Symbolism Associated with Beowulf
Beowulf is portrayed as a very loyal character in this poem. He shows his complete loyalty towards the Danes, and his willingness to fight for what his beliefs are. He fights to protect the Danes from Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and Firedragon. Beowulf sides with the protagonists to fight evil monsters causing harm towards other men (Wilmot 137).
Although Beowulf is a Geat, not a Dane, he still shows his loyalty to help good prevail over evil. Showing his belief to help the Danes in their time of need, Beowulf risks his life to protect them. Beowulf’s loyalty is more towards the protection of all humanity, not just the Danes. When news reaches Beowulf of Grendel’s terrorism, he didn’t hesitate to rush and help the Danes.
Beowulf’s courage is shown through his willingness and bravery to fight against bigger adversaries such as Grendel and Grendel’s mother (Wilmot 145). He doesn’t back down from any opponent, and believes he will always win with God on his side. Beowulf isn’t scared of anybody, even creatures such as Grendel and his mother who have extraordinary powers. In fact, he welcomes the challenge to bout these monsters. Eventually, Beowulf will get his chance to show what he is made of. Gleaming with confidence, Beowulf believes he is the world’s strongest individual.
Other than the antagonists, all characters in Beowulf have faith in God through Christianity. For example, the line in Beowulf “he never Dared to touch King Hrothgar’s glorious Throne, protected by God,” shows the Danes belief that Grendel can’t interlude with Hrothgar’s power. Protected by God, his throne is kept safe from all outside evil forces. In addition, faith is shown by Beowulf himself when battling Grendel’s mother (Roberts 64).
In the epic poem, Beowulf was knocked off his feet and laying on the ground, but then “Holy God, who sent him victory, gave judgement.” This shows Beowulf’s belief that God gave him the added strength and courage needed to continue to fight. As a result of faith in God, Beowulf was also given the opportunity to obtain the sword hanging on the wall, which would eventually be used to kill Grendel’s mother.
Throughout the entire poem, Christian traditions are portrayed in many ways. Beowulf is shown as a martyr, which is a person who stands up for what their beliefs may be (Wilmot 142). When news arrives to Beowulf of Grendel’s destructive ways, he and his followers sail to the Danish shore to fight the notorious Grendel. All through the epic poem, Beowulf is faced with life-threatening obstacles which he must overcome (Roberts 65).
Although his superhuman powers help him through many of them, it is his prayer in God that gives him the true answer. For example, when Beowulf is fighting Grendel’s mother, he calls upon God to restrengthen him and provide him with a weapon. Given a sword and rejuvenated strength, his prayers are answered. Just as Christ was for humans, Beowulf was a savior for the Danes (Roberts 66).
He gave them protection from Grendel and Grendel’s mother. As in many Christian stories, Beowulf had to fight evil forces to defend himself and protect others. When Beowulf attacks and kills Grendel, he saves the Danes from further destruction the “guardian of evil” maybe have caused (Wilmot 144).
Beowulf is repeatedly shown as a human willing to die to protect other from evil forces. His constant battles with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and Firedragon throughout his lifetime shows his devotion to do God’s work and protect other people (Roberts 64). When battling Grendel, Beowulf puts his life in danger against this horrific monster to protect the Danes. This shows his courageous manner and compassionate side to others. When fighting Grendel’s mother, Beowulf does this for other reasons.
Since Grendel’s mother stole her son’s arm from the rafters and murders Hrothgar’s close friend, Beowulf feels it is duty to retain the arm and avenge the death of Hrothgar’s friend. In this battle, God gives him powers beyond belief to help him defeat her. Given the ability to breath underwater, Beowulf pursues Grendel’s mother swimming towards the bottom of the lake. During battle, God also provides Beowulf with additional strength to continue the fight.
As he regains his strength, he suddenly notices a sword hanging on a wall next to him. Eventually, he uses this sword to defeat Grendel’s mother, slashing her in the neck. Courage and supernatural elements needed to defeat Grendel’s mother were given to him by God.
As Beowulf’s life begins to elapse, he then encounters another adversary to battle, Firedragon. At a very old age, he has to fight the most remarkable monster of the three. While pursuing Firedragon, he has to overcome the wrath and power he possesses, far more than Grendel and his mother. Eventually, he gets strength from God to overcome his powers and defeat him, but not without help from a friend of his, Wiglaf.
Although these two men working together defeated Firedragon, Beowulf does die from a would suffered in battle. Accoring to Beowulf, God believes it is his time to go, already doing enough for humanity. Beowulf believes he was a man blessed by God, and that good always overcomes evil. He feels as though God was his answer to any predicament he may have been in. Although Beowulf’s courageous adventures ended in battle, his legacy of protecting others from harm will always be remembered (Wilmot 132).
Beowulf is a blend of Christian traditions with virtues including loyalty, courage, and faith inscribed within the epic poem. Throughout the poem, Beowulf’s motives for battle is simple: to protect other humans from evil forces lurking about. While God provides him with many of the supernatural elements needed to be successful, it is his will and courage that help him to overcome any adversary. According to Beowulf, as long as God is on his side, no evil creature, no matter how powerful they may seem, can overcome the good that Beowulf’s character possesses.
In Beowulf, the fight between Grendel and Beowulf is told as a basic demonstration of good winning over evil. In “Grendel”, after Grendel fights with Beowulf a person can see how Grendel feels about the whole situation, “I will fall. I seem to desire to fall, and though I fight it with all my will I know in advance that I can’t win. Standing baffled, quaking with fear, three feet from the edge of a nightmare cliff, down, into bottomless blackness, feeling the dark power moving in me like an ocean current . . .” (Grendel, 173).
Grendel does not die happy, happy that he has killed and happy that he ruined lives. He dies alone, scared, and confused; the way he felt throughout his life. Again, even though he grew to love to kill like it was a new passion for him, he still just needed joy in his life.
Grendel only acts upon instinct, and while he has the ability to recognize what is right and what is wrong, he does not necessarily know why it is wrong, and does not seem to care. After his confrontation with Beowulf, Grendel still does not understand that what has come to him is a direct result of his actions, and thinks that the Danes are enjoying the slaughter of him simply for the sport of it.
The beast is unable to understand that his destruction of so many people is what has led these people to desire his death: “They watch on, evil, incredibly stupid, enjoying my destruction.’Poor Grendel’s had an accident,’ I whisper.’So may you all’” (Grendel, 174). The narrator’s last words exemplify what it is to be a monster; yet again he has no concept of cause and effect relationships and has no grasp on why these “evil” people are taking such pleasure in his destruction, and he even goes so far as to wish the same fate upon everyone.
Roberts & Kay: ed. Roberts, Jane & Christian Kay with Lynne Grundy. A Thesaurus of Old English. London: King’s College, London
Mediaeval Studies XI, 1995 (2nd ed. – Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000). 64-67
Wilmot-Buxton, E. M. 1906. “The Story of Beowulf” in his Britain Long Ago (London), 132-45