Beowulf is an old English poem of heroism, and is noted as the most important piece of literature of that time period. The poem itself consists of over 3000 lines and was composed around the seventh century. The tale is of a heroic warrior that finds himself faced with danger several times during his life. The poem is very suspenseful, in that there are kings, dragons and demons that battle each other for power. During different parts of the poem, you are left to wonder, what is going to happen? Who is to be the victor in the battle? Will Beowulf become a legendary hero?
The answer is, yes. Beowulf will be the victor, and along the way, prove what it means to be courageous, have strength, and most important of all, selflessly protect those around him. There are many qualities that a hero should possess. Some of which include honor, valor, leadership and compassion. The most general of characteristics that a hero should possess are courage, strength, and a sense of selflessness. Beowulf not only meets the general qualities which are required of a hero, but I believe, through the progression of his life, he comes to attain all great qualities of a true hero.
Being courageous is one of the first qualities that sets a hero apart from a common human being. Being courageous means to stand up to adversity without fear, to continue to forge on regardless of the daunting things one faces. Beowulf was not shy about showing his courage. When he hears of Grendal’s torment to Hrothgar’s kingdom, Beowulf races to their aid. He does not hesitate when he asks permission of Hrothgar to slay Grendal. He knows thus far, they have been unable to defeat the demon.
When Grendal comes to the kingdom that same night, Beowulf, using no weapons other than his bare hands, looks -Grendal in the eyes and rips off his arm, causing him to be mortally wounded. (Lines 750-820) This passage of Beowulf is a great example of what it means to be courageous. Beowulf did not step down, he did not cower. He only looked evil in the face and proceeded to destroy it. When we speak of strength in a hero, it is not just physical strength; it is also mental and emotional strength.
Those who are considered heroic often times are heavy-hearted or carry much burden. What sets them out from others is that even though they carry the weight of the world, they never complain, never look to satisfy their ego, but only do it because it brings them peace to know they can ease the suffering of others. This quality was very evident within Beowulf during his last battle. A time came when Beowulf was in his old age, that a dragon had awoken and sought revenge for stolen treasure. Beowulf, fearing for his people, put on his battle armor and went to meet the dragon.
Beowulf was old and knew he probably would not survive the battle, but feared that if he did not try; his people would surely pay the price. Fearlessly, the old man dueled with the dragon, eventually slaying him. He was overjoyed that his people would be safe. What he failed to notice though, was that he, himself, was mortally wounded as well. But it mattered not to him, for that was not what he fought for. (Lines 2625- 2820) He was heroic for putting the lives of others ahead of his own. Even facing death, he showed his strength by carrying a burden that was not truly his.
He could have cowered, but a true hero does not let people face burdens alone. To strengthen the argument of Beowulf’s heroism, you can compare his qualities to those of Unferth. Unferth is a weak individual who is jealous of the success of Beowulf. He is unable to appreciate Beowulf’s heroism. He shows this by calling out Beowulf at dinner, for the loss of a swimming match with Brecca. By doing this, Unferth is trying to degrade Beowulf’s character. Beowulf responds to the remark by making it known that the reason he is there was because Unferth has failed to destroy Grendal.
Being a true hero, Beowulf only offers his demeaning remark to redeem his status as a great warrior, not to be boastful or to degrade Unferth’s worth as a warrior. (Lines 499- 558) Later in the story, Unferth shows his lack of courageousness by passing his sword to Beowulf when the fight with Grendal’s mother arises. Although he acknowledges that Beowulf is a better sword fighter, Unferth cowers and does not try to assist Beowulf in taking the beast down. Beowulf, being the hero he is, does not hesitate to go after the beast, affirming his heroic characteristics. (Lines 1455 – 1472)
After reading the poem of Beowulf, one can conclude that he was in fact, a great warrior and a true hero. We watched him grow from a strong, courageous fighter, to a compassionate and selfless king. Although many cowered behind him, he was always praised for the courage he had within himself. There was never a time when he backed down from a fight, nor a time where he put himself in front of others. No matter how his people behaved or how his kinsmen fought, he always made sure they were taken care of. Beowulf truly was motivational, inspiring and an example of what courage really means.