The Classic Hero
The epic poem Beowulf, written by an unknown author and translated by Seamus Heaney ensues of a valiant hero named Beowulf and his heroic deeds during the Anglo-Saxon era. Beowulf is a culmination of Christian traditions with a folk story that extols virtues of faith, courage and loyalty in the face of extreme dangers and even death. It portrays a model of man willing to die to deliver his fellow men from terrifying evil forces.
Beowulf is continuously admired for his many heroic deeds he has committed in the past. This long standing reputation has created a mentality of him being invincible in the face of death. Because of Beowulf’s outlook on extreme dangers, he emphasizes his bravery and courage such as battling an infamous “monster” without a sword for protection; “Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword and shelter of the broad shield, the heavy war board. Hand to hand is how it will be, a life and death fight with the fiend (435). Although Beowulf’s decision to fight grendel seems boastful at first, his true intentions are still deemed noble. This indicator shows how confident he is in his abilities to defeat the great “monster” Grendel. He has battled many beasts before, victorious over multiples of monsters (459).
Loyalty to one’s leader or king is also a prominent theme in Beowulf. Even after Beowulf has defeated Grendel, he is celebrated greatly and given many treasures from King Hrothgar. These treasures are immediately given to Beowulf’s King, Hygelac as a gift from Beowulf himself. Beowulf expresses his decision to give his king his treasure as he says, “Beowulf had brought his king horses and treasure—as a man must, not weaving nets of malice for his comrades, preparing their death in the dark, with secret, cunning tricks” (1913). Although Beowulf sacrificed his own life along with the lives of his men, he returned home in celebration to give his earnings to his king. This deed is ironic because the king himself already has his own wealth, and yet Beowulf shows his loyalty to the king in doing this. This gift represents a courteous bow to his liege. He does not wish to anger his king or try to overthrow him, almost a symbol of acknowledging the king’s superiority over Beowulf and Beowulf respecting the status of their relationship; king and thane.
The most emphasized of the virtues in this epic poem is the idea of having faith in God. The story sets up the background of Grendel’s heritage as descendants of Cain, “god cursed” and “the bane of the race of men” (711). By addressing Grendel in this way, it illustrates a power that God has over the cursed or damned. He chooses who is bad and who is good, like santa except if you’re bad you become a monster with talons. This traditional pagan and christian belief is repeated throughout the entire piece, even again when Beowulf battles Grendel’s mother when the poem states, “And the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth had the strong links and locks of his war-gear not helped to save him: holy God decided the victory” (1553) Although Beowulf, a mortal man is battling an enemy by himself, he still reveres the idea that God won the battle for him by choosing Beowulf as the winner. This relates to the traditional idea of fate and that all things are set in place. This can be paralleled with God’s choice to already have a plan set out in someone’s life and to just let him put you on that path.
In this epic poem, many characters and ideas are represented in the telling of events, many including the virtues of faith, courage and loyalty. The actions of Beowulf and his warriors exemplify the faith one has in his leader, the courage to defeat infamous monsters, and the ability to stay loyal to a superior after it all. Beowulf is a true model of a real hero and although he can be seen as boastful and fame-seeking, he epitomizes the genuine idea of a leader to be followed and a loyal warrior.