Beowulf's Hubris: A Hero's Tragic Flaw and Triumph

Categories: Beowulf Unferth

Focus and why this is important Why the author utilizes Beowulf’s hubris as a reason and sole purpose for his proficiency Beowulf has noble intentions, he wants the good will of his people His achievements is not only motivated by his pride but also by his people and those he leads He is a tragic hero, and a epic hero but also more importantly a selfless hero Beowulf demonstrates faith in God as he thanks HIM for his victories Along the many lines of the epic poem, Beowulf’s personality remains unchanged.

He represents a warrior with the qualities and strength of both a god and a man. The author depicts Beowulf as a hero but also presents his hubris as one of his tragic flaws. He obtains a sort of “magic power” when he makes a firm commitment to persist to a challenge. Beowulf is described as a hero who is bigger than life itself not only because of his confidence and adventurous personality but by the way his men look upon him sets the standard for modern heroes.

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The author uses this to describe someone who they’ll admire or something that the author hopes or wants to see worldwide. Both an epic hero and a tragic hero, Beowulf’s heart is led not only about caring for those who follow him but also the glory after each conquest. Beowulf is not arrogant in his accomplishments as he deserves success after many triumphs. Would Beowulf still be successful as a warrior if not led by pure glory and honor after each battle? Does Beowulf truly care about those who he leads or fame and fortune? Does Beowulf’s excessive lust and greed overshadow his accomplishments? The author continues to focus on Beowulf’s excessive pride as a reason for his proficiency.

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They emphasize pride as Beowulf’s archetype, the universal patterns of human nature is pride and greed.

All humans whether at some point in their life or another are all motivated by pride, the confidence in their accomplishments, or contentment in receiving a reward after the fact. Suppose someone is tasked with selling a car and is successful, confidence in his ability to sell the car and the motivation for the reward (Payment) after all contributed to success. So to can this be applied to Beowulf when confronted with the opportunity to slay Grendel. Confidence in his prowess and the success of previous triumphs motivated his skill in not only killing Grendel but taking a keepsake with him, to display to his men of a victorious mission. This one tragic flaw is evident in something as simple as when he was challenged to swimming across the sea by Breca. Beowulf’s response was ​“But the truth is simple: no man swims in the sea as I can, no strength is a match for mine.” Beowulf in this case is not totally full of pride alone, but he is also very competitive. His conviction of his expertise is clearly evident through his triumph and superhuman capabilities.

Had Beowulf failed at every mission and yet continued to boast about it as if he’d succeeded then he would have an unhealthy ego and he would not be exalted by his followers. However Beowulf was successful and deserves glory because of his adept leadership. Beowulf offers a favor to Hrothgar to slay Grendel and then holds a feast dedicated to Beowulf’s honor. A jealous Dane named Unferth calls out Beowulf and claims that Beowulf doesn't deserve his status. Beowulf responds by not only presenting evidence of his past achievements but by giving credit to the Danish warriors. This is proof that Beowulf doesn’t solely take full credit for his success but acknowledged those with him. During Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel, Beowulf goes above and beyond by proving he is much more powerful, faster, and stronger than the monster by simply battling him unarmed. Beowulf could've simply ended the battle much easier and smoother had he wielded his weapons. As the dragon utilizes its teeth to bite people in half, it will bring him greater honor if he slays the monster with his bare hands.

If an enemy is unarmed, no matter how deadly they are it would be dishonorable and Beowulf doesn’t miss out on opportunities for glory. Beowulf’s dominance over the female dragon is celebrated after an intense battle that ultimately results when the hero takes one of her own blades and deals her a blow to the neck. Certainly he could’ve waited until Grendel's mother showed up at the hall where his men were waiting but instead Beowulf chose to sought her out himself as just another example of Beowulf putting himself in greater danger for the sake of personal acclamation. Beowulf’s achievements are not purely motivated by pride alone though as he genuinely has a desire to protect the will of his people. Those he leads think highly of him and without followers there can be no leader. “If this combat kills me, take care /of my young company, my comrades in arms. /And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar, /to send Hygelac the treasures I have received.”(1249-1491)

This shows that Beowulf not only cares about his men but thinks about his warriors first then his possessions and treasure. He has a strong compassion for his men and wants to ensure that Hrothgar understands what to do with the treasure afterwards. No doubt he has superhuman strength but so does Grendel, it’s the noble intentions and attributes that contribute to his heroic deeds and glory that he receives. “ Who valuable gift-gems of the Geatmen carried/As peace offer thither, that he thirty men’s grapple/ Has in his hand, the hero in battle.” Beowulf has the might of thirty men, more than double what he brought with him to wage against Grendel. Certainly his greed and lust for nobility and prestige could have been overlooked. But those distinctions did not overshadow his accomplishments because Beowulf was not completely driven by those aspects only but driven by the virtue of loyalty and faithfulness. He speaks truth when naming his achievements, Beowulf isn’t high-minded or arrogant but is only confident in his abilities and prowess because of his success.

Beowulf represents and demonstrates faith in not just himself or his expertise but in God, as he gives thanks to him for every triumph. There are several biblical references in Beowulf, for instance, when the author states that Grendel is the descendant of Cain. Cain. who murdered his brother Abel because of jealousy, doesn’t represent good and righteousness but an ambassador of injustice and evil. Beowulf’s tragic flaw (pride) is the result of both his death, and his success to complete what everybody else before couldn't. “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,/eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride. For a brief while your strength is in bloom but it fades/quickly; and soon there will follow/illness or the sword to lay you low,/or a sudden fire or surge of water/or jabbing blade or javelin from the air/or repellent age. Your piercing eye/will dim and darken; and death will arrive, /dear warrior, to sweep you away." (1759-1768) Beowulf has found a perfect balance between being humble and being full of pride. Beowulf is then told by Hrothgar that life alone is a gift from God and that he shouldn’t be absorbed by his earthly possessions.

When Beowulf returns from his battle with Grendel’s mother, he returns the sword which happens to have been useless back to Unferth. But instead of criticizing the sword and mocking Unferth, he admires the weapon. Beowulf represents somebody who “ puts their money where their mouth is.” He backs up his claims and executes the mission as he says he will. Beowulf’s last words were: I thank God that I can give my people these gifts of gold.” Not only does this demonstrate his gratitude to God but his compassion to his people. He acknowledges that he wasn’t the only sole person responsible for his success and fortune. In lines (1925-2210), after Beowulf returns and he describes his battle with Grendel, he is then gifted with a great deal of treasure. As time goes by, Hygelac is killed in battle and Beowulf is crowned as the new king of the Geats. The fact that he rules wisely and great for fifty years proves that his people along those who went to battle with him accept him and idolize his revered status. Is Beowulf’s arrogance or truly believing in himself? Beowulf commits himself to doing anything he sees fit a worthy challenge and he persists to ensure success. Someone or something will always manifest itself to help him.

For example, in lines (624-625) ​“Of my mail shirt, these shining bits of metal Woven across my breast, saved me from death.” Beowulf is battling grendel’s mother and when she unleashes her claws and strikes him the chain-mail saves his life. Beowulf’s power and capabilities are inexhaustible, he takes advantage of each opportunity to grow and he is determined to fight to the fullest extent of his prowess. During Beowulf’s reign as King, it is said that he rules wisely for fifty years and brings prosperity to Geatland (pull quotes from the lines) which proves that The Geats are comfortable and confident in his reign. A capable and skillful king, his conviction is his motivation and he believes in himself. He expresses himself clearly and his mind is always focused on what he is doing. Beowulf is totally in control of every situation. He never passes on an opportunity for glory and anything or anyone that presents a worthy challenge he will commit himself to victory whether or not his life is saved or lost. Beowulf is aware of the things he does well and he accepts compliments with gratitude. He is devoted to every goal and earnestly begins a mission with a methodical sense of keen tactics.

When Beowulf is waging a battle against the dragon (2518-2524), he explains that he is fully geared up and definitely prepared. He allows himself the full advantage against the dragon because it wields its own advantages: poisonous venom and the ability to breathe fire. Beowulf knows that this behemoth is unlike no other and not bringing the very best of his armor would be just foolish. Deep down even with Beowulf’s superhuman capabilities knows that he cannot take down the beast with his bare hands and walk away untouched. However, the book leaves no room for suspense and explains that Beowulf is destined to die in this battle (2341-2349). He was warned by Hrothgar about his pride and goes to fight the dragon with the same courage and belief that he still possesses the same level of enhanced strength and agility 50 years before. Indeed he still does possess a certain level of proficiency as he did, but he cannot execute that same level of finesse in battle. Beowulf has all that it takes to be successful. He has the intelligence, the ambition, the energy, and the persistence.

A picture is depicted about him that he can adapt to any situation and nothing can stand in his way. Beowulf is aware of his every encounter and aware of the hazardous roads that lead him to these encounters. Beowulf doesn't always expect the best to come out of every battle either, before he goes to fight Grendel he tells Hrothgar to send some chain-mail back to his family just in case he is slain. Would Beowulf still be successful as a warrior if not guided by pure honor and glory? The answer: Yes. For instance, Beowulf gives credit where credit is due. In lines I wish to give thanks, speaking such words as I may, to the almighty Ruler, the King crowned with glory, the eternal Lord, for these riches I look on here by the barrow, that I have been blessed to acquire for my dear people, before the time of my passing. The poet demonstrates Christian elements from Beowulf while also acknowledging the fact that Beowulf is giving glory to God.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Beowulf's Hubris: A Hero's Tragic Flaw and Triumph. (2020, Sep 05). Retrieved from

Beowulf's Hubris: A Hero's Tragic Flaw and Triumph essay
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