beowulf And The Misrepresentation Of Anglo-saxon Culture

Categories: Beowulf

During the time of the Anglo-Saxons, many virtues and characteristics that were expected of great leaders and heroes were created. The most known of these virtues are generosity, loyalty, friendliness, and bravery few could meet and surpass these requirements. In the epic poem Beowulf, translated by Burton Raffel, the hero Beowulf does not display and fairly represent these virtues due to his selfishness.

Beowulf has never been an ideal Anglo-Saxon hero and is very self-conscious of what people think of him and how much they think of him.

Earlier in the poem, he is insulted by Unferth in a pub for risking his life for stupid reasons. He responds by accusing him of being “hot with ale” (264) and praising himself for all his heroic achievements. He completely disregards the virtue of friendliness and rudely bickers with Unferth about why he is so much better than him. Before the battle with Grendel, Beowulf’s motivation for the battle is to help end the suffering of people.

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He, however, does not stay committed to this motive and soon becomes selfish with his intentions. He lacks loyalty to his people and reason to fight and changes to the only fight for himself. After the first battle is finished, Beowulf hangs up Grendel’s arm from the rafters, which is a call of attention and praise to Beowulf. He is beginning to thrive off the attention and glory he is receiving from everyone around him. He starts to become overconfident about himself and “Longed only for fame” (606).

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Beowulf has never been a kind, loyal man with pure intentions to fight.

Beowulf never changes and dies as an arrogant, self-centered man. After 50 years, he is called upon again to fight a dragon that is threatening the lives of many. Although eleven other men will be fighting with him, he believes that only he can will the dragon and that “No one else could do/What I mean to, here, no man but me” (682-683). When Beowulf is called to fight, he accepts purely to gain a plethora of jewelry and treasure. He no longer cares for the people he is fighting for and his sole motive is to win “[the] dragon’s treasure, his gold/And everything hidden in that tower” (685-686). During the battle, Beowulf is struck by the Dragon and mortally wounded. While reciting his dying speech, he tells his partner, Wiglaf, a request to, “build me a tomb…[a] tower, and remember my name, and call it/Beowulf's tower” (810, 814-815). Rather than commending Wiglaf on killing the dragon, Beowulf selfishly asks for a tower to be built so that he and his legacy would be remembered for years to come. He is not concerned with the health of Wiglaf, but only with how his glory will be carried on; Beowulf died a boastful and egotistical death.

In the epic poem Beowulf, translated by Burton Raffel, the hero Beowulf does not display and fairly represent these virtues. Beowulf, the perfect Anglo-Saxon hero, has many flaws. He never fairly represented any of the virtues of the community righteously. Anytime he went into battle, he went in for his own personal and narcissistic reasons. He was fueled by appreciation, attention, fame, and wealth. Beowulf is the opposite of an Anglo-Saxon hero and displays none of the cultural virtues. 

Works cited

  1. Raffel, B. (1963). Beowulf: a new translation with an introduction. Penguin Classics.
  2. Heaney, S. (2000). Beowulf: a new verse translation. W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Tolkien, J. R. R. (1958). Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. Proceedings of the British Academy, 363-83.
  4. Klaeber, F. (1950). Beowulf and The fight at Finnsburg. Heath & Company.
  5. Hall, J. R. (2004). Beowulf and the Critics (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Vol. 282). Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
  6. O'Keefe, K. O. (1982). The heroic ethos: Reality and representation. Yale University Press.
  7. Shippey, T. (2010). The Road to Middle-earth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  8. Baker, P. (2015). Anglo-Saxon literature. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Orchard, A. (2003). Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript. University of Toronto Press.
  10. Mitchell, B. (1998). Heroic Identity in the World of Beowulf. In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (pp. 187-202). Cambridge University Press.
Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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beowulf And The Misrepresentation Of Anglo-saxon Culture. (2024, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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