Thursday, July 12, 2012

Discuss Beowulf as an epic hero

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“Beowulf” known as a heroic poem reflects the ideals of the aristocratic society of the Heroic Age. It focuses upon the courtesy with which men of rank are received, the generosity of rulers, the loyalty of retainers, the thirst for fame, the interest in lineage and the pride in a noble heredity.

The main hero of the poem seems to be a typical representative of such a society. He follows the heroic code according to which loyalty to his lord is the most apparent feature.

Beowulf proves his loyalty many times. He gives his lord (Hygelac) some part of the treasure and gifts he got at Heorot after slaying Grendel and his mother; he doesn’t accept the throne after Hygelac’s death because he believes that Hygelac’s son (Hrethel) should be the successor. He offers Hrethel his guidance and help, which even more highlights his moral values.

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Another major aspect of the heroic code is eloquence in speech. Beowulf is imposing not only because of his physical presence but also because of his powerful oratorical skills. His boastful declaration to slay the monster is neither a presentation of ability to speak in public nor an indication of undue vanity but a customary part of heroic behaviour.

Not only is Beowulf a strong man able to kill monsters but he also possesses great mental power enabling him to withstand the evil and to win.

His courage and willingness to help people in need (Hrothgar) seems to be reinforced by unstoppable heroic force. Throughout the fight with Grendel and his mother Bowulf is treated as more than human. Even though his power might be perceived as supernatural, Beowulf is ready to die, as death is a means to fame and glory which makes reputation immortal. This is also an important concept of the heroic code of honour, which Beowulf is so much aware of.

Over the course of the poem, Beowulf matures from a valiant warrior into a wise leader. Having the reputation of a hero he has to prove his courage, power and pride once again. This time he has to fight with a dragon and gain the treasure guarded by that creature. Beowulf desires to leave something for his people and this dream comes true. The ritual of reward and gift-giving is another feature of heroic code followed by Beowulf till his last moment.

According to various literary critics Beowulf is said to be an epic hero not only because he lives in accordance with the Germanic heroic code but also because being a king he decides to fight with a dragon alone saving his people. This true heroism is esteemed by the Geats after Beowulf’s death.

Discuss the role of digressions in Beowulf

“Beowulf”, the oldest Anglo-Saxon poem, is known to consist of 18 lines one third of which is devoted to digressions and allusions. These minor narratives inserted into the main body of the poem serve different purposes.

First of all, they give an insight into the history and tradition of Germanic tribes living in England before Anglo-Saxon invasion. Such an example might be the story of fight a Finnsburg told by the minstrel during the feast at Heorot.

Not only does the Finnsburg episode highlight the way neighbouring tribes invaded one another but it also presents the relations among people for whom honour, loyalty and courage were the most important values. The Danish princess Hilderburh represents all the aspects of family ties which Germanic culture prized very highly. Being married to the Finn king she dad to be loyal to him and his people. On the other hand, her brother Hnaef, the king of Danes, was also important to her. The battle at Finnsburg brought her double suffering as she lost both her son and her brother fighting at the opposite sides.

The death of those two warriors might be perceived as the symbol of “wyrd” or fate, which appears in many digressions in Beowulf. Apart from Finnsburg episode the concept of fate prevails in the story of Siegmund and in the recollection of Beowulf’s swimming match against Breca. Both digressions depict the fate of the hero who is supposed to win, to protect his reputation and help those in need.

The role of digressions in “Beowulf” is not limited only to presenting culture or history. These minor narratives underline the characteristic features of the main heroes (the story of Breca), emphasise the warrior culture (all digressions referring to Beowulf’s past), and depict the patriarchal lineage which was an extremely important component of one’s identity in Germanic times.

In order to present the important features of character the poet implements contrast into his digressions. The story of wicked Queen Modthryth is told to show highlight the gentle and reasonable behaviour of Hygd’s, the wife of Hygelac.

It is worth adding that digressions in Beowulf attract the reader’s attention and force him/her to focus on important aspects of the poem. What is more they allow the poet to insert those pieces of information which are important for the atmosphere of the story but are not directly connected with the main plot.

Thanks to these minor narratives “Beowulf” touches all aspects of a man’s life his ancestors, his fate, his beliefs, his achievements, his joy and sorrow.

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