Beowulf: The Ultimate Hero
A hero is one who places himself or herself at risk for another by
performing great deeds of courage. Often in our society today, athletes are
looked up to as heros. Brett Favre is an excellent example of a modern day hero.
He is looked up to by many for his strength, leadership, and success. While on
the football field, he is willing to risk his "life" by running the ball in when
there is no one else to go to. Favre also gives all of the glory to God.
Whenever he has conquered another team, or made the winning play, all praise is
given to God. In the poem Beowulf, translated by Constance B. Hieatt, Beowulf is
an epic hero. An epic is a "lengthy narrative poem which genealogizes and
embellishes the origin of a tribe or nation". (Edward A. Bloom) Not only is
Beowulf a hero because of his physical strength, but like Favre, gives the glory
to God. Beowulf is the ultimate hero who put his life on the line for an entire
Beowulf's heroism can be seen when he takes 14 of the bravest in his
land to go help Hrothgar. Hrothgar was Beowulf's father's close friend who had
been plagued by attacks for twelve years that threatened an entire kingdom.
Beowulf did not have to offer Hrothgar's kingdom help, but does so because he
wants to uses his God given strength to the best of his ability. As soon as
Beowulf heard of the troubles in this land he set sail immediately. Beowulf
continues to show his thankfulness by thanking God for giving them safe travel
across the sea. Beowulf is lead to Hrothgar and offers him is "services."
"-Now sit down to the feast, and, in due time, listen to lays of warriors'
victories, as your heart may prompt you. (15)
Beowulf is asked by the warriors to tell of his past defeats while eating in
Hrothgar's palace. Beowulf is already a hero to the people of this land for he
is about to rid them of their enemy. The warriors are anxious to here what he
has done and what he plans to do to Grendel. Here Beowulf "puts on his running
shoes" and runs through his battle plan mentally just as any great athlete would
do before a big meet. As the Banquet continues, Hrothgar thanks Beowulf, and
promises him great treasure if he succeeds in defeating Grendel.
As an ultimate hero, Beowulf decides, to be far, he will not use weapons
in his battle against Grendel since Grendel reputedly does not use them.
"I do not consider myself a lesser fighter than Grendel does himself;
therefore I will not kill him with a sword, and deprive him of life in that
way....No: this night we two will abstain from swords..." (19-20)
That night, even after hearing of all of Beowulf's heroic defeats, the warriors
still feel that no man on earth will be able to stand up to the evil Grendel
carries. Beowulf will either defeat Grendel or die in the process. "Let me live
in greatness...and courage," he says, "or here in this hall welcome...my death."
Beowulf awaits the arrival of Grendel then goes on to defeat him and sends him
back to the "fen" to die.
Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf is more than an expression of thanks. For
he states: "Let me take you to my heart" and "make you my son too..." When a
heroic deed is done such as Beowulf has done, it is common practice for them to
accept you into their family. Once again, the influence of Christianity shows
in Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf. It was the "Almighty" who sent Beowulf and it
was "with the Lord's help" that Beowulf was able to defeat Grendel. Hrothgar
wants to make it known throughout the world that Beowulf is the strongest man
alive and is a proven hero. It is the characteristics of agelessness and
dedication that sets him apart from the other warriors, and makes him a truly
Beowulf may have defeated Grendel, but his fighting days are not yet
over. For Grendel's Mother is about to seek revenge.
Another one of Beowulf's heroic deeds of kindness is seen when he goes
after Grendel's mother even though that was not a part of the original "deal."
Hrothgar is beside himself. "Anguish has descended on the Danes." (36) The
king begs Beowulf to help him once again. Hrothgar is extremely upset by the
death of his friend Aeschere. His speech to Beowulf shows how hurt he is.
"...the grey-haired warrior, was sad at heart when he knew that his chief thane
lay lifeless, that his dearest retainer was dead". (36)
Beowulf's heroic reputation is more evident than ever when he consoles Hrothgar
on the death of his friend. He offers his "services" once again by offering to
kill Grendel's mother. Hrothgar, Grendel, and a few warriors set out and follow
the monster's tracks until they reach the lake where the monsters live.
"...they encountered Aeschere's head on the waterside cliff." (38)
There, floating on the water, they see the remains of their friend, Aeschere.
Beowulf prepares to go in and look for Grendel's mother. He tells Hrothgar that
if he dies in the lake, he is to take care of his men and send his treasures to
King Higlac, his "hometown" king. Here Beowulf once again shows the traits that
makes him a true hero. That is, the consideration of others, generosity, and
although seemingly impossible, his own mortality.
Unlike past battles, there is no mention of God's help. Beowulf, in
this battle, is relying on his own courage. When Grendel's mother appears to
have they key to Beowulf's death, God interrupts the battle. It seems as if He
was watching all along, as He does, waiting for the right moment to show whose
side He is on.
Following the feasts of celebration of the death of Grendel's mother,
Beowulf and his troops set sail for their homeland. Beowulf is greeted with
feasts and great displays of gratitude once he arrives back home to the Geats.
Beowulf presents Higlac with the treasures he earned while fighting for Hrothgar.
After Higlac dies and his son Herdred is killed in battle, Beowulf is given the
throne and would rule over the Geats for the next fifty years. As Beowulf's
rule nears an end, he will have to fight heroically for his country one more
Once more Beowulf will prove his heroicalness when he fights a dragon
even though he knows there is little chance that he will be victorious. As
Grendel threatened the people of Hrothgar's kingdom, so does the dragon show his
anger while Beowulf is king. Like Grendel, the dragon only strikes at night,
burning down all the houses so that nothing is spared, not even Beowulf's hall
or throne. Because of his character, When Beowulf finds out that his house has
been destroyed, his first thought is that he did something to anger God, and he
feels guilty. As Beowulf prepares to fight the dragon, he looks back at his
youth and his battles against Grendel and Grendel's mother.
"He who caused the trouble to begin with, a downcast captive, was the thirteenth
man in the troop: he had to show hem the place humbly." (63)
The thief who stole the dragon's cup leads Beowulf and his men to the dragon's
cave. As Beowulf run's the battle through his mind, he once again looks back on
his heroic life. He realizes that he's not as strong as he was when he fought
Grendel and the risk of dying is inevitable. Though Beowulf's old age has
taken away his physical strength, his heroic courage still allows him to think
like a hero. The "pre-game" speech that Beowulf gives before this battle is
different from previous ones. Now that he is an old man Beowulf's's confidence
in himself has decreased.
As a hero it is Beowulf's job to accomplish the impossible, and as an
old man he still wants one last moment of glory.
"...as an aged king, I shall still seek battle and do glorious deeds, if the
wicked ravager will come out of the earth hall to meet me." (65-66)
It is Beowulf who starts the battle, by waking the dragon with his battle cry.
during the first few seconds of the battle, the dragon's flames melted Beowulf's
shield. Here Beowulf realizes that his fate is here. That does not keep him
though, from striking the dragon dead with his sword. Beowulf manages to hit
the dragon but not fatally. This blow to the dragon upset him dearly and
responds by covering Beowulf in a great ball of fire. Seeing the fire of the
dragon the warriors run away, thinking only of saving there own lives. To them,
saving themselves has become more important than giving Beowulf the dignity that
he deserves. These actions are examples of what separates a hero from a great
warrior. Like an athlete, Beowulf has the tenacity to stick with to the end,
even if he is the only one. Beowulf is able to finish off the dragon but in the
process looses his own life. The response of the warriors shows how quickly the
values of the world are changing. Without the tenacity to keep with it, even
though the though times, they will bring upon themselves there own destruction.
The definition of a hero is one who places himself or herself at risk
for another by performing a great deed and Beowulf had inevitably earned this
title. Beowulf's heroism is evident by: *Taking 14 of the bravest men to go and
help a man who was his fathers close friend.
*To be fair, he would not use weapons in his battle against Grendel.
*Goes after Grendel's mother even though that was not part of the deal.
*He fights a dragon even though his death would be inevitable.
Beowulf can be called the ultimate hero because he put his life on the
line for an entire kingdom. Even though Beowulf had hoped that his people would
benefit from all of the treasures he had stored up, we are taught, the material
things that one earns during one's life can not stop what is God's will. For
everything in life must come to an end and that time is always uncertain, even
for a hero.