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The Epic Hero: A Summary of Beowulf

Beowulf, Grendel, Seamus Heaney

Epic heroes possess many traits that other characters lack. Among these are physical strength, bravery, and wisdom. These attributes aid the heroes with their journeys throughout the epic. Beowulf exemplifies each of these traits somewhere is the story. They aid him in his battles with monsters and allow him to be a leader to his people. These traits cause Beowulf to stand out among his peers and endear him to the reader. Beowulf is definitely a perfect example of an epic hero. Beowulf’s physical strength, bravery, and wisdom characterize him as an epic hero.

Beowulf’s physical strength is revealed to the reader through his amazing feats and his unbelievable battles with mystical creatures. In lines 91 and 92 it states that Beowulf was the strongest man in the world. These words come from the Geats who are barbaric people to begin with. The fact that they speak so highly of Beowulf’s strength is a testament to its truthfulness. After Beowulf arrives in Denmark he quickly travels to Herot to prepare for his battle with Grendel. In the lines following 307 it is stated that Grendel was instantly seized by Beowulf upon trying to clutch him. This is a feat that no man was able to accomplish before Beowulf’s arrival. Beowulf’s strength is also shown in his battle with Grendel’s mother. In lines 465 and 466 it states that Beowulf was able to throw the she-witch to the ground. This only reemphasizes Beowulf’s great physical strength. Finally, Beowulf’s strength is shown in his battle with the dragon. Beowulf’s battle with the dragon occurs when he is an old man. The fact that Beowulf is still able to defeat the dragon shows the reader the extent of his great strength. Beowulf’s great physical strength is one of the characteristics that make him an epic hero.

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The second characteristic that Beowulf embodies is bravery. In the beginning of the story it is made obvious to the reader that Beowulf has led a glorious youth. He preformed feats that no other man would dare try. As soon as word of Grendel reaches the shores of Geatland, Beowulf makes it his personal mission to defeat the monster. During the battle with Grendel on lines 295 and 296, Beowulf lies patiently on the floor and waits for Grendel to seize him. He also chooses not to use weapons to fight the monster. When pursuing Grendel’s mother on lines 307 and 308, Beowulf jumps into the lake without a second thought. As he sinks to the bottom the thoughts crossing his mind are of the battle to come and the glory he will gain. During the battle with the dragon Beowulf continues fighting alongside Wiglaf even after all others abandon them. One of the main sources of Beowulf’s bravery is his belief that “God” is in control. Beowulf believes that he has no control over his own death. With this knowledge Beowulf can storm into battle with no hesitations. Beowulf’s bravery is the second characteristic that makes him an epic hero.

The final characteristic that sets Beowulf apart as an epic hero is his wisdom. From the beginning of the story Beowulf is painted as a wise individual. On the long journey from Geatland to Denmark Beowulf serves as the boat captain. He is the figurehead of his fellow Geats and is shown as the leader. During his battle with Grendel, Beowulf displays superior fighting ability and combat strategy. By pretending to be asleep, Beowulf surprises Grendel and gains the upper hand in the fight. When Beowulf is dragged into the she-witches lair he quickly realizes that his weapons have no effect. Beowulf sees the giant’s sword hanging on the wall and draws it. Using the sword he severs the head of Grendel’s mother and wins the battle. When Beowulf was faced with an unusual condition, he used his wisdom to guide him through the battle. Eventually Beowulf became the ruler of Geatland. His years of fighting had given him the wisdom to effectively lead his people. There he would rule until his return to Denmark and his final battle with the dragon. Beowulf’s strength is the third quality that defines him as an epic hero.

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Beowulf is one of the most popular examples of an epic hero. His physical strength, bravery, and wisdom set him apart from all other warriors. Beowulf was able to defeat enemies that no other man would challenge. Even though Beowulf was eventually slain in battle, he died never knowing defeat. This is an accomplishment that few heroes make. Beowulf represents one of the most notable epic heroes in history.

Wilhelm, Jeffery D.,cons.,et al., Beowulf. Glencoe Liturature: The Reader’s Choice. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009.