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Essay: Analysis of Heroism in Beowulf

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: 21 January 2022*
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  • Words: 763 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Tags: Beowulf essays

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Many individuals in this world tend to have envy towards another individual because in their head the other individual is superior to him or her. In the poem called “Beowulf”, a piece of Anglo-Saxon literature, written by an unknown Christian monk, unveils how the character Unferth has so much jealousy towards the main character named Beowulf. Unferth is a warrior of the tribe of Danes and is also the son of Ecglaf. While, Beowulf is the son of Edgetho, a warrior, and the protagonist of the epic poem. There is various of different devices used throughout the poem to describe how Unferth was a foil to Beowulf.
The first time that Unferth and Beowulf have an interaction is when Beowulf gets to Heorot to inform the king and people there that he will fight and defeat Grendel. The king, Hrothgar gives Beowulf a welcome in celebration that he has come to help, and right away Unferth intervenes in the celebration to put Beowulf down, and speak about his past reputation. Unferth starts speaking about Beowulf’s past when he lost a battle in swimming by expressing, that Beowulf was a “Boastful fool who fought a swimming match” (240-241). This comment used in the line immediately unveils how Unferth is such an envious person trying to humiliate Beowulf by trying to take everyone’s attention from him away and trying to embarrass him. In response, Beowulf ends the problem by expressing how the battle took place when he was younger, and that now he would be able to defeat the battle with Grendel. The way Beowulf addresses the issue shows how virtuous of a hero he is. A good warrior or hero that people look up to cannot have the characteristic of Unferth, envious and humiliating people. In other hand, Beowulf has the characteristics of a good hero and warrior with his very high moral standards and his respect towards others.
Additionally, a good warrior always takes care of his family and the people around them that they love. Even if it is not someone they love, they also have to protect their people. This is why they are warriors, to help and protect their towns. Unferth wanted something he did not have, fame. Beowulf came and took all of his fame, but Unferth did not have any qualities to have fame in the first place. Instead, Unferth was known to have killed his own brothers. In the poem Beowulf expresses in a line, “Unferth, admired by all for his mind and courage although under a cloud for killing his brothers” (1164-1166). In this line, Beowulf unveils how Unferth really had the audacity to murder his own brothers, his own blood. As a good warrior, Beowulf never harmed anybody around him even if it was his family, someone he loved, or a stranger. Unless it was someone harming others, like Grendel. Those are good qualities of a good warrior, unlike Unferth he killed his own blood without any regret. This event of Unferth really puts out how bad of a warrior he is for the people in his community, and this is what made many people not give him attention or have fame, and this is why he had so much envy towards Beowulf.
When Beowulf defeated Grendel, Unferth finally realized that no matter how much he tried to humiliate Beowulf, he was not going to accomplish it because Beowulf was a good warrior compared to him. Furthermore, when Beowulf was going to fight Grendel’s mother, Unferth handed him his sword to fight the battle. Even though the sword did not help much during the battle it showed how Unferth was aware that Beowulf was a great fighter and there was nothing he could do about it, so he decided to help him out and that way people could probably give him the attention he wanted.
In conclusion, Unferth was a foil to Beowulf in the story by showing how he is the opposite of Beowulf’s character. Unferth was the opposite of Beowulf, because not only did he always try to humiliate Beowulf, but he also killed his own brothers. Beowulf was nothing like Unferth in the poem, he would of never humiliate anybody nor kill someone of his own family. Beowulf had the qualities of a good epic hero, and Unferth did not have these qualities which caused his envy towards Beowulf. The envy that Unferth developed in the poem showed how Beowulf was always superior to him, and a better warrior to his people compared to him.

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