Beowulf – the Immortal Hero
Khang Vo Miss Easter English IV 22 February 2012 Beowulf: The Immortal Hero “Hwaet! ” (“Pay attention”! ) So begins Beowulf, one of the oldest surviving works of literature in English. Poet-singers sang about remarkable deeds of an immortal hero named Beowulf for centuries. The voice of the epic poem still resounds today. Beowulf tells about the life and accomplishment of a revered hero – its titular character. In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia, comes to the help of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall (Herot) has been terrorized by a troll-like monster called Grendel.
Beowulf defeats both Grendel and his mother. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf, now an aged king of the Geats, slays a fire-breathing dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle. He is buried in a great tower overlooking the sea. Beowulf is a typical epic hero who embodies the ideals of his Anglo-Saxon society. He is a man who is willing to risk his life in order to prove his superhuman strength and exceptional bravery, at the same time fighting for the greater good. Like Hercules or Achilles, Beowulf possesses superhuman strength.
Ordinary warriors are no match to him. His divine strength surpasses those if his peers “the strongest of the Geats – greater and stronger than anyone in this world” (lines 110-111). He can tear of the arms of Grendel, the monster has been slaughtering Hrothgar’s warriors with ease “Higlac’s brave follower [Beowulf] tearing at his [Grendel’s] hands” (lines 335-336). Grendel is so powerful that none of the Dane is able to hurt him, but Beowulf, alone and without weapon, uses his pure strength to subdue the monster.
His strength comes to trial again when he faces Grendel’s mother in the darkness of her lake. An excellent swimmer, Beowulf dives to the very bottom and fight his enemy “The iron sang its fierce song, sang Beowulf’s strength” (lines 477-478). Although he has to use a sword to finish off the water witch this time, that sword is so heavy that Beowulf’s followers can not carry it alone “so massive that no ordinary man could lift” (line 516). Beowulf’s prowess comes to a final test in the fiery breath of the unnamed dragon.
It is apparent that parts of Beowulf’s strength fade away along with his youth. The hero is still able to, however, withstand the destructive power of the dragon ”The Geats’ great prince stood firm, unmoving, prepared behind his high shield, waiting in his shiny armor” (lines 660-662). He manages to kill the beast in the end, with some help from a young fellow warrior. Just like Beowulf boasts, his physical strength is none of ordinary man, but an epic hero. But strength alone does not make a man hero. It is courage that does.
Being extremely courageous is a typical characteristic of epic heroes. Beowulf performs many brave deeds throughout his life. He voluntarily comes to rescue the Danes form their nightmare. He does not request for aid at all, instead choosing to face Grendel alone and without weapon “My lord Higlac might think less of me if I let my sword go where my feet were afraid to, if I hid behind some board linden shield: my hands alone shall fight for me” (lines169-173). He does not hesitate when being asked to hunt Grendel’s mother at her very lair.
This time not only Beowulf battles a powerful and frightening monster alone, but also he intrude her dark, gloomy, light-forsaken lake “No one knows its bottom, no wisdom reaches such depth” (lines 433-434). He is completely cut off with any help from others. In that extreme circumstance, Beowulf shows no fear or hesitance “He leaped into the lake, would not wait for anyone’s answer” (lines 450-451). He fights Grendel’s mother with all his courage. Later, even at the twilight of his era, Beowulf’s tremendous courage does not give way to the dragon.
He knows the limitation of his age, but he is willing to confront the dragon for his people “Fought with fate against him, with glory denied him. He knew it, but he raised his sword and struck at the dragon’s scaly hide” (lines 669-671). Facing his worst adversary, with broken shield and shattered sword, Beowulf never thinks of hiding or running away, but fighting to the last drop of his blood, as a epic hero will do. Finally, when analyzing a hero, it is unavoidable to mention his motivation. What inspires courage? What drives a hero to go so far?
Why does the hero choose his exhausting, dangerous path with no visible outcome? Does he even regret being a hero? In an epic work of literature, a hero’s motivation can be fame, righteousness, justice or even vengeance. In the case if Beowulf, he embraces his heroic path to help humankind get rid of living terrors, named and unnamed. He sails across the ocean to a foreign country and battles a fearsome, unfamiliar monster just because he wants to help the Danes end their sufferings “He who had come to them from across the sea, bold and strong-minded, had driven affliction off, purged Herot clean” (lines 347-350).
It is not his obligation to embrace such a dangerous mission for the sake of a neighboring country. Yet he is willing to risk his life (and almost lose it) to exterminate an enemy of humankind along with his monstrous mother “He’d traveled to the bottom of the earth, Edgetho’s son, and died there, if that shining woven metal had not helped” (lines 507-509). May be Beowulf wishes to seek fame for himself, too, but in the most part he hopes to make use of his strength and valor for the greater good of the society he lives in “ Ended the grief, the sorrow, the suffering forced on Hrothgar’s helpless people” (lines 353-354).
Though Beowulf has to face not only one but many terrifying supernatural monsters, he takes a great resolve to shrink from no difficulty, following his path till the dark lake or even the end of his life. In his final battle Beowulf sacrifices his life for his people as their hero and their king. He has been ruling his country in peace and prosperity for fifty years “ I’ve worn this crown for fifty winters…ruling as well as I knew how” (lines 744-750) and he ends his reign with the most heroic act: sacrificing himself to restore peace to his land “Leaving life and this people I’ve ruled so long” (lines 762-763).
At long last, no king rules forever. No hero triumphs forever. No man is forever strong and youthful. Beowulf finally comes to his end, but he dies in the most glorious way imaginable in his age: dying in combat after defeating an unstoppable foe. Though Beowulf is dead, his story lives on, being carved in stone. His divine strength, his brave deeds and his selfishness in the face of danger for the greater good live in immortality for generations and generations after him. He is an exceptional man, a true hero.