Beowulf : A True Literary Epic
The Adventures of Beowulf, a rousing Old English poem of man and monster, and perhaps the earliest European vernacular epic, is rightfully considered an epic for it possesses those features which characterize epic poetry.
For example, in epic poetry the central character has heroic or superhuman qualities. In The Adventures of Beowulf, the main character, a Geat warrior named Beowulf, possesses such qualities: “He was the strongest of men alive in that day, mighty and noble.” Upon spotting Beowulf approaching, the sea-guard of the Danes says, “Never have I seen a greater man on earth…” King Hrothgar of the Danes says of Beowulf, “Seafarers who took gifts to the Geats say that he has the strength of 30 men in his hand grip.” Beowulf chooses to fight Grendel by himself and without shield or weapons; previously the hero slew 9 sea monsters with his sword. And he is fully willing to sacrifice his very life for this: “… I alone will fulfill the wish of your people … or die in the foe’s grasp.” Beowulf consciously chooses to act in a superhuman manner: “I shall perform the deeds of a hero or I have passed my last day in this mead hall.” Even Grendel recognizes the hero’s superior strength: “The criminal knew he had not met in this middle-earth another with such a grip.” Other warriors when thinking of Beowulf “would quickly compose a skillful tale in words.” Hrothgar refers to Beowulf as “the best of warriors.” The Danish queen Wealhtheow compliments after Grendel’s defeat, “You have earned forever the praise of men from near and far.” Hrothgar expounds on good warriors: “This is the best-born man – my friend Beowulf … the best of warriors.” When the dragon burns the mead hall of the Geats and Beowulf prepares to retaliate, he “scorned a host, a large army … he didn’t fear the dragon’s war …” Beowulf is also superior in a moral sense: When Hygelac’s wife Hygd previously offered Beowulf the kingdom, he declined to accept because there was a legitimate heir to the throne. Beowulf’s example of extreme heroism motivates others to extraordinary deeds: Wiglaf, seeing Beowulf’s strength compromised by the dragon’s fire, risks his life to aid Beowulf in his final battle. It is obvious that the hero possesses superhuman qualities. As critic Donald fry states in TheBeowulf Poet: “Beowulf is … one set aprt from ordinary men by his size, nobility, and splendid appearance” (Fry 3).
Secondly, the action of this poem, as with epic poetry generally, takes place on an immense scale. When Hrothgar decides to build a mead hall, it was “the greatest the world had ever seen, or even imagined,” with “tribes throughout the world” setting to work on that building. When Grendel attacks the first night, she “grabbed 30 warriors” and “returned the following night” for more. When Grendel’s Mother attacks, “countless warriors” are guarding the hall, yet she kills Hrothgar’s best warrior and escapes unharmed. In his...