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Applying Joseph Campbell's Standards of a True Hero to Beowulf

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Joseph Campbell was an American writer who developed a criteria for what it means to be a true hero. Beowulf is a story about a hero. It was the first english epic to be written. It takes place in Denmark and an imaginary place called Geatland. It reflects the way that life was in 700’s in England through Beowulf’s story. Because Beowulf fulfills all of Joseph Campbell’s standards of a hero’s separation, supernatural aid, and return, he is a true hero.

Beowulf fulfills all of the criteria set for a hero’s separation. When Beowulf discovers that Grendel is terrorizing the Danes, a call to adventure is placed before him. Immediately he accepts the call. Beowulf, being the heroic example he is, sails over to Denmark fearlessly. Beowulf is confident in his mission to deliver the Danes from the horrific suffering Grendel has brought upon them. “ So Beowulf chose the mightiest men he could find, the bravest and best of the Geats, fourteen in all, and led them down to their boat” ll. 204-207). Beowulf bravely leaves his country without thinking twice in order to save the danes, therefore he fulfills Joseph Campbell’s standard for a hero’s separation.

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Joseph Campbell declares that a hero must also have supernatural aid, which Beowulf has. He is challenged by unbeatable monsters, such as Grendel and his mother, and successfully defeats both of them. “That shepherd of evil, guardian of crime knew at once that nowhere on earth had he met a man whose hand were harder; his mind was flooded with fear-but nothing could take his talons and himself from that tight hard grip” ll. 750-755). This quote from the book displays how fearful Grendel was of Beowulf and how strong that he was. His un-real strength is supernatural. Beowulf never used any magic or special potions in order to defeat those who challenged him. His strength alone was enough. His people also look up to him. They praised Beowulf, without upholding him as a God. “Beowulf, the best of soldiers, let me take you to my heart, make you my son too, and love you: preserve this passionate peace between us” ll. 946-947). Beowulf is highly regarded by the Geats and the Danes because of his super strength. He possesses the qualities of Supernatural Aid according to Joseph Campbell’s criteria.

Hero’s must also have a return according to Joseph Campbell. Beowulf also meets this standard. After freeing Denmark of all threats around them, Beowulf then returns back to his homeland of Geatland. Beowulf is highly respected in two different places, Geatland and Denmark. He has became a hero to both. When Beowulf returns home he is faced with a mighty dragon. Although Beowulf did not run from the fight, fate unfortunately decided that Beowulf would take a great fall. Even though Beowulf was dying, the dragon was finished off by Wiglaf. Beowulf did not die in vain though. “Beowulf dead on the sand, their bold ring-giver resting in his lasting bed; He’d reached the end of his days, their mighty war-king, the greatest lord of the Geats, gone to a glorious death. But they saw the dragon first stretched in front of its tower, a strange, scaly beast gleaming a dozen colors dulled and scorched by its own heat” ll. 3033-3040). Because the dragon was defeated, his people were allowed the freedom to live in peace for the rest of their days. No more was there any monsters to fear thanks to the heroic Beowulf. Beowulf fulfills a hero’s return.

Beowulf meets all of the criteria for Joseph Campbell’s definition of a hero. He accomplishes a hero’s separation, Supernatural Aid, and a hero’s return, therefore Beowulf is a true hero.

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