Not Just an Ordinary Person In order to establish Beowulf as an epic hero in the piece of literature Beowulf, he must possess all or most of the characteristics of an epic hero. An epic hero is the central figure in an epic who has superior qualities and risks personal danger to pursue a grand quest. There are ten specific characteristics that one must have to be considered an epic hero.
One must be significant and glorified, on a quest, and responsible leader. One must also have superior or superhuman strength, intelligence, courage, and ethics.
Lastly, one must risk death for glory or for the greater good of society, perform brave deeds, and reflect the ideals of a particular society. To be looked at as an epic hero, the first three characteristics a person must have are to be glorified, on a quest, and a responsible leader. The Geats say of Beowulf “Now when help was needed. None / Of the wise ones regretted his going, much / As he was loved by the Geats” (lines 116-119). The Geats saying such things about Beowulf tells that he is glorified by his people.
The people of Herot have chosen Beowulf in lines 149-150 “My people have said, the wisest, most knowing / And best of them, that my duty was to go to the Danes’ Great king” to go on a quest to Denmark to kill Grendel and help save their warriors. In order to be recognized as a hero, one must be a responsible leader. One must be willing to put themself ahead of others, take action when needed, take the blame when something goes wrong, and take credit when things go right. In Beowulf’s case, one must know when to bring soldiers, and when to go into battle alone.
In line 679 of Beowulf “Wait for me close by, my friends” Beowulf realizes that nobody can defeat the dragon but him, so he tells his men to stand back so no one gets killed when unnecessary. The qualities that just about all people see are one who has superior strength, intelligence, courage, and ethics. Most people define a hero as a person who has superior or superhuman strength. Beowulf is “the strongest of the Geats- greater / And stronger” than anyone else in the world (lines 110-111). Saying this shows that if Beowulf cannot defeat Grendel then nobody else can.
Beowulf shows how intelligent he is in lines 134-137 when “Beowulf arose with his men / Around him ordering a few to remain / With their weapons”. Beowulf is smart enough to realize that if nobody stays with the weapons somebody will steal them, and they will be left unarmed when a war breaks out. To be considered courageous, a person must face something that would frighten most. Beowulf does just that on numerous occasions in Beowulf. Beowulf faces and conquers Grendel in lines 515-517 “The victory, for the proof, hanging high / From the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was the monsters / Arm, claw and shoulder and all”.
The mighty water witch, Grendel’s mother, becomes troubled with the loss of her son and wants revenge on Herot. When she attacks Herot, Beowulf takes action and conquers her in lines 643-645 “Her body fell / To the floor, lifeless, the sword was wet / With her blood, and Beowulf rejoiced at the sight”. Some heroes use special powers, or costumes to help them win the fights against the bad guys. However, Beowulf believes in being ethical. He does not want to be credited for winning a battle if every aspect of the battle is not considered fair.
In Beowulf , Grendel is defeated by Beowulf unarmed in lines 669-671 “Crushed to death / Like Grendel, gripped in my hands and torn / Limb from limb”. Beowulf could have very easily used the weapons in the boat that his men were holding. Instead he did not because that would not be considered a fair fight. The last characteristics that must take place in order to be established as an epic hero is one must risk death, perform brave deeds, and reflect a particular society. If a person does not risk death for their society, they will not be considered a hero; one will be considered as just an ordinary person.
However, Beowulf proves that he is not just an ordinary person when he performs brave deeds and is faced with death on numerous accounts for the good of his people. Beowulf faces Grendel, a man-eating monster; Grendel’s mother, a water witch; and the dragon, a hot breath and poisonous creature. When Beowulf faces Grendel’s mother in lines 620-623 “And in an instant she had him down, held helpless. / Squatting with her weight on his stomach, she drew / A dagger, brown with dried blood and prepared / To avenge her only son” he sees death right before him.
He keeps fighting because in lines 683-684 Beowulf says “No man but me / Could hope to defeat this monster”. When Beowulf faced the dragon in lines 718-722 “The monster came quickly toward him, / Pouring out fire and smoke, hurrying / To its fate. Flames beat at the iron / Shield, and for a time it held, protected / Beowulf as he’d planned; then it began to melt” Beowulf’s life flashes before his eyes again when he realizing that the shield is not going to hold up, and he will die from the dragon. Beowulf upholds the ideals of the Anglo-Saxon society; courage, loyalty, and honor throughout the entire literature of Beowulf.
An epic hero is the protagonist in an epic who has superior qualities and risks personal danger to pursue a grand quest. In the piece of literature Beowulf, Beowulf must possess all or most of the characteristics of an epic hero in order to be established as one. Throughout the epic, Beowulf possesses the characteristics of glorified, on a quest, responsible leader, superior strength, intelligence, courage, ethical, risk death, perform brave deeds, and reflects ideals of a particular society on multiple occasions. Therefore, at the end of this epic, Beowulf can be confirmed as an epic hero.