Beowulf as an Epic Hero in Burton Raffel’s Translation of the Story Beowulf.
There are many stories heard growing up as children, some old and others new. The story Beowulf, is believed to be the oldest major literature to have been written in the English language. This historic epic was written by an unknown poet, and dates back to between the 8th and 11th centuries. Tragedy almost struck in 1731 when the leather manuscript of Beowulf was nearly destroyed while under the custody of Sir Robert Cotton while in his library( British). In this epic story, the protagonist of this script is Beowulf, prince of the Geats from Scandinavia (sparknotes).
He continuously portrays features that no ordinary human being could acquire including eternal fame, extraordinary skill, and heroic courage. It is interesting to read about all his extraordinary hero qualities. In Anglo-Saxon culture, immortality was believed to be attainable through the gain of fame and glory by the act of doing noble deeds (HubPages). It was also possible by spreading one’s personal name throughout the land. In this epic, the concept is played quite well by the deeds Beowulf portrays as an epic hero; he not only saves the day, but spreads his name through the land.
He introduces himself to Hrothgar, King of Danes, speaking of his bouts with five giants leading to his single handed removal of the giant race from the earth. He also leads to speak of fighting and defeating many sea monsters underwater at the deep depths of the darkest oceans (Beowulf 31). These deeds show the characteristics in Beowulf that many epic heroes seem to possess like defeating demonic, and god-like foes saving the day and in turn adding to the notoriety of the heroes name, aiding to their belief of immortality.
Beowulf further pursues fame and glory by aiding Hrothgar in defeating the demon Grendel which has ran amuck in the kingdoms mead hall Herot and killed soldiers of the crown. By ripping Grendel’s arm, Beowulf ensures his fame as keeping it as a trophy and mounting it over Herot for all to observe. But an epic hero like Beowulf never is sated with fame so throughout his lifetime he continues to defy odds and accomplish heroic deeds spreading his name and giving him his sense of immortality.
In order for an epic hero to be an epic hero he cannot just achieve high notoriety, he must have the skill to defeat the demons bent to kill all mankind. But not just a regular warriors skill can defeat a demon conceived by Satan and evil, the heroes skill must match that of the gods. A good depiction of Beowulf’s extraordinary skill is the moment when he first battles Grendel choosing to fight bare-handed in order to give the opponent a “fair fight” (Beowulf 31). This feat shows that Beowulf believes he has the skill to defeat the monster Grendel and shows a sort of chivalry among him by honoring his opponent’s condition.
Beowulf also has skill in strength and speed, catching and nearly breaking back Grendel’s clawed fingers on his hand as he slashed to swoop and eat a light sleeping Beowulf; later leading to Beowulf ripping of Grendel’s arm (Beowulf 33). Afterwards revenge is sought by Beowulf after Grendel’s mother abducts and eats the kings trusted noble and friend Aeschere leading him to use his incredible skill to swim for hours underwater to her lair at the bottom depths of a dark lake resulting in her death by Beowulf adding to his fame.
Beowulf as an epic hero needed courage in order to make skill useful and be able to gain more fame. Many courageous acts are done by Beowulf firstly with the simple act of battling a huge demon like Grendel without the use of neither weapons, nor armor for protection. Going without weapons shows the courage in Beowulf and the lack of fear even after removing the little help given to provide a fair fight for Grendel. Afterwards, Beowulf continues to display great courage by gaining revenge from Grendel’s mom and battling her under water while sea creatures watched (Beowulf 39).
These examples of courage show that Beowulf is willing to battle and defeat any foe, no matter the cost in order to save the day. Epic heroes through time have had the same characteristics. These include the ability to bring exceptional skill to battle against many demons and evil doers. These traits combined with the courage of a man which fears nothing aides Beowulf in being able to defeat many of his foes throughout the tale.
To Beowulf, hearing of Grendel terrorizing the mead hall is more of a blessing than a problem for it allowed Beowulf the opportunity to slay a creature and build his name through the land of Danes. Ending in epic victory, these qualities are expressed throughout the stories and even though made king, Beowulf never ceases to reach his goal of the world’s greatest fighter having unmatched fame through the land, skill of many men, and the courage greater than that of any man or creature ever to be found.