Beowulf, the Epic Hero
Beowulf, the Epic Hero There have been many grand stories about great warriors, and champions; those about epic heroes however, are the truly exceptional tales. One such tale, over a thousand years old, stands out from all the rest: Beowulf, the tale of a great warrior, on his quest to achieve eternal glory, defeating great opponents. Throughout the whole story, Beowulf demonstrates most –if not all- of the qualities that an archetypal hero possesses. He embodies the highest ideals of his culture, travels to find adventure, and is not emotionally connected to his followers.
Beowulf undertakes his journey to achieve something of great value to himself and society, defeats monsters, yet maintains humanity. Although Beowulf experiences human emotions and feelings, he is able to master and control them very well, and he will be remembered forever, achieving a type of immortality. Firstly, Beowulf is considered to be “larger than life” by mostly everybody he comes in contact with, owing to the fact that he exemplifies the highest ideals of the culture. These values include valour, courage, a sense of justice, dignity and persistence.
Throughout the tale, Beowulf demonstrates his valour and courage with his numerous battles with Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, the Dragon, and his swimming match with Breca. Not only that, he also cuts his arm off in the battle with the Dragon, an act that requires more courage and bravery than the typical human capable of possessing. Beowulf’s main character foil, Unferth, stated himself,”Yours is the blood of courage. ” It is clear that Beowulf has a great sense of justice, although sometimes it is quite exuberated; he gives Finn of Frisia a weapon to kill him with, and he also fought Grendel as an equal, without any clothes or weapons.
This is an example of Beowulf’s heroic dignity as well. One quality that is continually evident throughout the story is Beowulf’s persistence. He never forfeits a battle, or passes up a challenge. He follows things through until the end, whatever end that may be. Secondly, Beowulf travels to find his adventure. Rarely are challenges thrust upon him; he goes seeking them. When Beowulf first hears of Grendel, his fondness for adventure and pride brings him to Heorot Hall, of Hrothgar, king of the Danes. This adventure leads him through the deadly, stormy sea, quite an escapade in itself.
After defeating Grendel, Beowulf travels to the perilous cave of Grendel’s Mother, even though he is not required too. Years later, Beowulf returns to rid his kingdom of the Dragon, another act of his obsession with adventure and pride. Thirdly, Beowulf is not emotionally connected to his followers, even though they die for him and he fights for them. In the first battle with Grendel in Heorot Hall, Beowulf watches idly while his fellow Geats mindlessly run into battle with the monster; most to their deaths.
It is only after Grendel kills several of the Geats that Beowulf attacks. Following the battle –in which he is victorious- Beowulf wants to drink to victory, whereas a more compassionate warrior –a fellow Geat, Wiglaf- states that he is not in the mood after the death of all his fellow men, proving Beowulf’s selfishness. The only exception for this rule would be Beowulf’s relationship with Wiglaf. He calls Wiglaf his “old friend”, and makes him the heir to the throne. “Are you still with me? ” Beowulf asks him before the battle with the Dragon.
Wiglaf replies, “To the end. ” Fourthly, it is obvious that Beowulf is undertaking all of these tasks in order to achieve something of great value to him. His overall objective is to achieve glory for himself. Beowulf states it himself, when the Geats first arrive at Heorot Hall, “If we die… it will be for glory, not gold. ” This axiom shapes Beowulf’s lifestyle around his quest for fame, always a factor in every decision he makes. After every victory he attains, Beowulf screams, “I AM BEOWULF! ” another egotistical act.
Aside from pride, Beowulf also was fighting Grendel for Wealthow, the Queen, for whom King Hrothgar promises Beowulf if he be successful in slaying the beast. Later in life, when Beowulf is crowned King, he asserts himself greater by chasing after the Dragon, to protect his kingdom. Another obvious heroic characteristic that Beowulf portrays is the defeat of monsters and other malevolence. He does this throughout the story, not only using brute force, but also cunning tactics, such as the time when he attacks Grendel’s extremely sensitive ears.
Beowulf also disposes of Grendel’s Mother, using a gigantic sword in her lair to decapitate her, and ends the reign of terror on the Danes. Years later, after Beowulf is crowned King, his land is assailed by the Dragon. This epic battle proves just how valiant Beowulf actually is, going after the beast single-handedly, instead of endangering any of his men. It is a long, hard-fought battle, in which Beowulf contests with all his might. Beowulf ultimately kills the Dragon –rips out its heart-, but not without a price; the battle costs the King his life.
Although the acts of battle and heroism that Beowulf performs are anything but human, he manages to maintain a sense of benevolence. During a Frisian invasion, in which the assailants are no match for the Geats and Danes, Beowulf states, “This is not battle, Wiglaf. This is slaughter. ” When a prisoner is captured in this battle, Beowulf prevents the men from teasing and ridiculing him, demanding that they kill him swiftly, and respectfully. When this man, Finn of Frisia, challenges him, Beowulf accepts and gives Finn full opportunity to strike him down, undefended.
When Finn cannot bring himself to do it –also showing humanity-, Beowulf spares his life. “Give him a gold piece and send him home. He has a story to tell. ” As his final act of munificence, Beowulf sacrifices his arm –and ultimately his life- to protect his wife, Queen Wealthow, as well as his new mistress, from the Dragon. As a penultimate point, Beowulf does experience typical human feelings and emotions, however, he is able to master and control them far greater than the average person is. When Beowulf first arrives to the land of the Danes, a messenger is sent out to interrogate them.
Beowulf’s right-hand-man, Wiglaf, immediately grabs for his sword. Beowulf, on the other hand, acts calmly and tells Wiglaf to sheath the sword. Another instance in which Beowulf masters his emotions occurs when the monster, Grendel, bursts into Heorot Hall. Instead of rushing into battle like his fellow Geats, Beowulf bides his time (however selfish it may be), analyzing the monsters weakness, and uses it to his advantage, achieving a victory through patience. The greatest mental feat that Beowulf performs is cutting his arm off, so he could rip out the Dragon’s heart.
This altruistic act requires the highest level of determination, something that few mortals could ever conceive accomplishing. This heroic King knew though, that some things had to be sacrificed for the greater good. Finally, Beowulf will forever be remembered by those preceding him, achieving a type of immortality. His entire life quest revolves around glory, and his desire for eminence. He tells great tales of his accomplishments; his battles with sea monsters and the defeat of Grendel Mother and son. He always makes his presence known and carves his name into people’s hearts. I am Ripper… Tearer… Slasher… Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength… and Lust… and Power! I AM BEOWULF! ” Before his final battle however, Beowulf has a change of heart, and tells his wife to remember him, in a different manner. “Keep a memory of me, not as a king or a hero; but as a man: fallible and flawed. ” After his death, the mourners vow to never forget the great hero. “He was the bravest of all of us, he was the prince of all warriors,” Wiglaf states. “His name will live forever. The Queen adds, “His song shall be sung forever. ” There is no doubt about it; Beowulf is truly an epic hero. He does exemplify the highest ideals of his culture, and travels to find his adventures. It is true that he is not emotionally connected to his followers (for the most part), and achieves something of great value for his journeys. Beowulf defeats countless monsters, and still manages to maintain humanity. He is able to master and control his emotions far better than other humans, and in the end, Beowulf will be remembered forever.