Beowulf: Heroism Essay, Research Paper
Beowulf?s author is unknown, as are his motives and inspiration for the creation of the poem. Written some four hundred years before the Norman conquests, it is comprised of three thousand, one hundred and eighty-two lines, dramatically reproducing the timeless struggle between good and evil, along with all the variations that accompany such a story. By far one of the most admirable qualities presented to the reader is the notion of heroism, and the importance of honor. The quality of character was a major element of the heroic man in the world of which the story is set.
In relation the personality, James V. McConnell wrote; "Let us define personality as the way in which a person thinks, behaves and adjusts to his or her environment. Such a definition would include the persons traits, values, motives, attitudes, emotional reactions, abilities, self-image and intelligence as well as the persons overt behavior patterns." (McConnell, page 610). He then went on further to say, "A complete theory of personality would not only describe the individual?s present style of adjustment but give some notion of how the person got that way and where he or she was going."
Throughout the poem, the author allows the reader to see, in action, the true workings of heroes. Men and women who cast aside their own personal needs and desires for the better of others. During this time society sustained a strong honor code. The actions that an individual amassed over their lifetime was the title by which they were known to the rest of the land, both good and bad. A lot was asked of rulers concerning the protection and expansion of the empire, Kings and Queens were known by their conquests and control of the subjects around them. In the prologue we are introduced to a loved and heroic King by the name of Shild. " How Shild made slaves of soldiers from every land, crowds of captives he?d beaten into terror?lived to be rich and much honored. He ruled lands on all sides: wherever the sea would take them his soldiers sailed, returned with tribute and obedience." (Raffel, line 4). This section of the prologue clearly defines the times, in that it immediately sets up the reader for the level of nobility in the tone of the author, in the expression of dignity that accompanies King Shild?s conquests. His life was associated with greatness and at his death his tribute was great.
There are many requirements of a hero. A hero was an individual who was feared and respected by subjects and by enemies. To be a hero one must be bold, courageous, valiant and daring. The hero mist not fear death or whoever brings it, instead they must trust God in his wisdom and timing, being prepared at all times to face eternity. The main character of this tale is Beowulf. He was the son of the Geat Edgetho, and eventual ruler of the Geats toward the later of his life. Beowulf faces three major enemies in the story. The first being Grendel, a descendent of Cain and a monster to look at. Beowulf travels across the sea to the to the kingdom of the Danes. Its ruler, king Hrothgar, unable to fight Grendel he granted Beowulf permission to go and fight the beast. Upon Grendel?s defeat, another creature rises. Grendel?s mother has risen for revenge upon her son?s death. Throughout these two battles Beowulf remains the winner.
When Beowulf must fight the third and final battle with a dragon, he met his match. Beowulf knew this and yet he still continued to fight with the aid of Wiglaf, one of twelve assistants to the king. When Beowulf showed signs of failure all the others fled into he woods, fearing for their lives but only Wiglaf remained to help his king. This is what makes a hero; self sacrifice. Even with full knowledge of the great risk they were both facing, even when he "..stared at death.." ( Raffel, line 2587), Beowulf remained, for the good of his people, knowing that he was their last hope before lest the dragon destroy them. Not only does he sacrifice his life, then like a true hero , in his dying moments he thanks God for his prosperous lifetime and he requests that the gold that he fought and died for be distributed to his people and a tower be erected in his name. "for this, this gold, these jewels, I thank our Father in heaven, Ruler of the earth- for all of this, that his grace has given me?I sold my life for this treasure, and I sold it well." (Raffel, line 2794). Death in war was common and respected.
This poem presents other examples of heroism, but at the same time it also contains the exact opposite, those who fell short; cowards. After the dragon has been defeated, the eleven deserting soldiers return to bear witness to the outcome. Wiglaf?s fiery speech displays the disgrace that cowardess brings.
"..your lord gave you gifts?hunted across the world for the best weapons. War came and you ran like cowards?should Beowulf have boasted of your strength? With God?s good grace he helped himself?won his own revenge. The help that I gave him was nothing, but it was all that I could give?and now the giving of swords, of golden rings and rich estates is over, ended for you and everyone who shares your blood. Death would be better? than the life you can lead, branded with disgrace!" (Raffel, line2865)
Beowulf is basically a patriotic poem concerned with "king and kingship." Strength and courage are basic virtues for both the leader and the followers. The followers? commitment is to loyalty, where the leaders? is to the sustentation and safekeeping of the people. The poem is an archeological document as it is a piece of enjoyable literature. The insight into the culture of the people and land is invaluable, and the knowledge learned, priceless.
" And so Beowulf?s followers rode, mourning their beloved leader, crying that no better king had ever lived, no prince so mild, so open to his people, so deserving of praise."