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Thread: Literary Analysis (Beowulf)

  1. #1

    Literary Analysis (Beowulf)

    Heroes Of Epic Proportions

    Heroes. We all know them when we see them. The only question is what makes someone a hero? Characteristics of what it means to be a hero are shown throughout Anglo-Saxon core values. One of the most famous works from that time period is Beowulf. The story tells us of how one man, Beowulf, sails to the rescue of King Hrothgar and his people in order to save them from a terrible beast that is threatening not only their lives but also their way of life. The warrior Beowulf definitely shows characteristics of an epic hero through bravery, loyalty, generosity, friendship, achieving something of great value, providing people with a sense of security, and being intelligent.
    First, Beowulf showcases his heroic nature through his bravery throughout his quest. Many times during his epic quest, he is not afraid to be brave in every situation. One example from the story is, “So Beowulf chose the mightiest men he could find, the bravest and best of the Geats, fourteen in all, and led them down to their boat” (119-122). This proves his bravery because he was the head man for the Geats. By choosing the mightiest and bravest people, Beowulf reflects that he himself must have been even more brave in order to be able to lead his noble people. Therefore in choosing the brave men he did, not only did he prove how much more brave he was, Beowulf also proved that he was by far and epic hero.

    Another way Beowulf displays that he is a hero is through his friendship. By showing friendship Beowulf is able to relate to the people more. Therefore he has the right to give them help in a difficult situation. This is shown when he goes to talk to king Hrothgar and the king says, “Beowulf you’ve come to us in friendship, and because Of the reception your father found at our court” (191-192). This states that the king was indeed very grateful that he had made the journey and as a result he considered Beowulf a great friend. Beowulf shows his friendship in the fact that he didn’t have to come save king Hrothgar’s people, however because he was reaching out and being a friend he wanted to save them from evil. In this instance again Beowulf shows that he deserves to have the title of an epic hero by showing such strong friendship.

    Next Beowulf proves that he is a great Anglo-Saxon hero through his loyalty. Loyalty was without a doubt one of the most important ideals upheld by the Anglo-Saxon people. Beowulf was an ideal Anglo-Saxon, therefore he was loyal every chance he got. So it was a big deal that Beowulf showed his loyalty to king Hrothgar in this quote, “I brought the end of Edgetho’s Quarrel, sent ancient treasures through the ocean’s Furrows to the Wulfings; your father swore He’d keep that peace” (204-207). This is speaking of an act of kindness that finally brought Beowulf’s father to peace with Hrothgar’s people. In coming to the aid of the Anglo-Saxon’s, Beowulf keeps the peace and thus shows his loyalty and respect to king Hrothgar for helping his father. Beowulf the warrior gave his loyalty to Hrothgar, which showed that he was an epic hero.

    Furthermore, Beowulf can be classified as an epic hero in his generosity. Beowulf was always being generous in every situation. He would accept a challenge even if he knew it might take his life. One of the most amazing ways to show generosity and selflessness is in sacrifice. A great example of this is when the warrior says, “when we crossed the sea, my comrades And I, I already knew that all My purpose was this: to win the good will Of your people or die in battle,” (364-367). In this statement Beowulf is saying that he is willing to lay down his own life if it means he might help save the Anglo-Saxon people. Beowulf generosity testifies again of his heroic nature and epic hero attitude.

    Further proof, that Beowulf is an epic hero is when he achieves something of great value for himself. This is described in a secondary source called “Moments in time” which is written by an english major at the University of Memphis. He says, “They undertake long, dangerous journeys, or quest, to achieve something of a great value to themselves or their people” (‘Moments in time”). Beowulf always took every problem he heard about on himself. The reason being is because he wanted to gain immortality for himself. This characteristic of an epic hero is shown through this quote, “Proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king, Would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, Now when help was needed” (114-116). Beowulf did not sail off to rescue Hrothgar’s people right away, but instead waited till he was sure that he was the only one that could do the task. The reason he did this is because he wanted to gain immortality, something that was very important for a hero. Therefore, Beowulf took a long quest in order to gain something of great value for himself which shows that he is in fact and epic hero.

    Also Beowulf can be described as a great hero because he provides the people with safety. An essay written about Beowulf describes it this way, “An Anglo-Saxon hero is a person who has good leadership qualities, is able and willing to provide people with a sense of security, and is willing to go into danger despite possible harm to themselves” (“Epic of Beowulf Essay”). People think of a person very highly when they feel safe with them. This element of an epic hero is described when Beowulf says, “I have come so far, Oh shelterer of warriors and your people’s loved friend, That this one favor you should not refuse me-That I, alone and with the help of my men, May purge all evil from this hall” (162-166). Beowulf says that he wants to purge all evil from their land. In doing so he is providing the people with a sense of confidence that they are safe and secure. Beowulf’s words cause the people to feel a sense of ease, which gives evidence that he is an epic hero.

    Finally Beowulf earns the title of an epic hero through being very intelligent. In doing so he fulfills what Christopher Garcia says, “In Anglo-Saxon culture and literature, to be a hero was to be a warrior. A hero had to be strong, intelligent, and courageous” (“The Anglo-Saxon Hero”). When someone is in a form of leadership the people expect them to give them smart or intelligent advice. Not only intelligent advice but also to set an example before them that is intelligent. Beowulf’s reaction when Grendel arrives shows this final characteristic of a hero, “Then he stepped to another Still body, clutched at Beowulf with his claws, Grasped at a strong-hearted wakeful sleeper- And was instantly seized himself,” (427-430). Beowulf is very courageous and intelligent in the way he decides to confront Grendel. You could say that Grendel is tricked by Beowulf because he pretends to be asleep and doesn’t move to attack him until it’s too late. The intelligent and cunning tactic Beowulf uses to defeat Grendel is another way that he definitely earns the right to be called an epic hero.

    Throughout the story, Beowulf is constantly displaying characteristics of an epic hero. First of all Beowulf displays the four pillars of Anglo-Saxon which include bravery, loyalty, generosity, and friendship (Element of Literature, “The Anglo-Saxons” 2). He also gets something of great value for himself. Beowulf also gives the people a sense of safety and security. His intelligence is also another way his heroic behavior is shown. There are many heroes throughout time but as far as epic heroes go, Beowulf really takes the cake.


    Works Cited
    "Epic of Beowulf Essay - Beowulf as Anglo-Saxon Hero :: Epic Beowulf herobeo." Free Essays, Term Papers, Research Paper, and Book Report. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. <http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=5566>.
    Garcia, Christopher. "The Anglo-Saxon Hero." Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems | | Pace University. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. <http://csis.pace.edu/grendel/Proj2004A1/hero.html>.
    Holt, Rinehart. Elements of literature [Gr. 12] Literature of Britain with world classics.. Austin [Tex.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2000. Print. (from Beowluf pg.21)
    Holt, Rinehart. Elements of literature [Gr. 12] Literature of Britain with world classics.. Austin
    "Moments in Time: The Anglo-Saxon Epic Heroes." Moments in Time. Web. 3 Oct.2012.<http://daretodreamthinkdo.blogspot.com/2008/04/anglo-saxon-epic-heroes.html>.

  2. #2
    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by mickailag3 View Post
    Next Beowulf proves that he is a great Anglo-Saxon hero...
    I hope it doesn't disappoint you too much, but Beowulf was not an Anglo-Saxon. He was a Geat, someone from Gautar, which was a smaller kingdom between Denmark and Sweden.

  3. #3
    The only thing that's missing here is merit. Ancient Anglo-Saxon leaders did not inheret their leadership. They always had to lead in front of their men or let someone else do it. Very good post.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL View Post
    I hope it doesn't disappoint you too much, but Beowulf was not an Anglo-Saxon. He was a Geat, someone from Gautar, which was a smaller kingdom between Denmark and Sweden.
    True, but the poem itself is Anglo-Saxon, and conforms to the Anglo-Saxon heroic identity... so we sort of can call him an Anglo-Saxon hero. He was certainly a figure in whom the Anglo-Saxons invested a great deal of interest.

    There's some interesting material here: I presume it is an essay you've written for class?
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  5. #5
    Before examining whether Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon adventure and whether Beowulf is the only hero in the saga, we have to take into account a few historical facts concerning this epic poem. The first thing that concern us is the question, when was Beowulf actually written. The oral epic poem Beowolf has been in this world for more than Twelve centuries. In lines 32 to 39 there is reference to a sunken and rotting treasure ship at Sutton Hoo which is believed to be the burial ship of some rich unknown king of the Seventh century A.D. Ship-graves were common in those times. At the beginning of the poem there is mention of King Shild being given a ship-burial by his grieving citizens who watches the ship 'slowly sliding to where neither heroes nor rulers nor anyone can say whose hands opened up to take that motionless cargo' into the depths of the sea. Assuming that this reference to the Sutton Hoo burial ship is credible, it can be said that the poem Beowulf was written somewhere around the Eighth century A.D., i.e., even before Christianity came to England. Who the author or authors of this great epic was or were is still unknown. And only one handwritten copy of the book has survived, which is displayed in the British Museum. The ship-grave at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England, by then covered with a mound of earth, was excavated in 1939 and the treasures from this royal burial ship also have been displayed in the British Museum.


    It is a saga of the wars of the Swedes against the Danes. Someone after an adventurous sea travel brought this story kept in his memory to the Angles Land where it was later cast in the poetic form in the Old English. Thus Sweden, Denmark and England are considered to have played a role in the English epic poem Beowulf. In the Angles Land which is the present day England, after generations, it was written down in the word form, the author's name being lost in King Henry VIIIth's atrocities in monasteries.


    There are doubts among historians and critics as to whether Beowulf is a Christian song. It was written in English in the Sixth century when Christianity had not properly come to England. But the only remaining manuscript was recovered and came from a Christian monastery during the Eighteenth century. It is a real story of blood baths though several referring to lofty religious ideals also are made. In this sense, it can be said to be a story of the Pagan beliefs. Though these two religions can not be said to be in contrast in this poem, there are slight references to Christianity and a strong basement of Pagan beliefs.



    Because Beowulf originated not in English but was translated into it, it is noted that there have been many problems that had to be experienced during its translation to the English language. Beowulf, created by the unknown author before the Sixth century consists of 3182 lines, formulated at a time when there were no books and paper but were read loudly before great audiences. It was constructed not to be read with eyes, but to be sung loudly in public. Its creator was first trained as a traditional singer. It survived as an oral epic, handed over through generations orally. In those times, poetry creators were extremely skilled in constructing very long instant poems before audiences. Therefore they often did not have a concrete continuous story. Several adventures of kings and soldiers were clubbed together to form an epic. Moreover there would happen many editing and eliminations during these mouth to mouth transfer through generations. All these are impediments to even a skilled translator. Added to this is the fact that only one copy of the ancient manuscript survived raid and fire, which is kept in the British Museum. But the chief problem of translating the epic Beowulf is the ancient text being so complex and so imperfectly understood that only translations roughly equivalent in the modern English language have been possible till now.


    As any diligent reader and appreciator of the poem can note, the most majestic scene depicted in the poem is not any scene of bravery or war but a send-off scene painted in eloquent words in the prologue, the real message from the ancient people, meant to be delivered to the coming generations, the philosophy of our forefathers condensed into a scene.


    An abandoned child Shilde travelled alone to Denmark. We can surely call him Shield which is apt. He was blessed with courage, chance, luck and bravery. Before his coming, the Danes had lived kingless and miserable. He became a great king of the Danes. His soldiers sailed to distant lands beyond the seas and brought back slaves, riches and wealth to Denmark. He ruled long and gave birth to Beowulf, the future king of the Danes.


    Now comes the custom of ship-burial in the old world. When Shilde died of old age, his comrades carried him to the harbour where a fighting ship awaited him. They laid him near the mast and next to him heaped up treasures, jewelled helmets, swords, coats of mail and armour, all brought in victory from all parts of the world. Then they forced the treasure ship adrift, floating to far distances. He was to cross the waves alone, an orphan and a beggar. After a while, the water pulled at the ship and it slid to the bottom of the sea, where neither rulers nor heroes nor anyone else can say whose hands opened up to take that motionless cargo.

  6. #6
    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    True, but the poem itself is Anglo-Saxon, and conforms to the Anglo-Saxon heroic identity... so we sort of can call him an Anglo-Saxon hero. He was certainly a figure in whom the Anglo-Saxons invested a great deal of interest.
    He was a hero to the Angles and the Saxons in the way that Spartacus can be a hero to Americans. He was of the same general culture as all of the Norse.
    Last edited by PeterL; 11-30-2012 at 02:39 PM. Reason: typo

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL View Post
    He was a hero to the Angles and the Saxons in they way that Spartacus can be a hero to AMericans. He was of the same general culture as all of the Norse.
    You're missing the point that the poem was written by Anglo-Saxons, and its conception of heroism is thus Anglo-Saxon.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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    PSRemeshChanda, I thank you for posting that. I remember getting into argumnts about whether Beowulf was a Christian poem. There are a few mentions of Christian matters, but the culture is clearly pre-Christian Norse. I read somewhere that actions took place when Hrolf Kraki was young and away in Scania. If that is true, and I don't know whether it is, then it probably happened early in the 6th century, and that would place it well before the Danes, Angles, Saxons, or any other Norse tribe took Christianity, and that was before there were many Christian missionaries in that region.

    The Wikipedia article on Beowulf connects in time Beowulf and Hrolf, so that backs up the date.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hr%C3%B3lfr_Kraki

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