Beowulf Epic Hero Essay
Analysis of Beowulf as an Epic Hero The definition of a hero from ancient times to present day has evolved greatly, but they often still possess characteristics synonymous across all cultures and timespans. In modern times, they are often thought of as role models for others to live up to, and are generally humble, honest, and not afraid to put others in front of themselves. In ancient times, more emphasis was put on strength and fearlessness, and epic heroes were often saviors of the land, sent down to Earth in its time of need by God’s hand.
Beowulf, the main character in the epic poem Beowulf, is blessed with superhuman strength, a magical weapon only he can yield, as well as a fierce sense of loyalty to his people and an obligation to protect them no matter what the cost, earning him the rank of an epic hero. It is typical of an epic hero to be born with immense strength in order to fight off demons and thus protect his people, and Beowulf is no exception. As he is fighting the beast Grendel for the first time, Beowulf manages to defeat him single-handedly with no weapons, as if Grendel never even had a chance.
From the moment Beowulf’s hands met with Grendel’s claws, the monster “Knew at once that nowhere on earth/ Had he met a man whose hands were harder” (l. 42-43). All through the battle, Beowulf kept his grip on the fiend whose jaws could snap any regular humans’ bones with a single bite, eventually ending up ripping Grendel’s arm off at the end of the skirmish. Only an epic hero could muster such a feat, and only him “…Of all the men on earth/ Was the strongest” (l. 80-81).
Although Beowulf is blessed with great strength and can fight off demons with just his bare hands, an epic hero also must have a weapon he can call his own, which is why he has a magical sword only he can use to slay the beasts that threaten his homeland. In the battle with Grendel’s mom in her underwater lair, where things are looking bleak for the legend, he spots this sword hanging on the wall, described as “hammered by the giants” making it “the best of all weapons/ but so massive no ordinary man could lift” (l. 43-245). Beowulf takes this sword off the wall with ease and slays his adversary with it, proving that he is immensely strong, as well as the only mortal that can obtain such a weapon. Even before he picked up the giant-hammered weapon, he had his own sword, Hrunting, that he used to fight his foes in previous clashes. This weapon never let him down in battles before Grendel’s mother, and whenever he would “[swing] his sword/ his ring-marked blade…/ The iron [would sing] its fierce song” (l. 04-206). The fact that Beowulf had a blade that could slay almost any enemy, and he immediately finds a better sword only he can use when that weapon let him down, confirms his worth to the Gods and his role as an epic hero. Beowulf spends most of his time battling brutes and hellions, but remember why he does risk his life to kill these monsters; to protect his people he has a fiery loyalty to, and to create a legacy that will be passed down for eternity.
As Beowulf lays dying from the fatal wounds caused by the dragon, he has some wise words to share with his companions as he beholds the dragon’s riches. In his final moments, thinking of his people he has battled all his life for, he humbly says “I give thanks/ that I behold this treasure here in front of me/ that I have been thus allowed the leave my people/ so well endowed on the day I die” (l. 412-415).
He leaves this treasure to his comrades back home, demonstrating his integrity, yet he still has one more wish before he dies. So nobody will ever forget the great Beowulf and the legacy he left behind, he tells his troops to “construct a barrow/ …on the coast” in his honor, so it will be “…a reminder among [his] people—/ so that in coming times crews under sail/ will call it Beowulf’s Barrow” (l. 419-424).
These last words truly wrap up the character of Beowulf as the courageous and loyal hero he is, knowing that his actions will have made his name memorable for ages to come. The epic poem, Beowulf, clearly demonstrates the Anglo-Saxon ideals of bravery and loyalty, which also happen to be traits that make Beowulf an epic hero, as well as possessing a magical weapon and wanting his legacy to live on.
Although these traits were valued much more long ago, devotion, strength, and courage are still important to many of us today. This text, as it was one of the first written stories that has survived to this day, gives us an insight into what was valued back in that time period, and what people looked up to in a hero. Despite some differences, there are many similarities between the ancient Anglo-Saxon hero and the modern hero, making Beowulf relevant to this day.