The text "Beowulf
" embodies the key ideology of an epic hero
. This being that Beowulf does not hastily leap into battle, he understands the danger
s yet “it is not his life he thinks of” (line 1535). He puts his own welfare
in a lower priority to others’. But more predominantly he is not afraid to die, “He was not sorry to be fighting” (line 1537). It can be further said that an epic hero is not only brave
in this sense but also loyal
in that he isn’t just protecting people from a common enemy
but is continuing with his promise to Hygelac
to protect Heriot
from all impending dangers, not just Grendel
. There are however other factors, which the text highlights, that are uniquely made as an example in Beowulf that envisage an epic hero.
One such being that Beowulf not only fights man to man (or female species as it is in Grendel's Mother's case) but hand to hand as well. It is almost like the headline for a boxing match, “The Geat” vs. “Grendel’s mother” (line 1536) highlights the naked appearance of the lone form of combat, which characterizes the epic hero, “not sorry to be fighting” (line 1537) and not scared that they are alone. The previous stanza of verse emphasizes the second factor being that an epic hero needs not to utilize weapons, “furious the warrior flung the sword to the ground” for “his own strength would suffice him” lines 1530-1532.
The reason for these innate aspects being so primary to an epic hero is that the classic role of the hero depends upon their faith and understanding of fate, referred to as “wyrd” in Beowulf's Norse/Pagan Society. The proof of this undivided faith is displayed in how the epic hero shows no fear of the outcomes of life. For example fighting unarmed, alone and in confidence.
However within this structure lays the elegiac heroic paradox. This being that immortality will be achieved despite the outcome. His confidence and resilience then could also said to have emanated from the fatal flaw of pride. Thus although the epic hero may appear morally just and consoled in their affirming faith in fate similarly their solace could also originate from an introspective assurance in their perpetual ability to attain glory through the paradox.
There is one question in regard to the epic hero that may appear ambiguous in the majority of heroic texts but is quite definitive in Beowulf. This being that the epic hero may appear immortal, for the “firmest of warriors fell to the earth” when he was able to “regain his feet” (lines 1542-1555). However the truth being that they are merely human, his “venture/ would have ended” without “the battle shirt” (lines 1549-1551). The emphasized aid in Beowulf however is not the technology of the Iron Age but God.
It is believed by many authorities that underneath the heroic pre text in Beowulf lays a critique of pagan society by either one or many Christianly bias authors. The primary example of this predilection being that without god this human with divinely ordained abilities would not be so sensational and successful. This is said by “the holy God” not any stone god giving “out the victory” (Line 1553).
Thus although Beowulf appears super human and fulfils the Norse as well as a contemporary criteria for an epic hero, the intention of the composer is not to fulfil any fantasy. The purpose being the text being to glorify an individual whos trusts and believes in god, which consequently displays Christianity's superiority over paganism.
Anonymous, Beowulf, trans. Alexander (Penguin pb.) 2003