The Heroism of Beowulf
A hero is the personification of values such as bravery, sacrifice, and honor. There are two main characters in the epic poem Beowulf; one character obviously possesses these heroic traits, but the other is strongly the opposite of them. Beowulf always shows courage in battles. Grendel, on the other hand, acts very much like a coward throughout the entire story. Beowulf fights with honor and dignity while Grendel only fights battles he is certain to win. Similarly, Beowulf fights his battles selflessly while Grendel always has a selfish motive for his actions. The courageous Beowulf always fights an honorable and selfless battle, which proves he is more of a hero than the cowardly and often selfish Grendel.
Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he exemplifies extraordinary courage in everything. Beowulf”s courage is evident immediately in his story. When Grendel attacked the town, “each warrior tried to escape him” because they believed “the only survivors were those who fled him” and they had no courage to stay and fight (Beowulf 53-58). Beowulf, however, reacted in a completely opposite way. He “heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king” because he desired to help when no one else was willing to (Beowulf 112-114). Beowulf was willing to take on the monster, in spite of the fact that everyone else had run in fear, for he believed it was his duty to protect the people of that town. Another example if his courage came a short time later when he declares how he will fight the beast. It is common knowledge that weapons have no power against Grendel, but instead of running from this seemingly impossible battle, Beowulf simply says, “my hands alone shall fight for me” and takes on the challenge (Beowulf 173). He does not question how he will make it work or worry that he might fail. He doesn’t even fear failure or death, but instead faces it head on with all the courage he is known for. Furthermore, Beowulf knew the battle would be dangerous but he shrugged his shoulders and said “fate will unwind as it must” and prepared himself to fight will all his strength, to the death if that would be necessary (Beowulf 189). Beowulf never once ran from danger and he took on any battle, even if there was a chance he could lose. Grendel, on the other hand, showed a lack of courage because he ran from danger and tried to run whenever he began to lose the fight. When Beowulf caught Grendel off guard and started to win the battle, “Grendel’s one thought was to run from Beowulf, flee back to his marsh and hide there” because he didn’t have the courage that Beowulf possessed (Beowulf 279). Beowulf showed his courage by never giving up and never running from a fight, no matter how difficult or dangerous it might be.
Additionally, Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he is honorable in his battles. Grendel is known for hunting at night and attacking when he knows that no one is capable of fighting back. In his first attack on the soldiers in the mead hall, “he found them sprawled in sleep, suspecting nothing” and knew he would win that fight, so he did not hesitate to murder the men (Beowulf 33-34). Similarly, he always waited around until he knew that no one was awake or prepared to fight back before he entered the room. Between attacks he “stalked Hrothgar’s warriors, old and young, lying in waiting, hidden in mist, invisibly following them from the edge of the marsh, always there, unseen” (Beowulf 75-78). Grendel always made sure he had the upperhand and could win the battle easily and without any risk of losing. Beowulf, in contrast, always fought honorably, even if that meant he could potentially lose the battle and his life. Beowulf knew that Grendel did not use weapons and that no sword could defeat the beast. For that reason, he left his sword behind and battled Grendel on the same level, hand to hand combat. In this part of the story, Beowulf is very much like Fezzik in the Princess Bride, who says “We face each other as God intended… sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone” (Goldman, 1987, “The Man in Black Versus Fezzik”). He was willing to fight the battle fairly, though he knew Grendel could not be relied on to do the same. When Beowulf’s men try to come to his aid they find that, once again, Grendel had attempted to turn the battle in his favor by casting a spell that made all mortal weapons useless. In spite of this, Beowulf always fought honorably in battle and never once tried to cheat or trick Grendel in any way.
Finally, Beowulf is more of a hero than Grendel because he is always selfless in his battles. Every battle that Grendel fought was for selfish reasons. He attacked the mead hall because he liked the thrill and the people were annoying him, which is no reason to murder innocent people who have no chance to fight back. After these attacks he was “delighted with his night’s slaughter” and felt no remorse whatsoever (Beowulf 40). For him, “no crime could ever be enough, no savage assault ever quench his lust for evil” and therefore he came back every night and killed again, always for the selfish reason of pleasing himself (Beowulf 50-53). Beowulf, on the other hand, fights selflessly and never engages in a battle merely for pleasure. He risks his life to defeat a monster that is killing innocent people. He was not required to fight this battle but he chose to so he could spare the lives of men who could not fight for themselves. He was willing to give his own life for strangers because he felt it was his calling to do so. Grendel wasn’t even attacking Beowulf”s home; the battle took place in a completely different region, but Beowulf left the comfort of his home to fight a battle he felt lead to take on. He didn’t hesitate because he knew he was doing it not for his pleasure or another selfish reason but for the good of the other people involved. Beowulf demonstrates his selflessness by risking his life for people who were complete strangers but needed his help.
Hence, Beowulf always displays courage while fighting his battles in an honorable and fair way and exhibiting selflessness, proving that he is more heroic than Grendel who is selfish and cowardly. Beowulf always shows courage in his battles and, unlike Grendel, would never run from a fight, even if he suspected he could lose. Moreover, he always fights his battles with honor and sportsmanship, even when he knows his enemy, specifically Grendel, will not. Finally, Beowulf never fights a selfish fight; while Grendel worries about his own life and pleasure, Beowulf puts others above himself in every situation. In the battle of who demonstrates heroism through the entire story, Beowulf is once again victorious over his enemy, Grendel.