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Beowulf: The Epic Hero Essay

1451 words - 6 pages

Beowulf, written between the 8th and 10th centuries, is an epic poem set in southern Sweden. The poem illustrates the Anglo-Saxon’s strong belief in the heroic code. The loyalty between the warrior and his king bound the culture together. The warrior was the ultimate hero who represented strength and courage. Beowulf, the hero in the poem, illustrates the Germanic principles of the heroic code. Through the battles and character interactions, Beowulf converges loyalty, strength, courage and forgiveness into the hero archetype.
The Anglo-Saxon culture ran on the outline of the heroic code. The warrior pledged allegiance to his lord in exchange for protection (“Beowulf” 38). Through acts of strength and bravery in battle, the warrior rose in levels of nobility and received rewards from his lord for his bravery (“Beowulf” 38). Hrothgar, king of the Danes and lord of the Scyldings, builds a mead hall, Heorot, to honor his warriors and give gifts to them (Beowulf 67-73). A savage demon named Grendel attacks the great hall and kills thirty of Hrothgar’s men (Beowulf 122). Beowulf, a young Geat warrior, leaves his homeland to aid King Hrothgar in purging the Danes of Grendel. Beowulf’s act of allegiance extends past the kingdom of his homeland by ‘rescuing’ the Danish people. His actions not only illustrate courage but the principle of allegiance to his family and himself. Upon arriving on the Danish shore, Beowulf states, “We belong by birth to the Geat people / and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac. / I come to proffer / my wholehearted help and counsel” (Beowulf 260-1, 277-8). Beowulf declares his allegiance to his lord and is willing to come to the Danes’ aid. Hrothgar knows that Beowulf is only in Denmark to “follow up an old friendship” between Hrothgar and Beowulf’s father, Ecgtheow. Even though, Hrothgar did not personally do Beowulf a favor, Beowulf comes to his aid because of the indebtedness he feels exists between his family and the Danes. His allegiance is to his family and his reputation as a Geat warrior.
The Anglo-Saxon culture holds the act of revenge highly and is a common response to a murdered loved one. King Hrothgar is unable to take revenge on Grendel because of he is old and less capable than the youthful and strong Beowulf. Beowulf uses his abilities to avenge the deaths of the murdered Danes for Hrothgar. This act of revenge expresses the loyalty that the Anglo-Saxons believed in between fellow warriors, their lord, and the one who was hurt or killed. Beowulf further exemplifies the importance of loyalty within a clan when one of the men tries to shame him. The warrior, Unferth, attempts to undercut Beowulf’s accomplished character before his fight with Grendel. Unferth tells a story of a swimming match between Beowulf and Breca in which Beowulf lost. Beowulf retells the story and adds that Unferth has not ever been “celebrated for swordmanship” (Beowulf 585). Beowulf responds to Unferth’s attempts to...

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