Ideal Hero or Freudian Fraud?
The entire cast of characters in the Scandinavian epic tale Beowulf all possess archetypal qualities that make them less complex in psychological development than the standard characters in the majority of literature in existence. Beowulf, the hero from the land of the Geats, acts as a representation of good, while each of the monsters he consecutively faces are forms of evil. Since Beowulf appears to be an unstoppable force for the good of the people, it would be difficult to see how he could not be an ideal hero. However, archetypes are not perfect; they lack the depth of character development and only act as the standard form of something. Beowulf still falls victim to mankind’s failings, such as the desire to be famous and to be remembered forever. He wants nothing more than to have his name be sacred and his image godly. The word ideal means “a conception of something in its perfection”. With that in mind, Beowulf is not an ideal hero because, like every man with power, he contains flaws that make him far from a standard of perfection.
One of these flaws is the motif of treasure and Beowulf’s desire to have treasure, not just for himself, but also for those around him. “Go now quickly, dearest Wiglaf, under the grey stone where the dragon is laid out, lost to his treasure; hurry to feast your eyes on the hoard…I want to examine that ancient gold, gaze my fill on those garnered jewels; my going will be easier for having seen the treasure” (Heaney 185). This occurs just after Wiglaf and Beowulf slay the dragon with their combined might, but Beowulf suffers a mortal wound. Instead of wanting to be around his friends and comrades when he dies, he’d rather see treasure from his fallen opponent. This is an irregular dying wish for a great king, but Beowulf is the archetypal war hero, therefore he has little character depth and also little room for psychological development. He cannot be an ideal hero because of his want for gold...
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