We all know them when we see them. The only question is what makes someone a hero?
See Article History Beowulf, heroic poem, the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic.
It deals with events of the early 6th century and is believed to have been composed between and Although originally untitled, it was later named after the Scandinavian hero Beowulf, whose exploits and character provide its connecting theme.
There is no evidence of a historical Beowulf, but some characters, sites, and events in the poem can be historically verified.
The poem did not appear in print until Unexpectedly, young Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden, arrives with a small band of retainers and offers to cleanse Heorot of its monster.
During the night Grendel comes from the moors, tears open the heavy doors, and devours one of the sleeping Geats.
He then grapples with Beowulf, whose powerful grip he cannot escape. He wrenches himself free, tearing off his arm, and leaves, mortally wounded. The next day is one of rejoicing in Heorot.
In the morning Beowulf seeks her out in her cave at the bottom of a mere and kills her. The Danes rejoice once more. Hrothgar makes a farewell speech about the character of the true hero, as Beowulf, enriched with honours and princely gifts, returns home to King Hygelac of the Geats.
But now a fire-breathing dragon ravages his land and the doughty but aging Beowulf engages it. The fight is long and terrible and a painful contrast to the battles of his youth. Painful, too, is the desertion of his retainers except for his young kinsman Wiglaf.
Beowulf kills the dragon but is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral rites and a lament.
Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically, and thematically to a heroic tradition grounded in Germanic religion and mythology. It is also part of the broader tradition of heroic poetry.
The ethical values are manifestly the Germanic code of loyalty to chief and tribe and vengeance to enemies. Yet the poem is so infused with a Christian spirit that it lacks the grim fatality of many of the Eddaic lays or the sagas of Icelandic literature. Beowulf himself seems more altruistic than other Germanic heroes or the ancient Greek heroes of the Iliad.
It is significant that his three battles are not against men, which would entail the retaliation of the blood feudbut against evil monsters, enemies of the whole community and of civilization itself. Many critics have seen the poem as a Christian allegorywith Beowulf the champion of goodness and light against the forces of evil and darkness.
That is not to say that Beowulf is an optimistic poem.
The English critic J. Tolkien suggests that its total effect is more like a long, lyrical elegy than an epic. Even the earlier, happier section in Denmark is filled with ominous allusions that were well understood by contemporary audiences.
In the second part the movement is slow and funereal: Beowulf has often been translated into modern English; renderings by Seamus Heaney and Tolkien completed ; published became best sellers. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:Beowulf - Analysis of the Epic, Free Study Guides and book notes including comprehensive chapter analysis, complete summary analysis, author biography information, character profiles, theme analysis, metaphor analysis, and top ten quotes on classic literature.
Nov 30, · An essay written about Beowulf describes it this way, “An Anglo-Saxon hero is a person who has good leadership qualities, is able and willing to provide people with a sense of security, and is willing to go into danger despite possible harm to themselves” (“Epic of Beowulf Essay”).
Wiglaf adheres to the heroic code better than Beowulf’s other retainers, thereby proving himself a suitable successor to Beowulf. Read an in-depth analysis of Wiglaf.
Ecgtheow - Beowulf’s father, Hygelac’s brother-in-law, and Hrothgar’s friend. Much of the subject matter the poets relate in Beowulf (click here for a full analysis of Beowulf) revolves around epic heroic traditions, including important lineages and established links to heroic deeds.
They go into great detail about who is the son of what great leader, all with the ultimate purpose of establishing a tradition of heroic behavior, particularly in the case of Beowulf’s family.
Very little Anglo-Saxon literature has survived the centuries, and the 3, lines of Beowulf comprise roughly 10% of all extant Anglo-Saxon literature. The poem was written in Old English, in the tradition of great epics. Like many epic poems, Beowulf depicts the battle between good and evil.
Beowulf embodies the traits of an epic hero. He displays . Test your knowledge of Beowulf with our quizzes and study questions, or go further with essays on the context and background and links to the best resources around the web.