From Beowulf to Superman, Why we need our Heroes
Heroes, from Beowulf to Superman our cultures have always created heroes. We may always have political, social, economic and religious differences, but at the end of the day we all have one thing in common, heroes. They help define who we are and what we want to be. They give us hope and inspire us to head in the right direction. They show us that good will always triumph over evil and that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Heroes give us the inspiration we need to overcome problems in our own lives and that is why we create them. Beowulf perfectly embodies the idea of a hero. He defeats the evil Grendel and his mother, slays the dragon and saves his people. He is strong, brave, moral, inspiring; all of which are traits that some one can look up to and while his story may have been written over a thousand years ago, Beowulf’s heroism has echoed through the ages. Even today, our heroes are strong, brave, moral and inspiring. In a way, one could say Beowulf was the hero of hero’s not only inspiring the people of his time, but inspiring the heroes who would later be created in his image.
Beowulf begins as many epic tales do, by introducing the hero. The author tells the reader of how Beowulf has trekked oceans and slain monsters; right from the beginning it is made obvious that Beowulf is no ordinary man. However, with any tale, the hero must have an adversary, an evil that must be overcome. In Beowulf’s case, he has three, the hideous monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the foreboding Dragon. So while there may be three physical antagonists, one can argue that they metaphorically represent one thing, the personification of societies shortcomings. In John Gardner’s “Grendel”, the monster is said to harbor feelings of lust or jealousy of the inhabitants of Hrothgar’s mead-hall and attacks them due to his feeling of exclusion. The story also alludes to the idea of wrath or vengeance. After Beowulf kills Grendel, Grendel’s mother seeks revenge for her fallen son by attacking the mead-hall. Grendel’s mother is not the only character who seeks vengeance. In fact, the hero, Beowulf, also makes reference to revenge after Grendel’s mother kills Aeschere, Hrothgar’s advisor. He tells Hrothgar,
Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark. (1384-1389) It is ironic that Grendel’s mother would represent vengeance because as Beowulf himself says, “it is better to avenge dear ones than to mourn them.” This brings up an interesting point because it is difficult to tell what exactly the author was trying to say. He or she may have been trying to speak to the morals of the time in saying that no one is above vengeance, even the great hero Beowulf or they may have been speaking to the inherently self-deprecating act that the endless cycle of revenge would cause. The other two monsters represent sins, there is no reason that Grendel’s mother should be excluded from this fact. If the author was trying to speak to the heroes struggle against societies issues, then wrath would have to be considered a problem, not a solution. Finally, there is the Dragon, whom Beowulf fights as an older king. The Dragon represents many things, Beowulf’s impending death, his final challenge, his passing of the torch to the younger generation, but when trying to convey this final antagonist to modern day problems, the Dragon can only represent one thing, greed. Stories have always depicted dragon’s as greedy, and Beowulf’s dragon is no different. The story describes it as, “an old harrower of the dark…the burning one who hunts out barrows,” the Dragon hoards gold, which represents greed. So, Beowulf, the hero, with his super-human strength and...
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