands the goddess Aruru to create an equal for Gilgamesh: Enkidu. Gilgamesh meets Enkidu before he is about to rape another woman. Enkidu wrestles him to stop him and they quickly become friends. Gilgamesh civilizes Endiku. The author of The Epic of Gilgamesh writes, “But Enkidu knew nothing about these things, so he sat and stared at the cooked food and the beer for a very long time, not knowing what to do. Then Shamhat, the harlot, the temple prostitute, said: ‘Enkidu, this is the food and drink men eat and drink. Eat and drink your fill.’ So Enkidu ate his fill of the cooked food, and drank the beer. Seven jugs of the beer and he was suddenly joyful, and sang aloud. Then he washed his hairy body, anointed himself with oil, and dressed his body in new clothes, so that he looked as beautiful as a bridegroom.” When the Bull of Heaven attacks Gilgamesh’s city of Uruk, he and Enkidu team up to kill it. Not only does this show strength and courage on Gilgamesh’s part, but there is also no further mentioning of his abusive behavior now that Enkidu has come into his life. However, the gods kill Enkidu by making him sick as punishment. Gilgamesh mourns his lost friend and admits to himself that he is afraid of death. He then goes on a journey to find immortality.
Beowulf, on the other hand, is much less of a bad role model at the start of Beowulf. “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.” This passage is from the first few lines of Beowulf. It is clear that courage is central to the idea of greatness for Beowulf. This ultimate form of greatness is something that Beowulf immediately tries to achieve. What these heroes exemplify about their respective cultures is their different views on immortality. The Babylonians designate a strong emphasis on the importance of culture and civilization over the wild and unknown nature. The outside world is a strange and mysterious place to the Babylonians. This is because they had no way of knowing what was really out in the outside world. This same idea translates into their view and perception of death since it was outside their control. Gilgamesh says, “I am going to die!-am I not like Enkidu?! Deep sadness penetrates my core, I fear death, and now roam the wilderness-I will set out to the region of Utanapishtim, son of Ubartutu, and will go with utmost dispatch!” This is a perfect instance where he admits his fear of death, which illustrates this central idea in Babylonian culture. However, civilization is something that is controllable and therefore understandable to the Babylonians. Moreover, it is something that they are able to develop which gives them a sense of dominance.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, there is a authority of culture over the wilds of nature. The building of cultural achievements, which last long after one has deceased, is the most important form of immortality to the Babylonians. It advances their culture and is something that they have physical control over. The idea of the afterlife, as held the Anglo-Saxons, is hard to determine since there is little evidence left. Yet from the hero Beowulf in Beowulf, we know that it differs greatly from the Babylonian culture of The Epic of Gilgamesh. In Beowulf, the idea of lof translates into “glory” or “praise”. In Beowulf, “Lof indicates what people say about a person once that person dies.” It is very significant to the Anglo-Saxons because it was through the acts of glory and heroic deeds that one would be remembered long after they are death. Unlike the Babylonians who seemed to fear the unknown of death, the Anglo-Saxons seem to fear about being forgotten once they died. This also differs from the Babylonian idea because rather than being remembered through deeds, the Babylonians would be remembered through great cultural works.
Although both heroes in these different cultures seem to differ in the how they obtain immortality, both Babylonian and Anglo-Saxon cultures were engrossed with the concept of not being forgotten by generations long after they have passed.
Beowulf: The Heroic Traits and Deeds
The Classic Hero
The epic poem Beowulf, written by an unknown author and translated by Seamus Heaney ensues of a valiant hero named Beowulf and his heroic deeds during the Anglo-Saxon era. Beowulf is a culmination of Christian traditions with a folk story that extols virtues of faith, courage and loyalty in the face of extreme dangers and even death. It portrays a model of man willing to die to deliver his fellow men from terrifying evil forces.
Beowulf is continuously admired for his many heroic deeds he has committed in the past. This long standing reputation has created a mentality of him being invincible in the face of death. Because of Beowulf’s outlook on extreme dangers, he emphasizes his bravery and courage such as battling an infamous “monster” without a sword for protection; “Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword and shelter of the broad shield, the heavy war board. Hand to hand is how it will be, a life and death fight with the fiend (435). Although Beowulf’s decision to fight grendel seems boastful at first, his true intentions are still deemed noble. This indicator shows how confident he is in his abilities to defeat the great “monster” Grendel. He has battled many beasts before, victorious over multiples of monsters (459).
Loyalty to one’s leader or king is also a prominent theme in Beowulf. Even after Beowulf has defeated Grendel, he is celebrated greatly and given many treasures from King Hrothgar. These treasures are immediately given to Beowulf’s King, Hygelac as a gift from Beowulf himself. Beowulf expresses his decision to give his king his treasure as he says, “Beowulf had brought his king horses and treasure—as a man must, not weaving nets of malice for his comrades, preparing their death in the dark, with secret, cunning tricks” (1913). Although Beowulf sacrificed his own life along with the lives of his men, he returned home in celebration to give his earnings to his king. This deed is ironic because the king himself already has his own wealth, and yet Beowulf shows his loyalty to the king in doing this. This gift represents a courteous bow to his liege. He does not wish to anger his king or try to overthrow him, almost a symbol of acknowledging the king’s superiority over Beowulf and Beowulf respecting the status of their relationship; king and thane.
The most emphasized of the virtues in this epic poem is the idea of having faith in God. The story sets up the background of Grendel’s heritage as descendants of Cain, “god cursed” and “the bane of the race of men” (711). By addressing Grendel in this way, it illustrates a power that God has over the cursed or damned. He chooses who is bad and who is good, like santa except if you’re bad you become a monster with talons. This traditional pagan and christian belief is repeated throughout the entire piece, even again when Beowulf battles Grendel’s mother when the poem states, “And the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth had the strong links and locks of his war-gear not helped to save him: holy God decided the victory” (1553) Although Beowulf, a mortal man is battling an enemy by himself, he still reveres the idea that God won the battle for him by choosing Beowulf as the winner. This relates to the traditional idea of fate and that all things are set in place. This can be paralleled with God’s choice to already have a plan set out in someone’s life and to just let him put you on that path.
In this epic poem, many characters and ideas are represented in the telling of events, many including the virtues of faith, courage and loyalty. The actions of Beowulf and his warriors exemplify the faith one has in his leader, the courage to defeat infamous monsters, and the ability to stay loyal to a superior after it all. Beowulf is a true model of a real hero and although he can be seen as boastful and fame-seeking, he epitomizes the genuine idea of a leader to be followed and a loyal warrior.
Frankenstein, Beowulf, and Heart of Darkness: How Being Human is Defined in Each
A theme is a serious attempt by an author to observe and record life in order to reveal some truth or some common characteristic of life. Themes aim to uncover aspects of a common human existence; and because these themes discuss the common human existence, universal truths have been revealed in separate bodies of literature. The observations made in assorted literature texts converge in an attempt to answer the timeless question: what is the meaning of being distinctly human? And although various writings have tried to respond to the posed question, a similar insight has been highlighted: humans are defined by the three pieces of Frankenstein, Beowulf, and Heart of Darkness coincide upon the same insight.
One shared topic of literature concerns characters and their struggle against monsters. Through character development, the universal notion that those who pursue monsters obsessively inevitably become one as well is revealed. This change is often fueled by ambition and the natural human instinct to be recognized and admired.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein creates a creature whom he brings to life; however, Victor spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the monster he has made. Initially, the monster is a permutation of his creator. For example, although the monster is made in the form of man, his grotesque combination of features and large stature sets him apart; also, just as Victor isolated himself from society and “procrastinate[d] all that related to…[his]…feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of..[his]…nature, should be completed”, the monster is isolated from society (Shelley 33). However, because of Victor’s denial and hate of the monster, he becomes one himself. Victor begins to see the monster’s actions as his actions as well; although it is the monster that has murdered William, Justine, and Henry, Victor Frankenstein “called…[himself]… the murderer of William, of Justine, and of Clerval. Sometimes…[he]…intreated my attendants to assist…[him] in the destruction of the fiend by whom I was tormented” (130). Frankenstein has created a monster, and in doing so has monster of himself because of his refusal to accept his creation. This morphing into a beast is initiated by ambition and intense desire for recognition.
In the epic poem Beowulf, the main character battles monsters in the pursuit of personal glory. However, in this pursuit, Beowulf shares characteristics with monsters he fights, ultimately becoming a monster in his own form. The first monster Beowulf battles is Grendel. Grendel is a monster that has been isolated from society because of his monstrosity and his grotesqueness. In a similar sense, Beowulf isolates himself from the community bond in his desire for glory: he attempts to fights each battle alone. In the description of the battle, both Beowulf’s and Grendel’s are paralleled: both, “venturing closer / his talon was raised to attack Beowulf / where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in / with open claw when the alert hero’s / comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly. / The captain of evil discovered himself / in a handgrip harder than anything / he had ever encountered in any man / on the face of earth”, are portrayed as good wrestlers and as warriors who refuse to give up. Beowulf is similar to the dragon as well. Just “as was the dragon, / for all his long leasehold on the treasure,” Beowulf hoards glory (Heaney 159). In fact, it is Beowulf’s ambition and pursuit of glory that leads to his death when he claims that “This fight is not yours, / nor is it up to any man except [him] / to measure his strength against the monster / or to prove his worth. [He] shall win the gold / by [his] courage, or else mortal combat, / doom of battle, will bear your lord away,” (171). In the end, Beowulf’s shared characteristics with the monsters is what causes to become one in the sense that his desire for glory is his motivation.
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kurtz, motivated by ambition as well, becomes the monster he is trying contend with. Kurtz decides to go into the depths of Africa in pursuit of ivory, with the ambition of selling it and making money. However, as he fights against the native “savages”, his brutality ironically makes him a savage monster as well. During his stay in Africa, as Kurtz took advantage of the natives, he began to “forget himself amongst [those] people…forget himself” (Conrad 52).
Bravery, Honor, and Selflessness in Battle: a Review of Beowulf and His Heroic Traits
The Heroism of Beowulf
A hero is the personification of values such as bravery, sacrifice, and honor. There are two main characters in the epic poem Beowulf; one character obviously possesses these heroic traits, but the other is strongly the opposite of them. Beowulf always shows courage in battles. Grendel, on the other hand, acts very much like a coward throughout the entire story. Beowulf fights with honor and dignity while Grendel only fights battles he is certain to win. Similarly, Beowulf fights his battles selflessly while Grendel always has a selfish motive for his actions. The courageous Beowulf always fights an honorable and selfless battle, which proves he is more of a hero than the cowardly and often selfish Grendel.
Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he exemplifies extraordinary courage in everything. Beowulf”s courage is evident immediately in his story. When Grendel attacked the town, “each warrior tried to escape him” because they believed “the only survivors were those who fled him” and they had no courage to stay and fight (Beowulf 53-58). Beowulf, however, reacted in a completely opposite way. He “heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king” because he desired to help when no one else was willing to (Beowulf 112-114). Beowulf was willing to take on the monster, in spite of the fact that everyone else had run in fear, for he believed it was his duty to protect the people of that town. Another example if his courage came a short time later when he declares how he will fight the beast. It is common knowledge that weapons have no power against Grendel, but instead of running from this seemingly impossible battle, Beowulf simply says, “my hands alone shall fight for me” and takes on the challenge (Beowulf 173). He does not question how he will make it work or worry that he might fail. He doesn’t even fear failure or death, but instead faces it head on with all the courage he is known for. Furthermore, Beowulf knew the battle would be dangerous but he shrugged his shoulders and said “fate will unwind as it must” and prepared himself to fight will all his strength, to the death if that would be necessary (Beowulf 189). Beowulf never once ran from danger and he took on any battle, even if there was a chance he could lose. Grendel, on the other hand, showed a lack of courage because he ran from danger and tried to run whenever he began to lose the fight. When Beowulf caught Grendel off guard and started to win the battle, “Grendel’s one thought was to run from Beowulf, flee back to his marsh and hide there” because he didn’t have the courage that Beowulf possessed (Beowulf 279). Beowulf showed his courage by never giving up and never running from a fight, no matter how difficult or dangerous it might be.
Additionally, Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he is honorable in his battles. Grendel is known for hunting at night and attacking when he knows that no one is capable of fighting back. In his first attack on the soldiers in the mead hall, “he found them sprawled in sleep, suspecting nothing” and knew he would win that fight, so he did not hesitate to murder the men (Beowulf 33-34). Similarly, he always waited around until he knew that no one was awake or prepared to fight back before he entered the room. Between attacks he “stalked Hrothgar’s warriors, old and young, lying in waiting, hidden in mist, invisibly following them from the edge of the marsh, always there, unseen” (Beowulf 75-78). Grendel always made sure he had the upperhand and could win the battle easily and without any risk of losing. Beowulf, in contrast, always fought honorably, even if that meant he could potentially lose the battle and his life. Beowulf knew that Grendel did not use weapons and that no sword could defeat the beast. For that reason, he left his sword behind and battled Grendel on the same level, hand to hand combat. In this part of the story, Beowulf is very much like Fezzik in the Princess Bride, who says “We face each other as God intended… sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone” (Goldman, 1987, “The Man in Black Versus Fezzik”). He was willing to fight the battle fairly, though he knew Grendel could not be relied on to do the same. When Beowulf’s men try to come to his aid they find that, once again, Grendel had attempted to turn the battle in his favor by casting a spell that made all mortal weapons useless. In spite of this, Beowulf always fought honorably in battle and never once tried to cheat or trick Grendel in any way.
Finally, Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he is always selfless in his battles. Every battle that Grendel fought was for selfish reasons. He attacked the mead hall because he liked the thrill and the people were annoying him, which is no reason to murder innocent people who have no chance to fight back. After these attacks he was “delighted with his night’s slaughter” and felt no remorse whatsoever (Beowulf 40). For him, “no crime could ever be enough, no savage assault ever quench his lust for evil” and therefore he came back every night and killed again, always for the selfish reason of pleasing himself (Beowulf 50-53). Beowulf, on the other hand, fights selflessly and never engages in a battle merely for pleasure. He risks his life to defeat a monster that is killing innocent people. He was not required to fight this battle but he chose to so he could spare the lives of men who could not fight for themselves. He was willing to give his own life for strangers because he felt it was his calling to do so. Grendel wasn’t even attacking Beowulf”s home; the battle took place in a completely different region, but Beowulf left the comfort of his home to fight a battle he felt lead to take on. He didn’t hesitate because he knew he was doing it not for his pleasure or another selfish reason but for the good of the other people involved. Beowulf demonstrates his selflessness by risking his life for people who were complete strangers but needed his help.
Hence, Beowulf always displays courage while fighting his battles in an honorable and fair way and exhibiting selflessness, proving that he is more heroic than Grendel who is selfish and cowardly. Beowulf always shows courage in his battles and, unlike Grendel, would never run from a fight, even if he suspected he could lose. Moreover, he always fights his battles with honor and sportsmanship, even when he knows his enemy, specifically Grendel, will not. Finally, Beowulf never fights a selfish fight; while Grendel worries about his own life and pleasure, Beowulf puts others above himself in every situation. In the battle of who demonstrates heroism through the entire story, Beowulf is once again victorious over his enemy, Grendel.