Essay, Research Paper: Beowulf And Hero

Literature: Beowulf

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Beowulf is one of the oldest existing poems in the English language. Originally
written in Anglo-Saxon, it has been translated to give readers the opportunity
to enjoy this colorful, heroic poem of England’s epic age. It has been
declared as a heroic-elegaic poem because of the various characteristics it
clearly possesses. An epic consists of a hero who is larger than life. Beowulf
is unquestionably a perfect example of this hero because of the amazing acts of
heroism he commits. Epic characters also give numerous speeches that revel
something about the past or the speaker’s characteristics. Beowulf does not
give many, but from those he gives, the reader leans about his character traits.
The language of the epic style is an elevated, rather formal language. Similes,
kennings, and many other literary techniques are used throughout the poem.
Beowulf clearly contains many epic characteristics and the following essay will
present the evidence needed to support this allegation. Firstly, epic characters
hold high position—kings, princes, noblemen, and members of the
aristocracy—but the epic hero must be more than that. He must be able to
perform outstanding deeds, be greater than the average character, and be of
heroic proportions. Most of all, he must have super-human courage. The poet
first describes Beowulf as "...greater/And stronger than anyone anywhere in
this world" (Raffel 195-196), without informing us about what he did to
acquire this reputation. The reader initially sees him through the awestruck
eyes of the Danish soldier patrolling the cliffs. Beowulf's appearance--his
size, his armor--obviously commands immediate respect and attention. When asked
by the soldier to identify himself and give detail of his visit, he says he is
not there to challenge Hrothgar’s power but to perform a task to the lord. He
respects the legitimacy of Hrothgar’s kingship and has no intention of
usurping the throne. He preforms in the same honorable manner when he refuses
the kingship after Hygelac’s death. He accepts the crown only after
Hygelac’s son is killed in battle. Beowulf’s super-human courage is shown
when he went into battle with Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon. He
shows he is fearless when he says, “I’d use no sword, no weapon, if this
beast/ Could be killed without it, crushed to death/Like Grendel”(Raffel
2518-2520) before he fights the dragon, which ultimately kills him. Epic
characters generally deliver numerous speeches, all of which move the action
forward, tell something about the past, or reveal the speakers character traits.
Sometimes the hero’s character traits are reveled in speeches by other
characters. Beowulf does not give many speeches, but from those he gives, a lot
is learned about his character traits. The reader learns about his character
from the speeches he makes to the soldier and to Wulfgar, the Danish warrior who
again asks the Geats to identify themselves. Beowulf--anxious to meet with
Hrothgar, from whom he hopes to receive permission to battle Grendel--is
courteous, patient, and diplomatic. Beowulf says “That this one favor you
should not refuse me--/That I, alone and with the help of my men, /May purge all
evil from this hall”(Raffel 430-432) showing that this deed is a favor to the
people. His manner lacks the rudeness and coldness of a person whose previous
accomplishments make him feel superior to other people. His fame as the world's
bravest person hasn't gone to his head. The language used in epic style poems is
that of a higher language. The epic poet makes use of literary techniques such
as similes and kennings. For example, “The ship foamed through the sea like a
bird” (Raffel 218) is one of the similes that can be found in this poem. The
poet is comparing the motion of the ship to the movement of a bird. An example
of a kenning would be “…after nightfall, when Hrothgar withdrew from
the/Hall” (Raffel 1234-1235). Kennings are compound words that describe
something by its characteristics. These literary techniques make the language of
an epic a rather elevated, formal language. Beowulf clearly contains the
elements needed to classify it as an epic. Not only does it contain a larger
than life hero that delivers numerous speeches that reveal his character and a
higher class language, but it also possess many other characteristics that are
important to an epic. Originally written in Anglo-Saxon, Old-English , it has
been translated for all to enjoy.
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