Beowulf is a well-known work of Anglo-Saxon literature that depicts the reverence of heroism. Despite the fact that the writing is based on a single manuscript, the epic manages to sustain the Anglo-Saxon people’s strong values. Here, Beowulf is regarded as a great hero and rescuer of the people. This character is the epitome of an Anglo-Saxon man, displaying incredible masculinity and fierceness in the face of the fight with the beast and dragon. Strength of character, dignity, and commitment all contribute to the theme of heroism in Beowulf, as evidenced by the events and actions of the main character.
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The poem is well-organized and is focused on three main events that have shaped the main character’s image and contributed to the foundation of heroism as one of the topics. The hero makes his first appearance following the emergence of the monster Grendel (Raffel 35). The murderous creature devoured numerous vigilantes, leaving no one unharmed. No one attempted to combat a wild beast, however, until word of this horrible tragedy managed to reach the land of the Geats, and a brave young swordsman named Beowulf ventured to help. As a result, the man managed to kill both the monster and his vicious mother. Thus, the author already brings the audience to the theme of heroism at the beginning of the epic, trying to outline the modern hero.
Beowulf was lavishly reimbursed and viewed as the great leader who was prepared to use his godlike force to keep their territory and people safe and prevent any intrusion attempts made by adversaries who could destroy their home (Golban 91). The exceptional heroism of the man also lies in his desire to help those in need, not only citizens of his own country. The hero not only protected the citizens of another kingdom, but he also earned eternal glory and respect for endangering his own life. The skillful method of transitioning from one heroic event to another displays the author’s desire to induce the feeling of patriotism mixed with respect for heroism.
However, this should not be regarded as the only heroic act that has earned the character respect and recognition as a symbol of national values. In the second part of the poem, 50 years later, Beowulf is depicted as an old and wise king. After many decades, the hero decides to join the battle against the ferocious dragon, who exacts vengeance on those who stole the treasure (Raffel 180). Beowulf slays the dragon with his own hands, but he dies as a result of the fatal wound. According to Opalińska, Beowulf was buried with the honors he deserved, “he performs his vow – even to his last day, when it cost him his life” (9). Thus, the theme of heroism is intertwined with the inner sense of responsibility and unselfishness.
The burial scene concludes Beowulf’s heroic story and reveals the cause for the people’s respect and gratitude for this character. Beowulf lived his life in accordance with the soldier’s code, assisting others and establishing an outstanding reputation. According to Golban, this hero was “fearless but not foolhardy, uncomplicated but intelligent” (91). The heroic deeds were lauded, and this memorable character, along with his achievements, skillfully encapsulated all the features that people at the time considered ideal for a knight and a nation at large (Golban, 91). Beowulf fought for what the people believed to be right.
The work strikes a balance between the beginning and the end, contrasting the hero’s first great deed and his death and demonstrating that the character remains consistent throughout the plot. The epithets in the work sequentially and openly stress the importance and heroism of the main character. Beowulf, being “greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world,” embodied a heroic person through his actions and the language of the epic (Raffel 37). Such a technique of using numerous epithets amplifies the objective of the writing.
The masterly description of Beowulf through epithets and metaphors was also utilized in the works of Golban and Opalińska, the examples of which have been mentioned before. This style of writing, used by scholars, facilitates the reader’s understanding of the characters, giving the latter the appropriate outline. Moreover, this communication helps the reader to understand the overall position of the writers. Therefore, the full image of the writing is achieved by the skillful use of the content, as well as language techniques.
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Hence, the national epic illustrates the theme of heroism, admired during the Anglo-Saxon era. Throughout the narrative, the major characteristics of the glorified knight were highlighted and enriched until the overall picture was logically complete. Beowulf’s deeds, both in the beginning and at the end, demonstrate unbridled fortitude and strength of spirit. At first, victory and brutal vengeance appeared to be the primary goal of the writing; however, the depiction of irresistible patriotism, dedication, and fearlessness contributed to the representation of heroism. The image of a hero is supported not only with the deeds but with the language of the work.
Golban, Petru. English Literature Advancing Through History: Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Medieval Periods. Transnational Press London, 2020.
Opalińska, Monika. “The (Un) Known Beowulf–Walking through the Shadows of an Old English Epic.” Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny, vol. 63, no. 3, 2016, pp. 1-11. Web.
Raffel, Burton. Beowulf. General Press, 2021. Web.