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An Ideal Hero in the “Beowulf” Old English Poem

A hero is believed to be an individual of great strength, courage, and fortitude, or one of the central protagonists in a literary or cultural work, including a movie or video game. Facing overwhelming adversities, the leader uses creative abilities, valor, or power in order to overcome them. Hero and other formerly gender-specific definitions are frequently used as a reference to either biological identity, whereas heroin is only related to ladies. In general, heroic sacrifices and battles occurred based on fame and privilege by the initial main character of the original text. Early modern era and modern protagonists, on the contrary, perform great acts or altruistic deeds for the public good rather than the traditional objectives of money, dignity, and glory. Particularly, the idea of a brave character named Beowulf is laid down in an Old English poem Beowulf that was created by an unknown author approximately at the end of the VII century. Even though Beowulf is depicted as an extraordinary warrior that possesses incredible strength and spirit, he is not possible to be considered as the real hero, according to his intentions and actions.

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The story begins in the 6th century in ancient Scandinavia, where Hrothgar, the ruler of the Danes, has his palace in Heorot attacked by the monster Grendel, and Beowulf, a grand soldier, arises to support the king. The epic depicts the struggle of good in the person of Beowulf against evil, which is represented by Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The antagonists in the epic are the monster Grendel and his mother. Grendel is an enormous monster and cannibal that kills everyone he finds in the Heorot. Grendel’s mother is a creature that aspires to avenge the death of her son and fight Beowulf. She is the second monster from her son that Beowulf had to fight. As the result of the brawl, she was sliced in two parts with the sword by Beowulf. Many years later, Beowulf appears to become King of the Geats, and his kingdom is tormented by a dragon that has stolen his wealth from a burial barrow. With the help of his servants, he strikes the dragon, but they are totally defeated. Only Beowulf’s youthful Scandinavian friend Wiglaf, whose name symbolizes “acts of bravery,” deigns to participate in following the monster. Beowulf defeats the creature in the end but is fatally injured in the process. In the closing part of the epic, his body is cremated, and a seaside monument is built in tribute to him. Beowulf is regarded as an epic text since the protagonist is a warrior who travels vast distances to demonstrate his force against paranormal demons and creatures. Beowulf is believed to be the personification of positive qualities in the poem. According to the story, he learned about the challenges that overtook king Hrothgar, decided to gather his army of fourteen brave soldiers, and went to the rescue. Beowulf’s strength and appearance are portrayed as ideal, and he is believed to be “a hero from his youth” (Beowulf XIII). In addition, the author seems to exaggerate Beowulf’s power on a constant basis and endow him with substantial potential (Kaxxarova and Baxronova 199). In general, the main distinguishing feature of this work is the visual opposition of the praised good qualities and the terrifying and ubiquitous evil. In comparison with those of the other characters, the positive and noble traits of Beowulf are elevated to the level that is unattainable for anyone else.

The hero is the primary or vital influencer of an honorable epic in traditional literature, appreciated in ancient myths of the people, frequently attempting to participate in violent conquest and residing according to their constant moral integrity and duty rules. Analyzing the end of the poem and the events that resulted from Beowulf’s actions, it is possible to state that the author recognized him as the person who deserves immense respect, honor, and fond memory. In particular, the story is concluded with “a glowing tribute to his (Beowulf’s) bravery, his gentleness, his goodness of heart, and his generosity” (Beowulf X). At the same time, Beowulf also combines good and bad qualities, since the emergence of signs of pride in him speaks of his imperfection. The fortitude and strength that Beowulf possessed instilled boundless confidence in him (Flight). To a certain extent, the thought arises that praising Beowulf, in theory, is harmful since excessive positiveness can cause pride and self-confidence. Eventually, it is impossible to understand Beowulf as an ideal and sinless character who does not have access to simple human vices and is flawless in all his actions.

Even though Beowulf is a conventional fighter frequently compared to legendary heroes, he is fundamentally different from them (Singh et al.). The main difference is that Beowulf has the characteristics of a brave warrior, but his behavior and deeds are not similar to what the classic heroes demonstrate. He returns to his king with the gifts he received for his duty and refuses to take anything from Grendel’s cave’s wealth since he has learned that treasures only lead to further wars. Beowulf rises beyond all deeds and wealth, exhibiting more than a typical hero attitude. He never acts rashly or without deliberation, and he also does not rush into a battle. Conversely, he ignores minor conflicts, consequently destroying the idea of the real hero from the inside that is, probably, most likely why he dies after the struggle with the monster. Wiglaf, the main character’s loyal friend, completes what the warrior has started by inflicting a lethal knife injury on the dragon. In the attempt to rescue the Danish king, Beowulf abandons his loyal nation. According to old traditions, the protagonist, who should have been awarded a prestigious trophy, is the person who offers the Danish monarch the first gift. Besides that, he merely speaks several heroic, respectful phrases to the king, with no applause or celebrations. The scene depicts a melancholy conclusion for an old gentleman whose future is uncertain rather than an overwhelming delight. In addition, the classical hero is emphasized concerning the contrast with the negative characters that portray total evil, but in Beowulf, monsters are endowed with good qualities. Although Grendel’s mother is an antagonist, she is a real mother that loves her son and is ready to battle for him (Beowulf 44). Being a positive character and a valiant soldier, Beowulf does not possess the distinctive features of traditional heroes with an impeccable reputation.

In conclusion, Beowulf is an old poem that depicts significant historical events and acts of bravery in terms of wars and battles. Beowulf is the illustration of a strong and brave warrior who is able to perform worthy deeds. However, it is not possible to be called a hero in the classical sense of the term. Due to constant praise, Beowulf gained substantial self-confidence, as well as signs of pride. Furthermore, the behavior of the protagonist, where he demonstrates the possession of rational thinking and refusal to participate in any battle and under any conditions, indicates that he is not obsessed with the heroic accomplishments.

Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Lesslie Hall, Prabhat Prakashan, 2021.

Flight, Tim. Basilisks and Beowulf: Monsters in the Anglo-Saxon World. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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Kaxxarova, Shaxlo and Zulfiya Baxronova. “Positive and Negative Features of Mythological Images in the Epics “Beowulf” and “Alpomish”.” International Journal on Integrated Education, vol. 3, no. 11, 2020, pp. 196-200.

Singh, Amar, et al. The Hero and Hero-Making Across Genres. Taylor & Francis, 2021.

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