Grendel and Fictional Hero Beowulf
Beowulf: The Author’s Insight to Characters in the Story Beowulf, the longest surviving poem in Old English and one of the earliest European epics written in the vernacular, tells of the journeys of the fictional hero Beowulf. The first part of the story tells of Beowulf’s adventures in Denmark, where he battled the monstrous creature Grendel and his mother (also a creature) on behalf of King Hrothgar, the King of Danes.
The second part of the story narrates his later life, including his fight with a fire-dragon while he reigned as King of Geatland. A translator of Beowulf, Burton Raffel, once remarked that “of all the many-sided excellences” of the poem, one of the most satisfying “is the poet’s insight into people. ” With this statement, I agree. The poet does a great job dyfying the emotions, nature, and emotional struggles of the many characters in this story. He gives insight to the knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons at that time.
At the beginning of The Coming of Beowulf, the author writes that “…the living sorrow of Helfdane’s son [Hrothgar]/Simmered, bitter and fresh, and no wisdom/or strength could break it: that agony hung/ on king and people alike…”(104-107) This tremendous pain was due to Grendel’s many years of attacks. It shows that the King was not alone in his greif and that just as we do today, the Anglo-Saxons mourned for their dead men. Later on as he describes Beowulf he writes Beowulf is the “.. Strongest of the Geats-greater/and stronger than anyone in this world. (110/111) “.. he was loved by the Geats…”(118) “.. the bravest and best of the Geats…”(121) Also, throughout the story, Beowulf not only retells stories of his adventures but he boasts, sometimes going on and on about himself. Unlike Beowulf, Hrothgar is not as brave. He wishes to save his people from this monster but he is aged and more emotional than Beowulf. In most of the story Hrothgar is either sharing his wisdom with Beowulf or grieving. This wasn’t typical of many kings but for some reason, unknown to me, the writer decided to make the King seem almost weak.
This is a great example of human nature. The saying “The older, the wiser” plays a part here. Hrothgar knows he cannot fight but he shares all the wisdom he can with Beowulf. A small but moderately important character in Beowulf is Unferth. He is the man who tries to challenge Beowulf’s honor. Thus, showing that Unferth is in fact jealous of hero and how Hrothgar treats him with the up most respect. Jealousy is always a large part of a story. In most tales, there is someone, creature or man, that will either challenge of envy the hero, just as in real life.
Though the text we read did not go into detail about this, I do believe it is important. The last character to analyze is Wiglaf. Wiglaf is a Geat, one of Beowulf’s men, who, in the end, is the most loyal warrior to Beowulf. After many years had passed, a dragon attacked Beowulf’s kingdom and when he went to fight (and began to lose), Wiglaf was the only soldier willing to help Beowulf. Wiglaf becomes the second hero of the story. “…it’s breath flared/And he suffered, wrapped around in swirling/Flames- a king, before, but now/ a beaten warrior.
None of his comrades/Came to him”(706-708) “…and only one of them/remained, stood there, miserable, remembering,/as a good man must, what kinship should mean. ”(711-713) That comrade was Wiglaf. In the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, and many of us today, what Wiglaf did was the right and most noble thing to do. This action demonstrates bravery, courage and human instinct. Not only did he have to save Beowulf, the kingdom was still in danger from the dragon that Beowulf failed to slay. In the end, the best part was how Beowulf gave his necklace and armor to Wiglaf.
In doing this, he silently told Wiglaf that he was in charge now, that he would be king and to Wiglaf it was a great honor. “Then that brave King gave the Golden/Necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf…”(831-832). After Beowulf died, Wiglaf went back to the men and denounce all of them who did not attempt to rescue their brave king Beowulf. It was a brilliant ending. The poet of Beowulf use the insights of Love, Hate, Jealousy, Revenge, Betrayal, Struggle between good and evil, and the Desire to be victorious, in the Anglo-Saxon human nature. All which are only some of the insights humans show today.