This website uses cookies to ensure you have the best experience. Learn more

The Epic Of Beowulf Is An Heroic Elegy

3350 words - 13 pages

Beowulf is an Heroic Elegy

    There is considerable debate as to whether the poem Beowulf is an epic narrative poem or an heroic elegy, a poem celebrating the fantastic achievements of its great hero, and also expressing sorrow or lamentation for the hero’s unfortunate death. This essay intends to show that the poem is an heroic elegy.


In “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” Tolkien states:


 We must dismiss, of course, from mind the notion that Beowulf is a “narrative poem,” that it tells a tale or intends to tell a tale sequentially. The poem “lacks steady advance”: so Klaeber heads a critical section in his edition. But the poem was not meant to advance, steadily or unsteadily. It is essentially a balance, an opposition of ends and beginnings. In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth and age, first achievement and final death (Tolkien 34).


Another literary scholar attacks the proposition that the poem is a narrative, an epic as many critics say: “For the structure of the poem is not sequential, but complemental; at the outset certain parts of a situation are displayed, and these are given coherence and significance by progressive addition of its other parts’ (Blomfield 60). These attacks on the epic-narrative theory regarding the poem Beowulf leave one with the only choice left – that the poem is an heroic elegy, a poem celebrating the achievements of its hero Beowulf, and at the same time a poem of lamentation and sorrow and mourning over the death of that great hero.


In Part I of Beowulf the poet establishes Beowulf as an incomparable superman and celebrates his greatness. The occasion for this was the unfortunate situation which Grendel had created in the court of King Hrothgar, Heorot, where there was considerable sorrow due to the uncontrollable ravaging of the monster:


So Healfdene’s son                    brooded continually

over his sorrows;                      the wise men could not

ward off the trouble.                           The strife was too great,

hateful, long-lasting,                   that had come to the nation,

cruel spirit’s envy,                    gigantic night-evil.(189-93)


Fortunately Beowulf was ready and willing to sacrifice himself to repay the debt of Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s father, to Hrothgar. This Geat warrior possesses almost miraculous 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 nine sea monsters with his...

Find Another Essay On The Epic of Beowulf is an Heroic Elegy

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Characterization of Beowulf

1995 words - 8 pages afterward anguish-days he shall suffer in sorrow while stands in place high on its hill that house unpeered!"   George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” says that Beowulf is “wise and shrewd, brave, cheerful, humorous and ironic, sympathetic, an alert hearer and artful teller of tales” (271). He is the most round of the characters. The author uses the king’s messenger to further describe Beowulf and his men:   Messenger, I

The Epic of Beowulf Essay

1619 words - 6 pages Beowulf is an epic poem that explores many themes and motifs within the Anglo-Saxon society. The Author, who remains anonymous, composed the epic around 1000 A.D. The literature focuses mainly on a Scandinavian warrior named Beowulf, who comes to the aid of Herot, a small town ran by King Hrothgar. Beowulf arises to rid the town of evil forces, such as the demon monster Grendel, and his savage mother who seeks revenge for the death of her son

The Epic of Beowulf

1227 words - 5 pages The story of Beowulf is a heroic epic chronicling the illustrious deeds of the great Geatish warrior Beowulf, who voyages across the seas to rid the Danes of an evil monster, Grendel, who has been wreaking havoc and terrorizing the kingdom. Beowulf is glorified for his heroic deeds of ridding the land of a fiendish monster and halting its scourge of evil while the monster is portrayed as a repugnant creature that shows no remorse for its evil

Epic of Beowulf - The Conflicts of Beowulf

1961 words - 8 pages , golden store, have joy in the jewels and gems, lay down softlier for sight of this splendid hoard my life and the lordship I long have held."   This death-wish is perhaps indicative of an internal conflict within the hero – between Christian values and pagan values. J.D.A. Ogilvy and Donald C. Baker in “Beowulf’s Heroic Death” comment on the hero’s culpability in his final conflict:   . . .the author describes Beowulf and

The Heroic Traits Of JFK And Beowulf

961 words - 4 pages strength was admired by fellow warriors. No one would argue that Beowulf was the best warrior. Upon his death, he was praised, for he would dearly be missed. " Let us listen to our beloved Beowulf's wishes and upon these ashes let us build, for our most worthy of warriors, a barrow that will be as mighty an d memorable as his fame is throughout the wide world." (pg. 288) Like Beowulf, J.F.K. was adorned by his people. Throughout the country

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - The Style of Beowulf

1888 words - 8 pages fashion” 3161-62).   Toward the end of the poem, when Beowulf is pondering his past, he recalls how King Hrethel’s younger son Haethcyn accidentally shot and killed his older brother, Herebeald, with an arrow, and what a devastating impact this tragedy had on King Hrethel, the Weder-king. Here the poet uses an extended simile to compare the king in his sorrow to the elderly father of a son who dies on the gallows:   “So it is

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Origin and Evolution of Beowulf

1659 words - 7 pages motive for the monks to make such an addition.             The strong Christian message drawn from this excerpt of Beowulf echoes like a sermon and feels out of place in this heroic epic.  The poem glorifies a Pagan world characterized by violence, pride, worldly goods and a disregard for the after-life, qualities which contrast a Christian way of life. When the speaker states that the Danes, ". . . swore oaths/[to] the killer of souls

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - The Structure of Beowulf

1416 words - 6 pages The Structure of Beowulf          There are several structures which scholars find in the poem Beowulf. It is the purpose of this essay to briefly elaborate on these structures.   The first theory regarding the structure of Beowulf is put forth by J.R.R. Tolkien in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Tolkien states:    The poem “lacks steady advance”: so Klaeber heads a critical section in his edition. But the

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - The World of Beowulf

1003 words - 4 pages the fire-dragon’s flames, returned “in shame” as “hated ones” to receive a “grim welcome” because they had “lost courage.”   The total lack of security evinced in Beowulf is amply demonstrated with the character of King Hrothgar. He has been an exemplary king, sharing most generously in the comitatus arrangement with his thanes, and with others besides. He has been very successful militarily and socially, as the construction of Heorot by

Epic of Beowulf Essay - Shields in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

1038 words - 4 pages sea-cliffs saw glinting shield-bosses          passed hand to hand down the gangplank,                 an army’s war-gear (229-32)   The Scylding watchman is still talking:   Never more openly                   have warriors landed when carrying shields,   and you have no leave from our men of battle, agreement with kinsmen (244-6)   Beowulf explains to the ship-guard:   We come with

Heroic code of Beowulf

525 words - 2 pages From the very start of the poem, the author creates the image of Beowulf as a fearless warrior who possesses ridiculous strength and bravery. The author also alludes to his nearly mythical good deeds, and we are left with the image of a seemingly immortal character, almost god-like in nature. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the author's description of Beowulf through the early parts of the piece and leading through his talk with Unferth

Similar Essays

Is Beowulf An Heroic Elegy Or An Epic Narrative?

4846 words - 19 pages Is Beowulf  an Heroic Elegy or an Epic Narrative?       There is considerable debate as to whether the poem Beowulf is an epic narrative poem or an heroic elegy. Which is it. This essay intends to present both sides of the story.   Some great literary scholars think that the poem is an heroic elegy, celebrating the fantastic achievements of its great hero, and also expressing sorrow or lamentation for the hero’s unfortunate death

Epic Of Beowulf Essay Beowulf As Heroic Archetype

750 words - 3 pages Beowulf as Heroic Archetype Monsters, their mothers, and dragons! The epic poem Beowulf, author unknown, includes all these mystical creatures and an impervious protagonist after which the poem is named. As the main character in the poem, Beowulf exemplifies the heroic archetype physically, spiritually, and ethically. Beowulf is superior to the average person in many areas, among them physical strength. Throughout the poem

Beowulf Is An Epic Hero Essay

950 words - 4 pages their heroic act, thus making the act in itself heroic. Throughout the epic, Beowulf in many ways exhibited all the qualities and characteristics needed to be a true hero. Beowulf was passed on from person to person. Beowulf possesses the superhuman abilities, and the amazing power to hold his breath under water for an unlimited period of time. It is easy to feel that these characteristics separate from the realistic nature of the story, and

Beowulf Is An Epic Hero Essay

862 words - 3 pages In the epic poem Beowulf, the protagonist Beowulf is shown as a hero with extrodinary strength. This is not what makes him a hero. By definition, a hero is a man of exceptional quality. However this term does not do Beowulf justice. His self-imposed purpose in life is to help others, and eventually sacrifices his own life in doing so. Beowulf’s battle with the dragon serves as a critique of the notion that Beowulf is a hero. The Dragon section