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A hero is an idealized individual, who exemplifies the finer qualities of man. He is distinguished by his exceptional courage, fortitude, and bold enterprise. In the epic poem Beowulf, by Anonymous, Beowulf (the central character) embodies the distinctive qualities of a noble hero. His character illustrates a perfect parity between the natural forces instinctive within the nature of man. Throughout the novel, his righteousness combats the malevolence thriving in his harsh world. This environment is a melting pot of multiple dualities.
The poem illustrates a clear-cut struggle between one of the most prominent dualisms, good and evil. Evil emerges from the absence of goodness. Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon are all perverted forces of evil. They are bent on mass destruction and chaos. Grendel invokes a sense of terror while he ravages Hrothgar’s Danish hall (Heorot), “So Hrothgar’s men lived happy in his hall till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but earth.
He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain” (pg26).
Heorot symbolizes civilization. It is the center of community life, where happiness and freedom are celebrated. It is also the site of the king’s throne, and a place of safety. The destruction of Heorot is not just an attack against the Danes, but also an attack against the fiber of civilization itself. This tension represents the duality between civilization and social disorder.
Although Grendel’s mother shares the same destructive personality as her son, she demonstrates a minute spark of human emotion in her desire to avenge her son’s death.
This illustrates the possible presence of compassion within a heart of sin. Beowulf’s final enemy, the dragon, is identified with evil and destruction. He seeks revenge upon the land of the Geats only when his treasure collection is violated. These three monsters signify the external presence of evil in the world. However, if individuals abandon civil behavior, this “bestiality” will cultivate within the hearts of all human beings. The dualities that exist between the symbols of good and evil are very distinguished in the story.
Beowulf’s character is also flooded with various dualities. His personality reflects the greatest dual of all, the struggle between the physical and the spiritual. Physical attributes are the stitches that compose the cloak of external character. Beowulf’s physical prowess places him upon a pedestal of eminence; “Higlac’s follower and the strongest of the Geats-greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in the world” (pg29). The physical strength exemplified by Beowulf elevates his stature. This recognition gives him motivation to exceed his past standards for ones of greater potency.
The incentive fuels his will, which unlocks the way to his glory. Another aspect that further supplements his physical identity was his armor. This protective shield enhances his confidence, which creates a mentality bent on success; Beo, “Began to fasten his armor, not afraid for his life but knowing the woven mail, with its hammered links, could save that life when he lowered himself into the lake, keep slimy monsters’ claws from snatching at his heart, preserve him for the battle he was sent to fight” (pg68).
As Beowulf travels into the latter years of adulthood, his self-confidence diminishes. This is evident in the fact that he begins to rely on exterior protection. The battles become progressively more difficult: he kills Grendel bare handed; the chain mail saves him from Grendel’s mother but he needs a sword to kill her; he uses his sword, armor, and special shield against the dragon but still needs Wiglaf’s help. This gradual reliance on armor represents his diminishing physical strength; “His soul sensed how close fate had come, felt something, not fear but knowledge of old age” (pg 98).
Even though his physical dexterity trembles among the harsh tempests of battle, his spirituality is his foundation. This is evident in his confrontation with Grendel’s mother, “If our father in Heaven had not helped me, Hrunting, Unferth’s noble weapon, could do nothing, Nor could I, until the ruler of the world showed me, hanging shining and beautiful on the wall, a mighty old sword-so God gives guidance to those who can find it from no one else. I used the weapon He had offered me, drew it and, when I could, swung it, killed the monstrous hag in her own home” (pg 75).
Faith is blind confidence embodied within the soul. It is a graceful acceptance toward the complexities of life. As a force of good, Beowulf sees himself as being subject to a higher power that determines his existence. He is bound by faith throughout his entire struggle. Courage, valor, and spirit are direct products of impervious faith. All these qualities exist in Beowulf’s nature as these traits define his heroic persona. His faith remains steadfast before his final battle with the dragon; he resolutely proclaims, “as a youth I fought in endless battles.
I am old, now, but I will fight again… stand still fate decides which of us wins” (pg 101). Even as “that famous prince fought with fate against him, with glory denied him. He raised his sword and struck at the dragon’s scaly hide” (pg103). With faith in his heart and strength by his side, Beowulf accepts his inevitable death. His belief in self-sacrifice leads to his end. He makes the greatest altruistic action, a gallant death. Loyalty is a reliance grounded in faith, which, when untainted, begets harmony.
The concept of Comitatus refers to the bonds of loyalty and friendship that unite warriors attached to a lord or ruler. There is a dual responsibility in comitatus: the followers must be absolutely faithful to their leader, even to the point of suffering death rather than to survive without him; in return for his loyalty, the leader must protect his followers and reward them generously with gifts. The belief in warrior alliance composed the structure of Beowulf’s relationships.
He gladly extended his friendship to all, More than I have done, battles I can fight in your honor, summon me, I will come as I came once before. If I hear, from across the ocean, that your neighbors have threatened you with war, or oppressed you as enemies once oppressed you, here, I will bring a thousand warriors, a thousand armed Geats to protect your throne” (pg80). The chastity that is signified through loyalty represents the righteousness of Beowulf’s nature. Loyalty finds its ultimate expression in the devotion of goodness through altruism. Altruism is a quest for the greater good within mankind.
It is a product of pure spirit driven by love. Love is the comforter of humanity. Love infuses Beowulf’s character until it is manifests in his benevolent actions. His lasts words are those that of the quintessential, “For this, this gold, these jewels, I thank our father in heaven, Ruler of the Earth-For all of this, that His grace has given me, Allowed me to bring to my people while breath still came to my lips” (pg109). Through his selflessness, his loyalty to others remains undaunted. Life’s journey is one of gradual transformation.
It is a resurrection of a spiritual existence from the bleak grave of corporeal reality. Beowulf is a classic hero because the scaffold of his courageous personality is erected by the screws and bolts of spiritualism. Although his bravery and strength surpasses all mortal men, his faith and awe in God transmit messages of brotherhood and friendship. These morals exemplify that which is most virtuous in human character. Beowulf conveys a sense of hope that, as humans, we can climb in order to reach the pinnacle of ideal human nature.
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