Beowulf is a tale that explores heroism, the value of identity, strength, courage, and loyalty. Beowulf is first introduced to readers as an impressive looking man who has the strength of thirty men in his handgrip. Readers like to consider Beowulf a champion and maybe even perhaps a prince; while also comparing him to other noble men such as Odysseys from Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Throughout the poem, readers learn about Beowulf’s society; including the society’s values and belief’s about warriors, heroes and women. Readers also learn in great detail about Beowulf’s character and who he is as a warrior and king.
The world and society Beowulf lives in values many different characteristics and beliefs. However, the concept of identity is clearly fundamental to the poem. This value of identity comes in two principal components, one being ancestral heritage and the other being an individual reputation. This can be seen in the opening of the passage when the reader is introduced to a world and society in which every male figure is known as his father’s son. It is social etiquette that characters throughout the poem do not talk about their identity or even present themselves to others without referring to family ancestry. This concern with family history is so prominent because of the story’s emphasis on kinship bonds. Characters take satisfaction in their ancestors who have acted courageously and heroically, and they attempt to live up to the same standards as those ancestors. Now while heritage can provide an example for behavior and helps to establish ones identity, a good reputation is also the key to one’s identity. Beowulf’s culture seems to not have a concept of the afterlife, and this is why they see fame as a way of guaranteeing that an individual’s memory will continue after death.
On top of valuing ones individual identity and family heritage, much of Beowulf’s society is focused on valuing strength, courage, loyalty, hospitality and generosity, on top of ceremoniousness in women. On occasion a woman could be asked to be a “peace-weaver”. Women would marry into an enemy community in hopes that she could mend hostilities. In Beowulf this “peace-weaver” is Hildeburh. She is married to an enemy Frisian, but unfortunately peace and reconciliation is not big for the Vikings, and Hildeburh ended up losing both her brother and her son.
When one considers a hero, often an image of a brute, young man with large muscles might come to mind. It is an unusual occasion when one is asked to describe a hero that the first word out of their mouth is “smart”. However, this characteristic is perhaps the most similar in Odysseus and Beowulf. These two men share such heroic qualities as, courage, intelligence, and physical force. Odysseus and Beowulf are two very clever beings. For example, Beowulf is intelligent because of his knowledge he had when battling Grendel. He knew that no weapons would hurt Grendel; and therefore, chose to use his hands as weapons. “When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel. So it won’t be a cutting edge I’ll wield to move him down, easily as I might. He has no idea the arts of war, of shield or sword-play, although he does possess a wild strength. No weapons, therefore, for either this night: unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant the glory of victory to whichever side He sees fit”(Pg. 1194). Beowulf makes his battle with Grendel more than a meek slay-the-monster task. By announcing that there will be hand-to-hand combat, Beowulf gains extra glory for himself and the Geatish King, Hygelac, turning the contest into a feat of strength as well as a fight against evil. By knowing and willing to use his hands as a weapon, Beowulf shows just how strong and intelligent of a warrior and fighter he is. These qualities are shown by his choice of weapon; by choosing to battle and defeat Grendel with his hands as weapons, Beowulf shows a great combination of skill, intelligence, and strength. It is no secret that Odysseus is also very clever. This could be seen when the Cyclops was holding Odysseus and his men captive. It was Odysseus who thought to poke out the Cyclops’s eye and then cover his men and himself in sheep wool. However, some readers familiar with both poems may think that Odysseus is the brightest out of the two. Readers could draw this conclusion based upon the countless times that Odysseus was forced to use his intelligence over his strength. Beowulf and Odysseus also share the trait of being courageous. Beowulf displayed great courage when he took it upon himself to defeat Grendel, a creature who had killed mass numbers of people, with his bare hands. Odysseus showed courage when he and his son took on all the many suitors of his wife. He also demonstrated courage when he listened to the Sirens. He put himself in great danger by allowing himself to hear them, but he had faith in his crew and his own willpower. However, there is a difference in the behavior and characteristics between Beowulf and Odysseus. Beowulf’s drive to be courageous, strong and brave was his desire to be glorified. Odysseus’s came from his will to get home.
Either way you look at it, both Odysseus and Beowulf have an enormous amount of physical strength and intelligence. From Beowulf defeating Grendel with his bare hands, to his intelligence in knowing to do so, Beowulf is a hero who should be known and praised by his people endlessly. Readers know that Beowulf’s society will cherish him forever based upon the importance they place on being courageous, loyal and strong. As well as, the importance they place on the concept of identity, and from the looks of it, Beowulf’s fame and memory will be endured and remembered forever due to his heroic deeds.