How Beowulf’s Pride Can Be The Main Reason of His Downfall

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Words: 938 |

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5 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 938|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

In Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heany, man’s perception of himself impacts his decisions to behave the way he does. Beowulf is a humble warrior who credits his prowess in battle to God’s divine intervention. He battled realistic and internal demons that started becoming a challenge because each encounter was harder than the last. His perception of his abilities as a hero transforms after every battle he successfully wins, causing him to believe he is unstoppable. Ultimately, Beowulf’s death in his final ordeal reveals that becoming too prideful can be the main reason to one’s downfall.

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Initially, Beowulf is a humble warrior, who attributes his prowess in battle to God’s divine intervention. Beowulf is a warrior who prepared himself to fight off Grendel to defend the land of Denmark, however he attributes his bravery as God’s gift. Before he does that, some of the warriors and the king all have a feast and talk, but Unferth warns Beowulf that Grendel will be a challenge and it will be difficult to handle him alone, but Beowulf insists that he is able to handle the task. While sitting with everyone at the table and talking about it, he explains to everyone that his “sword had killed/ nine sea monsters […] and hard ordeals he have never heard of”. Beowulf is boasting about how had the ability to kill off nine sea monsters easily with no problem and how there is no task too hard for him to do. Beowulf continues to acknowledge that there is no task too hard for him that he refuses to wear armour and bring weapons to the fight against Grendel, only to prove that he is not scared and he is just as dangerous and strong as him, which is unnecessary. His success changes his perspective, and although he puts his life in danger, he begins to think that his success is of his own doing. Beowulf has the confidence that he will be known as one of the greatest heroes or he will die trying to be. He was no longer doing it for the people. He was only doing it for his self interest. Beowulf was willing to pursue his glory at all cost. Once Beowulf defeats Grendel with no armour or weapons, he had this unrealistic look on himself that he could do anything. He starts to put himself in this dangerous battles to make himself look better and get a higher reward each time, which eventually catches up to him.

Beowulf battles realistic and internal monsters, which became a challenge because each one he moved onto was harder to face than the last. Throughout the poem, Beowulf fights against several different demons. When Beowulf arrives to his last battle with the dragon, he was unable to defeat it and there was where he fell. The other demons were easy that he knew what he was doing and everything, but the dragon was difficult. Beowulf had “rather not/ use a weapon if he knew another way/ to grapple with the dragon and make good […] as he did against Grendel in days gone by”. Each of the demons that Beowulf has fought, symbolizes something that is considered to be Beowulf’s internal demons. The first battle with Grendel represented envy, but Beowulf was able to overcome that. The second battle with Grendel’s mother represented revenge and he was also able to overcome that one. Unfortunately the very last battle with the dragon represented greed and pride and Beowulf could not defeat that one. Beowulf allowed his greed and pride to get the best of him and be the cause of the end of his life. Greed and pride has always been in Beowulf and it was only a matter of time before he showed it. To some, Beowulf is considered to be a hero, but to others he is not. Showing the relationship between how people can be a hero and a villain at the same time, Beowulf showed that. Regardless of how he tried to hide it, that notorious side of him cannot be shut out because it was a part of him.

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Beowulf’s perception of his heroic ability is transformed through every successful battle he faces, eventually leading to his belief that he is invincible. After defeating not only Grendel, but also his mother, Beowulf feels as if he is unstoppable and he can defeat anything that comes him way. After the dragon drastically destroys the home of hundreds of people, Beowulf is immediately summoned, however no one believes he should fight the dragon alone. Even though he has killed two threats before, the dragon was nearly impossible to do by himself. The other warriors of the land offered their help, but “the prince of the rings was too proud to line up with a large army”(lines 2345-2346). Beowulf was so caught up in his past ordeals, that he was unable to see that he needed help. He did not treat the dragon as a threat, but as something that would be simple and quick. Beowulf had not thought of how strong the dragon was compared to his old and weak body. The pursuit of glory was still on Beowulf’s mind and he did not realize that he had already obtained glory. So instead of fighting the dragon alone, Beowulf’s next goal should have been to prepare the person who was next up, but he did not want his glory to dim and he wanted to keep the legacy of being the greatest warrior there ever was. Only when trying to keep that, he ends up losing his life a lot sooner than expected.  

Works Cited

  1. Heaney, S. (2000). Beowulf: A new translation. W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Abrams, M. H., & Greenblatt, S. (Eds.). (2012). The Norton anthology of English literature (9th ed., Vol. 1). W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Baker, P. S. (1996). The “Beowulf” poet and his real monsters: A trauma-theory reading of the epic. The Kenyon Review, 18(2), 52-64. doi:10.2307/4338097
  4. Bessinger, J. R. (1965). The concept of the good in Beowulf. Studies in Philology, 62(3), 482-496. doi:10.2307/4173646
  5. Chase, C. (1979). The morning after: Pagan survival in "Beowulf". The Kenyon Review, 1(4), 1-21. doi:10.2307/4335144
  6. Chickering, H. D. (1977). Beowulf's three great fights: A structuralist reading. The Kenyon Review, 1(3), 1-24. doi:10.2307/4335073
  7. Gwara, S. (2017). Heroic identity in the world of Beowulf. DS Brewer.
  8. Mitchell, B. (1998). Beowulf and the heroic ideal. English Studies, 79(3), 195-210. doi:10.1080/00138389808598921
  9. Tolkien, J. R. R. (1936). Beowulf: The monsters and the critics. Proceedings of the British Academy, 22, 245-295. Retrieved from
  10. Wrenn, C. L. (1970). The philosophical or religious beliefs in "Beowulf". The Kenyon Review, 1(4), 72-86. doi:10.2307/4335160
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