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Beowulf - Profile of an Epic Hero

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Epic Beowulf

A hero, in the traditional sense of the word, is generally a protagonist in a story whose overwhelming power is the only which can defeat the evil of the day. In a classic example of this comes Beowulf, a novel adaptation of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem by Robert Nye. The main character and namesake of the story is Beowulf, an adventurous young hero. When he hears the tales of the monster Grendel that terrorizes the Danish kingdom, he immediately has the urge to lend his assistance to the situation, knowing that he is the only one who can defeat the evil. Not only is Beowulf a hero, he is an epic hero.

An epic hero, by definition, is identified by the following characteristics:

1. A hero of noble birth, sometimes semi-divine or super human.

2. Involved in a grand struggle (public or related to society). Struggle concerns eternal human problems.

3. Exhibits the universal values of loyalty, bravery, generosity, fairness.

4. Possibly exiled from homeland: does heroic exploits in another land.

5. Foil is usually a king weakened by a flaw (old age, fear, etc.) which leaves king open to being over-taken by the hero.

6. Hero has a following of his own (group loyal to him), yet he is strictly loyal to his leader.

Beowulf’s epic heroism is defined by his involvement in the grand struggle between good and evil. Beowulf’s battle with Grendel is a classic example of this. Beowulf is the stereotypical embodiment of the “good guy”. He rides a white horse, he always finds the silver lining in a situation, and he never seems to lose. Grendel also fits his mold a little too well. He is made up of a vile black substance, he lives in a swamp, and he represents all things that are considered wrong. All characters and situations of this story are almost a little too cartoonish and impossible to be considered anything but a retelling of the classic “good guy versus bad guy” story with a new cast of characters.


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