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Beowulf: An Epic Hero

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Nate Gauvain

British Literature

Beowulf Essay

9/22/04

Beowulf: An Epic Hero

According to Abrams, the heroic poem is “a long verse narrative on a serious subject, told in an elevated style, and centered on a heroic or quasi-divine figure on whose actions depends the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the human race." Beowulf fits Abrams’ description of an epic, exhibiting all of the characteristics listed throughout the book, thus defining Beowulf as a hero and making the book an epic through it’s elevated style, the focus of a hero, and a quasi-divine hero which a tribe, nation or human race is dependent on.

Beowulf is a narrative which describes the adventures of the hero Beowulf as he travels from his homeland of Geatland to Hrothgar, in order to kill the monster Grendel and the mother of the beast. Beowulf then returns to Geatland, ascends to the throne some fifty years later, and slays a dragon in his final act. This tale spans over three-thousand lines, and deals with battles that will determine life or death for the characters. The threat of danger for Beowulf is always very real, and the serious tone is kept for most of the story. Even when there are feasts and celebrations honoring Beowulf in the great mead-hall of Heorot, the narration always maintains a sense of drama:

“She moved then to her place. Men were drinking wine

At that rare feast; how could they know fate,

The grim shape of things to come,

The threat looming over many thanes” (87)

Along with setting a dark tone for the story, the narration uses an elevated form of language to describe the events. When introducing the children of Halfdane, the language is noticeably

lofty:

“He was four times a father, this fighter prince:

One by one they entered the world,

Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga

And a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela’s queen” (7)

Rather than just simply stating that Halfdane had four children, this information is extended into four lines, as if to add a dimension of nobility to the people mentioned in the narration. This passage also demonstrates the use of rank and titles (fighter prince), which is used frequently in Beowulf, along with other epics.

Beowulf was originally written in Old English, and has been translated into modern-day English many different times. Old English was a formal and proper language that, when translated, can become drawn out. The fact that Beowulf was written in Old English can help to explain why it is over three-thousand lines long, as well as why many of the actions and descriptions carry on for several lines within the poem. In a sense, most heroic poetry was written in older languages such as Latin and Old English, which may help to explain why traits such as length and elevated language are common among almost all epics.

Throughout Beowulf, it is clear that the title character is shown as a heroic figure, voluntarily repaying his father’s debt and traveling to another nation to save them from a horrific monster, then defeating the monster’s mother and avenging the death of Aeschere, and finally protecting his own kingdom from a dragon, dying minutes after the battle. What is interesting and somewhat unique about Beowulf’s heroic status is that he leaves Geatland as just a young warrior, becomes recognized as a hero in the Danes’ land for most of the

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