Heroism and Courage in Beowulf
How do you know someone is a hero? Or what their strengths and weaknesses are? Well we can find the answers to both of those questions in Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Some may think that Beowulf was just an arrogant fool who craved glory, while others might say that his actions were those of a true hero. Throughout the story, we read about Beowulf’s fights with not just Grendel, but also Grendel’s mother. Those two monstrosities were no easy task for Beowulf, but he still defeated them both. Then we see as he becomes ruler of his kingdom, he must face an even greater threat, a dragon. So after terrorizing hos country side, Beowulf decides to fight this dragon. But this time Beowulf does not make it out with his life. He still defeated the beast, but the beast also defeated him. So, are those traits of a hero, or are they just greedy and foolish? In Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, there are many traits of a hero that are portrayed through the character of Beowulf.
Beowulf made many decisions that give him qualities of a hero in his story. One act that stuck out to me was when he decides to hunt down Grendel’s mother. We must remember that he is not currently in his kingdom, he is fighting for a king that is not his own. So Beowulf does not have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. After Grendel’s mother attacks Heorot, Beowulf states to Hrothgar, “So arise my lord, sand let us immediately set forth on the trail of this troll-dam.”(Heaney l.1390-92). This shows that not only does Beowulf want to go after Grendel’s mother, but that he is urgent about it. Beowulf wants to get out there right away and take down this monster. Now doing this for your own king is one thing, but taking this action for another king is even more honorable.
Beowulf is not only honorable in battle and glory, but he is also a very respectable man. After he lands at the shore of the Danes, there was guard who watched their ship. This man watched over their ship for the entirety of their stay, which was a fairly long time. When Beowulf and his men were ready to depart, he presented this guard with a gift, and not just some piece of junk, with a beautiful sword. The text states, “The guard who had watched the boat was given a sword with gold fittings and in future days that present would make him a respected man at his place on the mead bench.”(l.1900-03). So Beowulf gave such an impressive gift to this man for doing a very simple task. That shows that Beowulf is not just doing all of this for the glory, he truly cares about the people of the Danes.
To be a hero, you must not only have the care and respect for others, but you must also have the strength and the wisdom of a hero. Beowulf certainly has the strength that a hero would need. It is stated several times throughout the text that Beowulf has awesome strength that normal men do not have. The narrator states, “a thane, they declared, with the strength of thirty in the grip of each hand.”(l.380-381). So Beowulf was clearly described as an extremely strong warrior who was definitely cut out to be a hero. But when Beowulf was younger, he was not very wise. When Beowulf became king of the Geats, he ruled his land for fifty years, and over those years became a very wise person. That wisdom is what made him a true hero in the end. Again, the narrator states, “He ruled it well for fifty long winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land.” (l.2208-2210).This proves that Beowulf not only had the strength of a hero, but grew old and accepted the wisdom of one too.
So, is Beowulf truly a hero, or is he just a greedy warrior looking for glory? Well I think we have seen from his selfless acts that he did not fight all those monsters just for himself. Yes, Beowulf fought for glory and for riches, but keep in mind he didn’t have to do any of this. Put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself if you would have done the same? Would you have gone through so much trouble, risking your own life and limb, for someone who doesn’t rule over your land? It takes a lot of guts to decide to fight monsters, especially if they’re not even for your own king. Beowulf has the courage, respect, wisdom, and strength that a hero needs. That is why I believe Beowulf is a true hero.