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Beowulf Heroic Ideal

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  • December 2012
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We live in a world today were material wealth does not completely define us. Fortunately, you don’t have to posses gold torques or legendary swords to gain respect. This was not the case in the Anglo-Saxon culture. In this culture people were judged on their material possessions. This idea of material wealth determining a person’s social status is part of what is known as the Heroic Ideal. The Heroic Ideal also includes ideas such as life should be a quest for glory through courageous and noble actions, immortality of one’s name is the highest form of glory, and boasting is a virtue. In Beowulf, the Heroic Ideal is most notably symbolized by the treasures that are presented, exchanged and discovered.

Throughout this epic poem, Beowulf battles the fiercest monsters known to mankind. He does not only protect his people and prove his worth, but also gains glory. After all, the Heroic Ideal states life should be a quest for glory through courageous and noble actions. That is exactly what Beowulf seeks when he goes after Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon that eventually kills him. After each of these battles Beowulf receives many rewards, including treasures. For example, after defeating Grendel, Hrothgar presents Beowulf with a large boon that includes a “gold standard” and much more: (1020)

“Then Halfdane's son presented Beowulf

with a gold standard as a victory gift,

an embroidered banner; also breast-mail

and a helmet; and a sword carried high,

that was both precious object and token of honour.”(1019-1023)

In this example, the rewards Beowulf receives are not only a “token of honour” but also represent the glorious actions Beowulf has gone through while defeating Grendel. When people see Beowulf with these great treasures they will instantly know he has done something great. This also applies for the great treasures Beowulf receives after defeating Grendel’s mother. Hrothgar again showers...