One of the best literary devices the author of Beowulf uses is the use of episodes and digressions. Each of these episodes and digressions tell another story apart from the main plot of Beowulf, but sets up an introduction to the main plot. One such episode, the Sigemund episode, tells of valiant King Sigemund who received glory and honor through his killing of the dragon and possession of the hoard. Sigemund became a noble and experienced king, only to be betrayed and brought to his downfall.
Beowulf was much the same as Sigemund, and both were great examples of heroes.
The Sigemund episode introduces a comparison to Beowulf, foreshadows Beowulf’s downfall, and parallels the irony of Beowulf’s shortcomings. As we see in the following lines: “Sigemund’s name was known everywhere. / He was utterly valiant and venturesome, / a fence round his fighters and flourished therefore” (897-898), the author introduces Sigemund as an excellent comparison to Beowulf. The author uses the Sigemund episode to set up a better understanding of the character of Beowulf by describing a king much like himself.
This allows the reader to understand the character of Beowulf and know what a noble and valiant character he was. The author presents Sigemund as a brave warrior who defeated the dragon, much like the victorious warrior that Beowulf was. And within the Sigemund episode, Heremod is introduced as a wicked king, an exact opposite of Sigemund and Beowulf. This allows the reader to compare the three kings, and promote Beowulf as a noble king such as Sigemund.
Another purpose of the Sigemund episode within Beowulf is to foreshadow Beowulf’s defeat and downfall.
Sigemund is a noble and mighty king, but is led to his defeat in the following lines: “… The king was betrayed, ambushed in Jutland, overpowered / and done away with” (901-903). This defeat of Sigemund foreshadows Beowulf’s defeat and death during the battle with the dragon. As Sigemund and Beowulf are both valiant kings, they both are led to their failure and death. This part of the Sigemund episode gives the reader a glimpse of what is to come for Beowulf in the rest of the poem. From this episode, the author uses irony that Beowulf will become a great and mighty king, but also will come face to face with his destruction.
The author uses this irony to connect the characters of Sigemund and Beowulf. Not only does the Sigemund episode foreshadow the downfall of Beowulf, but it also sets up a choice that Beowulf has to make. Beowulf has to either chose to be like Sigemund, a courageous and noble king, or take the path of Heremod, an evil king. This gives the reader a sense of uncertainty of the choice Beowulf will make. As the reader, the choice that Beowulf will make is obvious, but this is a huge choice of character for Beowulf.
It gives a chance for Beowulf to prove his character, and allows the reader to understand the trustworthiness of Beowulf once he does chose to be a noble king. Among the various episodes and digressions within Beowulf, Sigemund’s episode sets up the best foreshadowing of Beowulf’s life. In all, Sigemund’s episode clues the reader in with what type of character Beowulf is. Sigemund is the perfect comparison to Beowulf, and this allows the reader to expect what is to come for Beowulf. Sigemund’s hymn apart from the main plot of Beowulf accomplished the task of introducing and setting up the destiny for Beowulf.