Most people define a hero as someone who steps up when everyone else turns away. A hero comes forward when bravery is needed most, a trait very few have. In the Anglo-Saxon time period, it was expected that someone who was viewed as a hero received goods and wealth as a reward for their deeds done. A hero then was also an image of safety, the more powerful they were in any sense (power, wealth, ego) makes the people they represent just as powerful mentally. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself ”. Beowulf was a true hero, deserving of everything he asked for after each battle. It wasn’t his job to fight those beasts.
Beowulf starts off by helping a clan other than his own to kill a monster named Grendel that no one could kill for twelve years. Burton Raffel, the translator of Beowulf, writes that Grendel fought against anyone who dared to face him, and won against all (Raffel 29). Beowulf also goes about killing this monster by using his bare hands in order to make it a fair fight, because that is all the monster used to fight. Beowulf’s ability is clearly shown when Burton Raffle tells how Beowulf takes on Grendel “The Shepherd of evil, guardian of crime, knew at once that nowhere on earth had he meant a man whose hands were harder; His mind was flooded with fear – but nothing could take his talons and himself from that tight, hard grip” (Raffel 31). Using his bare hands was meant to be an example of his true power, not a way to show off. A hero would not risk his life to show his power. Grendel can not even be hurt by a mortals sword, showing Beowulf had made the right choice to take on Grendel with his hands only. After the battle with Grendel, Beowulf learns that Grendel’s mother is upset with the death of her son.
After Grendel’s mother attacks the mead hall killing everyone inside, Beowulf sets out to kill her. Beowulf still was not obligated to take on this fight “When Beowulf is told of this attack, he immediately sets out to fight the monster. He descends for hours into the depths of the lake, where he engages in a horrendous battle with Grendel’s mother” (Raffel 34). Beowulf just voluntarily sailed over seas, to a different clan, killing Grendel for them, and now he is taking on the task of searching for hours through the depths of the swamp just to get into another fight. After Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother, he finds Grendel dead on the floor. Beowulf brings back Grendel’s head for the people to see as visual proof to feel more comforted, which takes twelve men to carry once brought ashore. After these battles, Beowulf is finally able to return home where he is crowned king and rules peacefully until a dragon is awoken.
As Beowulf rules over his kingdom for fifty peaceful years, someone awakens a dragon by stealing gold from its lair. This dragon terrorizes Beowulf’s clan until he decides to take on the dragon. Beowulf is easily seventy years old by now, and still willing to fight for his people. No one else in the clan stepped up to take on this dragon. Old beowulf who had been sitting in the castle ageing for fifty years straight with no battles or action to keep his skills sharp. As Beowulf begins to battle the dragon, he realizes it is his last fight. “…And for the first time in his life that famous prince fought with fate against him, with glory denied him. He knew it, but he raised his sword and stuck the dragon’s scaly hide” (Raffel 36). Even when Beowulf knows it’s over for him, he stands and fights. That is a hero. Beowulf requested a tower be made for him, to remember him by. The Geats did not have to build it, but they did out of their love and sorrow for Beowulf. The people of his clan had a king who to them would never be replaced by a better one, and could never be more deserving of praise (Raffel 40).
Beowulf could have lived a long, safe life. He did not do that, he died knowing he had fought any evil that was on the earth, anything that was a threat to the normal person. Beowulf dies because of his heroic acts. Everything Beowulf did reflected back onto his clan, so to kill a monster with his bare hands gave his whole clan a reputation. The reputation they gained from Beowulf was also a source of safety. No one wanted to mess with the clan whose king was killing demons with his bare hands. Literary critic George Clark writes “Beowulf’s decision to fight Grendel on even terms, without arms and armour, is, Tolken intimates, legitimate since the hero has no obligation to the Danes and any glory he gains will also honor his nation’’ (Clark 13). Beowulf was not even fighting just for his own people. He did not owe the Danes anything, and yet he still goes there and kills the beast terrorizing their mead hall. Anyone who knows what a hero is, knows that Beowulf falls into that definition without a doubt.
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