Beowulf is perhaps the most important work from Anglo-Saxon literature. The poem tells the story of Beowulf, a warrior from Geatland, which is now present-day Sweden. Beowulf exemplifies the traits of the perfect hero. The poem explores his heroism in two separate phases—youth and age—and through three separate and increasingly difficult conflicts—with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Although we can view these three encounters as expressions of the heroic code, there is perhaps a clearer division between Beowulf’s youthful heroism as an unfettered warrior and his mature heroism as a reliable king. These two phases of his life, separated by fifty years, correspond to two different models of virtue, and much of the moral reflection in the story centers on differentiating these two models and on showing how Beowulf makes the transition from one to the other. The definition of a hero is always made and changed by the society and culture in which that hero resides. These ideas also change with generation and cultural gaps. This is clearly shown in the case of Beowulf and its main character. Although not all of Beowulf's thoughts and actions are worthy of hero status in our culture, they were seen as acts of great heroism in the Anglo-Saxon culture. The contrast of these aspects of heroism in a more modern culture can be seen when the same heroic characters are looked upon in a different light in John Gardner's "Grendel".
Many of the qualities of an Anglo-Saxon hero were possessed by Beowulf. One of Beowulf's largest and most noticeable qualities is his strength. It is clear that he would have never been able to be in the position that he was, if it wasn’t for his extraordinary gift of strength. This was shown all throughout the epic such as him being the only one to defeat Grendel. Beowulf's bravery was also another quality possessed only by heroes. He and the future leader, Wiglaf are the only ones brave enough withstand the Dragon. His bravery, when coupled with his strength, made him a perfect candidate for hero status. Other characteristics that allowed Beowulf to rise to the top were, his gender as well as being ambitious, a natural leader, and eager for fame almost to the point of stupidity (in our eyes of course). 2. Heroes in Anglo-Saxon literature:
In Anglo-Saxon culture and literature, to be a hero was to be a warrior. A hero had to be strong, intelligent, and courageous. Warriors had to be willing to face any odds, and fight to the death for their glory and people. The Anglo-Saxon hero was able to be all of these and still be humble and kind. In literature Beowulf is, perhaps, the perfect example of an Anglo-Saxon hero. In The 13th Warrior, Ibn Fadlan (played by Antonio Banderas) also shows many of the characteristics that distinguish an Anglo-Saxon hero. At the same time, Fadlan and those around him display many of the traits which define today's heroes. The Anglo-Saxon hero is clearly shown and defined in Beowulf, "The Wanderer," "The Dream of The Rood," and even Crichton's The 13th Warrior. In Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon hero is well defined by the actions of Beowulf. It is obvious that Beowulf is the quintessential hero. His strength and courage are unparalleled, and he is much more humble (and honorable) than many of the corrupt warriors around him. Beowulf displays his great strength time after time. Whether he is fighting sea monsters, Grendel's mother, or a horrible fire-breathing dragon, Beowulf shows that his courage and strength should be an inspiration to all heroes. Strength and physical appearance are essential to the Anglo-Saxon warrior. Beowulf is described as having the strength of "thirty men" in just one of his arms, and when he first arrives in the land of the Danes, the coastguard sees the mighty hero and says, "I have never seen a mightier warrior on earth than is one of you, a man in battle-dress" (Beowulf, 7). Strength is clearly an important...
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