Essay on Heroism and Beowulf

Submitted By andersonh827
Words: 1441
Pages: 6

When the word “hero” is discussed, a person with superhuman strength and bravery battling equally superhuman beings is what is pictured. The epic poem Beowulf is no exception to that, with its ruthless monsters Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon terrorizing the people of Heorot to various degrees. Beowulf himself is the poem’s namesake for a reason; his history of bravery is what allows him to slay the monsters that no one else could defeat, and he dies protecting his people from another. How much of this superhuman strength is actually Beowulf’s, and how much of it is because the monsters are so fantastical? The supernatural aspects of this poem are crucial to its success, for Beowulf would not be half the hero that he is without the fantastical beasts and monsters within the story. The supernatural is essential to not only make Beowulf an epic, but to also solidify Beowulf’s reputation as gallant hero. If these monsters were taken at just face value, with their supernatural aspects disregarded, Beowulf’s heroism would not be nearly as impressive. What exactly is a monster, and when does it become supernatural? The Collins English Dictionary defines a “monster” as “a person, animal, or plant with a marked structural deformity; a cruel, wicked, or inhuman person; a very large person, animal, or thing.” By his description alone, Grendel fulfills all aspects of the textbook definition of a monster. His true horror is described with everything from his ogre-like appearance to his blatant lack of remorse for ruthlessly killing innocent people. Grendel attacking “the Sovereign of Heaven” garners him the interesting descriptor of “dark death-shadow” (149, 139). This juxtaposition is no accident, and is used to emphasize Grendel’s demon-like presence within Heorot. Calling Grendel a demon suggests a correlation with the Devil, which has even more significance when the connection between the throne and God is realized. “Sovereign of Heaven” is a reference to both God and Hrothgar, for divine right chooses who sits upon the throne. Therefore, Grendel attacking Hrothgar’s throne is not just an attack on Heorot, but on God himself. The references to Grendel descending from Cain make this an inference that brings Grendel to supernatural status more than him being described as an ugly, ruthless killer. These associations bring Grendel from a simple, disturbed monster to one of literal Biblical proportions. In modern times, someone being referred to as a God is someone who is gracious and infallible; if the same someone is referred to as a Devil, they are the epitome of terrible, evil deeds. That is, comparison to something otherworldly elevates a person to superhuman or supernatural status. Grendel doesn’t just receive a comparison to an otherworldly being—he is related by blood to one. Grendel may be described to be stronger than the mighty Beowulf, but it is his physical characteristics along with his associations with the Bible that are what elevate him from unnatural to supernatural. Unlike with Grendel, if monstrosity were based solely on appearance, Grendel’s Mother would not gain the title of monster as easily as her son does. Being referred to as a “hellish hag” is the harshest description of her appearance that she receives (1345). More focus is put on her “bitterly brooding” manner, and rightfully so (1111). Beowulf is regarded as a man with insurmountable strength throughout the course of the poem, so it is surprising to both reader and hero that he struggles so while battling Grendel’s Mother. She is just a weak, simple woman, and therefore the battle should be easy. After all, her “wrathful fingers/failed to rip open the armor he wore” during their encounter when Beowulf initially enters her cave. Of course she cannot break through the armor he wears; he is Beowulf and she is a weak woman. That is, a weak woman fueled by revenge. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially a woman whose son was just…