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The Makings of an Epic Hero

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Submitted By mcheo
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The Makings of an Epic Hero A true hero does not fear death, but instead risks all he has for what he believes to be right and honorable. Epic heroes are, above all, defined by their action and valor. The anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem “Beowulf” chronicles the legendary tale of an epic hero and his brushes with monsters and demons. Facing foes that are beyond mere human strength, and beyond the power of the Danish warriors, Beowulf uses his extraordinary might to conquer the beasts. Beowulf displays the attributes of an epic hero through his displays of intense courage, strength, and generosity. Courage is the foundation of the warrior culture that Beowulf is a part of. It is necessary for Beowulf to be indifferent to death and meet every challenge with a courage and fearlessness that surmounts any warrior before him. “So warriors earn/ Their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword” (24-25). Anglo-Saxons awarded and highly valued courage in their warriors. Through courageous deeds, warriors could achieve greatness in society. Beowulf’s ultimate goal is to win glory and immortality in each battle. “And for the first time in his life that famous prince/ Fought with fate against him, with glory/ Denied him. He knew it” (2572-73). Even though Beowulf perishes, he reaches the ultimate level of courage by facing death and battling the dragon. Strength is a constant obsession in the world of Anglo- Saxon warriors. Beowulf is always willing to go to extreme lengths to prove his physical prowess:
[Grendel] needs no weapons and fears none. Nor will I… My hands Alone shall fight for me, struggle for life
Against the monster. (432-40)
By announcing that he will engage in hand to hand combat with Grendel, Beowulf turns this contest into a major feat of strength. By establishing such a high level of fame in his lifetime from winning unprecedented clashes, such as the one with Grendel, Beowulf can ensure that his name remains immortal to the generations succeeding him. Even when Beowulf is not in battle with a monster, it is still important for him to exhibit his strength: “Nine was the number/ Of sea-huge monsters I killed” (574-75). Exaggeration in any warrior’s recounting of a battle is to be expected, but Beowulf’s actions supported his boasts, no matter how farfetched they were. Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel is a gory one: “muscle and bone split/ and broke. The battle was over, Beowulf had been granted a new glory” (815-16). Due to his superhuman strength, Beowulf is received as an epic hero by the Danes and the Geats.
Beowulf is fiercely loyal, as seen in his allegiance to his king Higlac, Hrothgar, and his own faithful men. As a warrior, he believes in avenging the death of a friend or kin and doing so at the cost of his own life: “the precious gifts you gave me, / My friend, send them to Higlac” (1482-83). Before diving into the lake to face Grendel’s mother, Beowulf anticipates his death and asks for the treasures Hrothgar awarded him to be sent back to his king. His first thought before facing death was not about himself, but about how to support his king after death. Although he could have easily seized the throne after King Higlac’s death, “Beowulf/ Refused to rule” (2372-73). His declination to the offer of the Geatish throne display’s his loyalty to his rulers. Later in his life when Beowulf takes the throne out of necessity, his loyalty to his subjects shines through when he goes to face the dragon: “I mean to stand, not run from his shooting/ Flames, and stand till fate decides which of us wins” (2525-26). As king of the Geats, Beowulf is responsible for threats to his people, and he loyally attempts to protect them, yet again becoming an epic hero in the eyes of his people. Beowulf personifies the attributes of an Anglo-Saxon epic hero by embodying the traits that were most admired. His intense courage earns him a reputation of being a fearless warrior, something necessary to achieve respect from kinsmen. He also possesses a superhuman strength that makes him the epitome of an invincible warrior. Beowulf’s sincere loyalty to his rulers and fellow warriors also created a unanimous support for him because he was not deceitful. In the end, it was the human mortality of Beowulf that made him an epic hero. He was able to accomplish superhuman feats, but perished in the same manner as his comrades.

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