Beowulf: Epic Hero
Epic hero: An important figure from a history or legend, usually favored by or even partially descended from deities, but aligned more closely with mortal figures in popular portrayals. The story of Beowulf is filled with adventure, murder, and drama. The author, however, is unknown. In the story the main characters are Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Beowulf is defined as an epic hero by possessing the traits of being a strong and responsible leader, being on a quest, and by risking his own death for glory.
Beowulf is a strong and responsible leader for several reasons. First, when he fights Grendel, he puts the innocent people he is defending above his own life. Then, he fights Grendel’s mother as a result of her retaliation of the previous battle. The night after Beowulf attacks and defeats Grendel, his mother marches to Herot and kills the closest friend of a man named Hrothgar. Beowulf takes responsibility by fighting and defeating her. Finally, in the battle with the dragon, Beowulf steps up to the plate and stops the Dragon’s path of destruction because its “[w]ar and terror have swept away [his] people, shut their eyes to delight and to living, [and] closed the door to all gladness.” (629-633)
Another characteristic that makes Beowulf and epic hero is the fact the he is on a quest on several occasions. In the battle with Grendel Beowulf is on a quest because he is traveling to Denmark to save the Danes from Grendel’s violence. When fighting with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf travels to the lake layer to seek retaliation on her from the previous attach of Hrothgar’s best friend. His quest was long and treacherous. “For hours he sank through the waves; At last he saw the mud of the bottom and all at once the greedy she-wolf who’d ruled those waters for half a hundred years discovered him.” (423-427) Finally, when Beowulf fights the dragon, he travels to stop the dragon’s path of destruction and to seek revenge for the burning of his tower.
The final trait of an epic hero that Beowulf possesses is that in every situation he is portrayed in he risks his own death for glory. In the battle with Grendel, he risks his life because no man made weapon can harm him. He defeats Grendel with his own hands and takes part of him as a trophy. “Hanging high from the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was the monsters arm, claw and shoulder and all.” (393-395) In the battle with Grendel’s mother, he risks his life because she is angry and seeks retaliation on Beowulf. She seeks revenge on him for ripping off her sons arm and hanging it as a trophy. When Beowulf fights the dragon, he risks death because he is at a possibly detrimental disadvantage. The dragon can breathe fire, while all Beowulf has is a sword. The dragon can harm Beowulf with her fire from a distance; however, Beowulf can only harm her up close to her with his sword.
Beowulf exemplifies many characteristics of an epic hero. He shows that he is in fact defined as an epic hero because he is a strong and responsible leader, he is on a quest, and he risks his own death for glory. He exemplifies each of these in every battle: The Battle with Grendel, The Battle with Grendel’s Mother, and The Battle with the Dragon. Beowulf is an epic hero.