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How do we determine a hero? Whether it be one who puts their own life at risk for the sake of someone else’s, to one who lends a helping hand, our world consists of heroes. Throughout the poem Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, the reader is continuously reminded of Beowulf’s supernatural strength, fearlessness, and how he fights to protect people. As if this was not enough, Beowulf never ceases to be seen displaying courage, loyalty, generosity, hospitality, chivalry, and maintains a good reputation by having good political skill during his reign as king. With such honorable qualities, it does not require much thought to come to the conclusion that Beowulf can be characterized as a hero. Beowulf’s admirable traits are displayed through three major battles throughout the poem, where Beowulf faces two demons and a dragon. Beowulf exemplifies Anglo Saxon culture. When Beowulf is informed that Heorot is being terrorized by a demon, he gathers fourteen of his men to sail to the foreign kingdom of the Danes to accept the battle. Before the battle takes place, the poet gives a description of Beowulf’s appearance. “There was no one else like him alive. In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth, highborn and powerful” (Heaney lines 196-198). This is the author’s recognition of Beowulf’s incredible strength. Later,when they arrive at Denmark, they get off of their ship without fear, gaining the attention of the watchman, who claims he has never seen men come on the shore without taking precautions. “Never before has a force under arms disembarked so openly– not bothering to ask if the sentries allowed them safe passage or the clan had consented. Nor have I seen a mightier man-at-arms on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, he is truly noble” (Heaney lines 244-250). This coast guard claims to have never seen such bravery among men carrying weapons who step on foreign soil without consent of the land, or without guaranteed safety. The coast guard notices Beowulf’s massive stature, and claims to have never seen someone of such strength.
Shortly after, Beowulf proves his loyalty to king Hrothgar by explaining his personal family ties to the king. “In his day, my father was a famous man, a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow. He outlasted many long winter nights and went on his way. All over the world men wise in counsel continue to remember him. We come in good faith to find your lord and nation’s shield, the son of Halfdane. . . We have arrived here on a great errand to the lord of the Danes, and I believe therefore there should be nothing hidden or withheld between us” (Heaney lines 262-272). Only later is the reader able to discover Hrothgar’s generosity towards Ecgtheow, where Beowulf is in debt to him. However, Beowulf boasts about his father, showing that he is of good lineage, and comes to aid the Danes in the battle between Grendel, and furthers his cause by saying there should be nothing hidden between the Danes and the Geats. Belated,Beowulf and his men are granted access to speak to Hrothgar, where Hrothgar’s herald and officer states, “I have never seen so impressive or large an assembly of strangers. Stoutness of heart, bravery not banishment, must have brought you to Hrothgar” (Heaney lines 336-339). Hrothgar’s herald, Wulfgar, concedes that Beowulf is brave. The word he uses to describe Beowulf’s heart, stout, has two meanings that can both be applied to this given situation. One defines a person as somewhat fat or of heavy build, while the other describes the actions or qualities of someone as brave and determined, both applicable to Beowulf.
Even when he is opposed, Beowulf does not counter with hate. When Unferth mocks Beowulf and taunts him for losing a fight to Breca, Beowulf defends himself by telling the truth behind the story. As described by Beowulf, “Often for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked. However it occurred, my sword had killed nine sea-monsters. Such night dangers and hard ordeals I have never heard of nor of a man more desolate in surging waves. But worn out as I was, I survived, came through with my life” (Heaney lines 572-579). Though Unferth, as jealous as he was, lashed out in an attempt to bring down Beowulf, Beowulf responded with telling his version of the story in a mature manner, showing gratitude for his life. Now that Beowulf had boasted about himself, he could not lose the battle with Grendel without his reputation being ruined. Beowulf’s culture valued strength and courage in battle. ‘Instead, I shall grab and grapple with Grendel, fighting for life with that fearsome foe.
Whomever death takes, his doom is doubtless decreed by the Lord. If I let this creature best me when battle…He will freely feast…’ (Heaney lines 386-93). Beowulf takes on the challenge, and lets it be known that he is not afraid to lose his life. Not only is he not afraid of losing, but he places his life in the hands of God, claiming that in the end, it would be in God’s favor, whichever way the battle ends. Though just the beginning, there have been numerous descriptions and acknowledgements of Beowulf’s size and strength, however the reader is able to gain a better understanding of just how powerful Beowulf is through his first battle with the demon Grendel. Beowulf is brave and fair, fighting Grendel without any armor. “And the Geat placed complete trust in his strength of limb and the Lord’s favour. He began to remove his iron breast-mail, took off the helmet and handed his attendant the patterned sword, a smith’s masterpiece, ordering him to keep the equipment guarded” (Heaney lines 669-674). Again, he acknowledges how his fate is in God’s hands, meaning he is conscious that God is more powerful than him. When Grendel attacks Heorot, he preys on Beowulf, but soon realizes that he made a mistake, though Beowulf wears no armor or bears any weapons. Engaged in hand-to-hand combat, Grendel tries to flee when he is mortally wounded; his shoulder began to tear until his arm had been ripped off. “The captain of evil discovered himself in a handgrip harder than anything he had ever encountered in any man on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape. He was desperate to flee to his den and hide with the devil’s litter, for in all his days he had never been clamped or cornered like this. Fingers were bursting, the monster back-tracking, the man overpowering” (Heaney lines 749-760). Looking a little deeper into Grendel’s background, it has been told that on the first night he attacked heorot, he had killed thirty men, and altogether had taken them back to his lair. This implies a great lot of supernatural strength, where he then continues his raids for twelve years while the people of Heorot live in fear of him.
Throughout his encounter with Beowulf, it is stated numerous times that he is overwhelmed by Beowulf, tries to escape, and has never been in combat with a man with such strength as Beowulf. “The captain of evil discovered himself in a handgrip harder than anything he had ever encountered with any man. . . for in all his days he had never been clamped or cornered like this. . . he was overwhelmed, manacled tight by the man of all men was foremost the strongest in the days of his life”. . . “he could not escape. . . he was desperate to flee to his den and hide. . . the dread of the land was desperate to escape”. Beowulf’s men came to Beowulf’s aid, but to no avail. Unbeknownst to them, a curse was set upon Grendel, making weapons of no use against him. “Time and again, Beowulf’s warriors worked to defend their lord’s life, laying about them as best they could with their ancestral blades. . . When they joined the struggle there was something they could not have known at the time, that no blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art could ever damage their demon opponent” (Heaney line 793-803). This alone proves that Beowulf, and Beowulf alone, had killed Grendel, who had supernatural strength. “The monster’s whole body was in pain, a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning; Grendel was driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt, to his desolate lair” (Heaney lines 814-820). On all accounts of this battle, Beowulf has exhibited bravery, supernatural strength, loyalty, supernatural strength, and risks his own life in order to serve and protect a kingdom foreign to him.
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