Beowulf Young and Old
Despite Beowulf’s almost supernatural strength, stamina and stature, he ages just the same as any other human being. In the human life cycle, one generally begins naive and inexperienced and ages into an adult of more wisdom and knowledge. Akin to others in his time, Beowulf starts as a young fearless warrior and grows into an aged prudent king. From the beginning of his life as a warrior to the end as a king, he gains and develops glory, responsibility and courage, all vital to his reign as a successful king. Beowulf’s responsibility differs from a warrior to a king.
As a young fighter he has responsibility to his Geatish king as well as to Hrothgar. His king, Hyglac, relies on Beowulf to represent him and the Geats; Hrothgar depends on Beowulf to save his people from the aggressor Grendel. Beowulf professes to Hrothgar “To heighten Hygelac’s fame and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of the broad shield,” (435-448), which shows his dedication and responsibility for the reputation of his leader. As he grows older and wiser, his responsibilities change from warrior to king.
As king of the Geats he has a reputation to maintain and the responsibility to protect his people. When the dragon attacks, he sacrifices his well-being for the safety of the Geats despite his justified forecast of his own death. It is apparent that the older Beowulf has much more responsibility in comparison to the young Beowulf. He not only has to protect his own people from the predator, but his own life as well because of the importance of his leadership. Beowulf’s virtues of courage and strength appear throughout the poem during his life as a warrior and as a king.
He begins the story with courage and “the strength of thirty / in the grip of each hand” (380-381), which are vital to his accomplishments as a warrior. His courage and strength are apparent when he fights Grendel without the use of weapons. Both virtues are crucial to his success in that battle and lead him to become a leader of wisdom and stature. As king of Heorot he uses his courage and strength in the battle against the dragon.
Before the fight he has a feeling of uncertainty and it is stated “He was sad at heart / unsettled yet ready, sensing his death. His fate hovered near, unknowing but certain: / It would soon claim his coffered soul. ” (2419-2424). His sense of forthcoming death may illustrates a lack of confidence in his ability to slay the dragon; however, it also shows tremendous courage by involving himself in an unevenly matched fight. Although his physical strength may have abandoned him in his last fight against the dragon, his courage and wisdom intensified his glory beyond his death. Beowulf’s fame and glory is essential to him much like it is to the rest of the Norse culture.
When Beowulf first appears to Hrothgar he makes an effort to brag regarding his achievements as a warrior and claims “‘They had seen me bolstered in the blood of enemies / when I battled and bound five beasts, / raided a troll-nest and in the night-sea / slaughtered sea-brutes’” (419-423). His bragging and well known reputation convinces Hrothgar that he is a capable warrior ready to commence the retaliation on Grendel. Even after Beowulf has received recognition for his bravery and success in the fight against Grendel, he still brags in order to maintain and enhance his fame.
Even as he was near death, he was “Inspired again / by the thought of glory, the war-king knew / his whole strength behind a sword-stroke…” (2677-2679) which demonstrates the importance of fame to Beowulf. Beowulf’s aging does not seem to change his demeanor other than the gain of responsibility and the natural loss of some physical strength which occurs in all human beings. The same confidence and mentality in Beowulf seems to recur throughout the poem although his responsibility grows as he takes on the position as king.
Glory also appears throughout the story as motivation for him in his battles. In contrast to his courage, his differs greatly from his position as a warrior to a king especially in his fight against the dragon. Some may argue his death was irresponsible because it left Heorot kingless; however, he had the courage that no one else embodied to kill the dragon. He sacrifices his own life in the battle in order to save his land which not only shows extreme responsibility for his people but bravery as well.