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Exploring The Anglo Saxon Hero Essay

2990 words - 12 pages

What is a hero? Perhaps it should be rephrased: who is a hero? Of course, it now becomes easy to answer – we can say Odysseus, as he didn’t just assist in the victory at Troy, but fought the gods with his longing for his home; or Beowulf, who fought of the terrible monsters in Hrothgar’s kingdom as well as his own; or Byrhtnoth, who died while defending the land he loved. Clearly, it is easy to list off the heroes in these ancient poems. However, why is this so, why can we so easily identify heroes without consciously recognizing the clues that lead us to those conclusions? While this question may remain unanswerable without understanding psychology, it is still possible to understand what makes a hero tick – his set of features that immediately give away his identity. In this sense, it becomes important to discuss two types of heroes introduced – mythological heroes, including characters such as Sigurd and Beowulf, and realistic heroes, including characters such as Byrhtnoth. In literary works such as Beowulf, The Saga of the Volsungs, and The Battle of Maldon, we can see that while realistic heroes are portrayed in a more positive light, both realistic and mythological heroes possess dark, sinister qualities that audiences can identify with, which is how characters are associated with heroism.
Mythological heroes are unique because they can perform feats unattainable by normal humans, simply for practical reasons. Beowulf, the central character in the epic poem Beowulf, clearly classifies as a mythological hero because he is fighting mythical creatures – Grendel is “the brutish demon who lived in darkness” (Beowulf, p. 76), Grendel’s mother is “a monster of a woman” (p. 105), and obviously, a dragon cannot be a real creature. While Beowulf’s classification remains uncontroversial, his actions prove interesting. In his fights, Beowulf’s true interests are self-centered. That is to say, he fights for his own causes, not the causes of others. This is easily observed when examining his motives for killing Grendel. When Beowulf “heard in his own country of Grendel’s crimes … he would sail over the sea to assist the famous leader” (p. 79). This is merely a cover-up to his true motives – seeking fame and fortune. Alternative motives are hinted at by the Unferth’s thoughts, “for the journey of Beowulf, the brave seafarer, much displeased him, in that he was unwilling for any man in this wide world to gain more glory than himself” (p. 86). It seems that, unlike many of the others in Hrothgar’s hall, Unferth is aware that Beowulf is trying to gain fame for accomplishing legendary achievements that only “the strongest man alive” (p. 79) can accomplish. Seeking fame is certainly a selfish action, which indicates that Beowulf possesses a dark, manipulative quality that enables him to win against astoundingly difficult foes.
Scholars generally agree with the presence of an evil force within Beowulf’s character. By introducing the...

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