Shakespeare had once said, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born with greatness, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Stories about great heroes have been mentioned in folktales, legends, mythology, and even
the Bible. In the epic of Beowulf, the people find security in him and are also amazed by his actions. However, some suggest that Beowulf’s achievement is what clearly makes him so special; what makes him a hero. The people’s perception of his character gives them the approval that Beowulf is indeed defined only by his sword, strength, and pride.
Nevertheless, there is more to his victories and his lavish armory that defines him as a hero. Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel finished in his favor. He retells his plan to “pounce, pin him down in a tight grip and grapple him to death-have him panting for life, powerless and clasped in my bare hands, his body in thrall” (Heaney 65), which eventually led to a battle he had won. “Then halfdane’s son presented Beowulf with a gold standard as a victory gift, and embroidered banner; also breast-mail and a helmet; and a sword carried high, that was both precious object and token of honour” (Heaney 69) the people of Heorot had returned the favor by offering him with opulent gifts. This shows that the people praise him for what he has done, and thought of him as a great warrior, but by giving him material things, he has been viewed as an object that will fade away. He will be used, then forgotten and would soon be wiped out of the face of the earth. On the other hand, King Hrothgar’s cogent speech held another side, “ ‘with defending the people’s forts from assaults…he has accomplished something none of us could manage before now for all our efforts … I adopt you in my heart as a dear son’ “ (Heaney 63), in his speech he values Beowulf more than his wealth; Beowulf is in his heart and does not show enmity towards him. Hrothgar admires Beowulf’s accomplishment and does not top it with lavish things. He simply shows his sincerity for what Beowulf did.
“No one can deny the fact that Beowulf possesses an abundance of strength and courage; but others who posses strength lack the wisdom and restraint” (Bramante 1988). Beowulf’s stereotypical heroic qualities are observed throughout the book. People happen to misinterpret Beowulf, he is shown as the “youthful one, having nothing to lose and desires personal glory” (Unknowing 2007). Beowulf unlike Heremond is not full of arrogance, although he boasts about his conquests. Heremond, “refuses to reard his warriors with treasure, and he even slaughters his won companions in his royal court” (Bramante 1988). Beowulf on the other hand “demonstrates the sort of restraint where he refrains from usurping Hygelac’s throne, choosing instead to uphold the line of succession by supporting the appointment of Hygelac’s son” (Sparknotes 2006). It is incontrovertible that beowulf knows that it is his obligation to protect his people when in battle. Though some may find him arrogant; someone who takes pride of themselves too much. He may be that person, but he being an ideal astute leader who “possess the qualities of wisdom, temperance, and generosity” (Bramante 1988), defines him as a great leader and an altruistic hero to his people.
Beowulf has been provided with a large amount of help from the natural realm. When Beowulf explained his side of the swimming contest, which Unferth fabricated in some ways, he talks about how he “struggled on for five nights, until the long flow and pitch of the waves, the perishing cold, night falling and winds from the north” (Heaney 37). The use of Hyperbole in his claim shows that he might be exaggerating his side of the story.
Nevertheless, if the claim is true, then the unusual power/force that helped him overcome such factors is, nonetheless, impressive. “The ocean lifted and laid me ashore, I landed safe on the coast of Finland” (Heaney 39), the ocean personified a person on how calm and careful it carried Beowulf ashore is the magic itself, the ‘magical’ force that helped him. For some people, they think that Beowulf accomplished things because he was born with the strength and courage that along side his strong arms with his sword satisfies the necessities to fight in battle. According to Hannabery, “Fate often saves a doomed man when his courage is good” (1998), Beowulf shows his belief that ‘Fate’ will forever govern him and aid him as long as he is courageous. Fate led him on the coast of Finland, safely. It simply shows that ‘fate’, an unexplained force, guides him through his life and defines him as a hero.
Every battle that Beowulf enters is of great importance to him and to his people. They may think that he is always prepared, ready for battle, and without any worries. Nevertheless, Beowulf is usually confident. He prepares for every battle, plans for it; incase he dies. For the Geat’s, Beowulf’s bold encounter with the dragon is “morally ambiguous because it dooms them to a kingless state in which they remain vulnerable to attack by their enemies,” (Kennedy 1940), instead he refrains from usurping Hygelac’s throne, and supported the appointment of Hygelac’s son. The Geats in this case are rather selfish, they may be thinking about their country, but Beowulf tries to compromise with them.
It seems to them that he just kills monsters for entertainment and enjoyment, but nonetheless, every battle has a purpose for him. Despite his old age, he faced the Dragon and managed to defeat it, he “ Gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle. He stuck it deep into the dragon’s flank. Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound” (Heaney 183). His motivation to finish what he started shows how dedicated he is to his people. Instead of having his homeland suffer future attacks from nearby enemies when he dies, he grabs his helmet and his sword and slays the Dragon. People may think that he is self-centered, by not residing into his proper place as king, but in this case he matures from a “valiant combatant into a wise leader” (Kennedy 1940). His transition demonstrates that he is capable of deciding what is right and what is wrong. The Geats do not see what he really is capable off; what Beowulf is capable off, but they are blinded, because they think that all he is capable off is slaying monsters and coming out victorious. However, there is more to Beowulf than what they think of him.
The epic of Beowulf tells the story of a man and his heroic deeds. Beowulf is compared to gold, where it is emphasized as a “wondrous splendor” (Unknowing 2007). However, gold can eventually come to mean little. It becomes apparent that gold is not treasured for its own sake, but it is prized as a symbol of what is honorable and noble; it is a symbol of worth. Eventually the value in the eyes of those who seek it is melted on a pyre and buried away in a mound. Where people expect that gold is simply just gold; it cannot offer more than what it already has nor could it be changed except in its form. Though for some, gold doesn’t naturally mean the jewelry that sits on their head, but gold can exemplify someone who provides guidance and light, like the golden rays of the sun. Beowulf, a determined man, shines like the sun. People misapprehended his actions, and thought that he ventured far just to kill wild beasts; just to prove that he could prevail. However, for him, his decisions and actions always concerned the wellness of his people. His heart of gold, which stood out in the end, defined him as a true epic hero.