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The Theme of Fatalism and Destiny in Beowulf
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Published: Jun 29, 2018
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- Hamilton, M. P. (1946). The religious principle in Beowulf. PMLA, 61(2), 309-330. (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/pmla/article/abs/religious-principle-in-beowulf/092C8C3FF56B317E2E5F7C74BB512C20)
- Spencer, M. (2017). Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Supernatural and Unnatural in Macbeth. Undergraduate Research Journal, 21(1), 7. (https://openspaces.unk.edu/undergraduate-research-journal/vol21/iss1/7/)
- Sharma, M. (2005). Metalepsis and Monstrosity: The Boundaries of Narrative Structure in" Beowulf". Studies in Philology, 247-279. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/4174821)
- Inankur, A. (2002). Blending of Strengths: The Convergence of Christian Themes and Epic Motifs in Beowulf, The Faerie Queene, and Paradise Lost. (https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Blending-of-Strengths%3A-The-Convergence-of-Christian-Inankur/99f68d185d66b4c10e6daa857956257edd513d8f)
- Sayers, W. (2020). Rhetorical Coercion and Heroic Commitment: Beowulf’s Reception at Heorot. English Studies, 101(6), 651-664. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0013838X.2020.1799164)
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A Summary and Analysis of Beowulf
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
What happens in Beowulf , the jewel in the crown of Anglo-Saxon poetry? The title of the poem is probably the most famous thing about it – that, and the fact that a monster named Grendel features at some point. But because the specific details of the story are not widely known, numerous misconceptions about the poem abound. When was Beowulf written?
This is a matter of some conjecture, with guesses ranging anywhere between the eighth century and the first half of the eleventh century. Critics can’t even agree on what the first line of the poem means . In the following post, we offer a short summary of Beowulf , and an introduction to its main themes.
We’ll start with a brief summary of Beowulf before proceeding to some textual analysis and critical reading. Beowulf is a classic ‘overcoming the monster’ story. Most people know that the poem documents the struggle of the title character in vanquishing a monster named Grendel.
But what is less well known is that Beowulf has to slay not one big monster, but three: after he has taken care of Grendel, the dead monster’s mother shows up, and she proves even more of a challenge for our hero (though ultimately Beowulf triumphs and wins the day).
The poem then ends with Beowulf, now in his twilight years, slaying a third monster (this time, a dragon), although this encounter proves his undoing, as he is fatally wounded in the battle. The poem ends with his subsequent death and ‘burial’ at sea.
But the poem doesn’t begin with Beowulf. It opens with an account of a Danish king named Hrothgar, who was the one responsible for building a great hall (named Heorot), a hall which is now being terrorised by the monstrous Grendel. Beowulf hears that Grendel is killing Hrothgar’s men at Heorot and so our hero departs from home to go and help rid Heorot of this monster.
Beowulf is from a different kingdom – the nearby Geatland, in modern-day Sweden – so we have one of the classic tropes of adventure narratives, that of the hero leaving home to go and vanquish some foe in a foreign land. Think of Bilbo Baggins leaving the Shire, or Frodo for that matter, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (and, indeed, we’ll return to Tolkien shortly).
Beowulf and his men spend the night at Heorot and wait for Grendel to turn up. When the monster appears, Beowulf and his men attack the troll-like monster with their swords.
But the monster – which is described as resembling a troll – cannot be killed with a blade, as Beowulf soon realises. So he does what lesser men would fear to do: he wrestles the monster with his bare hands, eventually tearing off one of its arms. Grendel flees, eventually dying of his wound.
The next night, Grendel’s mother – angered by the attack on her son – turns up to wreak vengeance, and once again Beowulf finds himself having to roll up his sleeves and engage in fierce combat, which this time takes place in the underwater lair of the monster deep beneath the surface of a lake.
Although he has been given a strong sword (named Hrunting) by Unferth (a man who had previously doubted Beowulf – the sword is given as a token of friendship), Beowulf finds this sword useless against Grendel’s mother. (Immunity to swords evidently runs in the family.) But this time, hand-to-hand fighting, which had proved handy against Grendel, is equally useless.
Beowulf only succeeds in vanquishing the monster when he grabs a magic sword from the pile of treasure lying in the monster’s lair, and is able to behead the monster with the weapon.
Travelling deeper into the monster’s lair, Beowulf comes across the dying Grendel, and – armed with his new magic sword – decides to lop off the son’s head as well, for good measure. Both monsters have now been slain, and Beowulf is a hero.
Following his victory over the two monsters, Beowulf then returns to the water’s surface (at ‘noon’ – which, interestingly, when the poem was written, was actually three o’clock in the afternoon, or the ninth hour after dawn) before rejoining his men and journeying back to the hall for mead and rejoicing.
The poem then moves forward fifty years to Beowulf’s last fight, his run-in with the dragon (which has been angered by the theft of some of its treasure – shades of The Hobbit once more?). This fight results in one last victory for our great hero, followed by his own death from the mortal would inflicted by the poisoned horn of the beast (though presumably Beowulf was rather advanced in years by this point anyway).
The poem ends with Beowulf’s burial at sea, which is described in much detail – why this might be is discussed below. But this much constitutes a reasonably complete summary of the plot of Beowulf . So, what about the context for the poem?
Facts about Beowulf
Although it is celebrated nowadays as an important work of Anglo-Saxon – indeed, ‘English’ – literature, Beowulf was virtually unknown and forgotten about, amazingly, for nearly a thousand years. It was only rescued from obscurity in 1815, when an Icelandic-Danish scholar named Thorkelin printed an edition of the poem.
And although it is seen as the starting-point of great English literature – at many universities, it is still the earliest literary text studied as part of the literary canon – it is very different from other medieval poetry, such as that by Chaucer or Langland, who were writing many centuries later.
It is set in Denmark, has a Swedish hero, and – when read in the original Anglo-Saxon – seems almost more German than ‘English’. This is, of course, because Anglo-Saxon (i.e. the language of the Angles and Saxons from north Germany) was Old English (the two terms are used synonymously), and at the very latest the poem was written down some time in the early eleventh century, before 1066 and the Norman invasion, which would bring many French words into English and would pave the way for Middle English (or the English of the Middle Ages).
In ending with the tale of a dragon attempting to defend a mound of treasure, the poem prefigures not only the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (who, as well as being the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings , was also an influential Anglo-Saxon scholar who translated Beowulf and wrote an important article on it – of which more below) but also, more surprisingly, other poems like Lewis Carroll’s nonsense masterpiece, ‘Jabberwocky’ . It also looks back to Greek and Roman epics like Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid .
Indeed, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many scholars endeavoured to show that the author of Beowulf had been influenced by these classical works, but, in summary, the truth appears to be far more interesting. Rather than directly drawing on the work of Homer and Virgil, the Beowulf poet simply seems to have hit upon the idea of using similar plot devices and character types.
This suggests that different cultures, in these old days of oral storytelling, utilised the same methods in very different works of literature, without having direct knowledge of each other. We can compare Beowulf , too, with the legend of King Arthur (which began to appear in written sources around the same time), specifically in terms of the magic sword which the hero of both stories uses in order to fulfil his quest.
These aspects seem to be hard-wired within us and to be integral parts of human nature: for instance, ideas of bravery and of triumphing over an evil, superhuman force.
This plot, as our brief summary of Beowulf above suggests, shares many of the typical elements of heroic narratives. Although the analogy might seem a little crude, the mechanics of the plot are not so far removed from, say, a James Bond or Indiana Jones film, or a fast-paced fantasy novel or superhero comic strip. The hero takes it upon himself to save the kingdom at immense personal risk to himself.
The foe he faces is no ordinary foe, and conventional weapons are powerless against it. Despite the odds being stacked against him, he manages to ‘overcome the monster’, to borrow Christopher Booker’s phrase for this type of narrative . But this action has consequences, and is in fact merely the prologue to a bigger conflict that must take place: that between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother.
This is why it is odd that the story of the poem is generally thought of as ‘Beowulf versus Grendel’. But this next conflict will prove even more difficult: as well as swords being useless, the strong sword (Hrunting) given to Beowulf by Unferth will also be powerless against Grendel’s mother. But hand-to-hand combat – which was deployed successfully in the vanquishing of Grendel – is also of no use now.
The odds continue to be stacked against our hero, the difficulties multiplying, the tension raised to an almost unbearable pitch. Can he still save the day, when everything he tries seems to be of no avail? Well, yes – though for a while the chances of Beowulf triumphing are looking less and less likely.
The final encounter, with the dragon years later, will prove the most difficult of all – and although he is successful and overcomes the monster, he will pay the ultimate price: victory will come at the cost of his own life.
This patterning of three – three monsters, each of which proves successively more of a challenge to the hero – is found in numerous adventure plots. To a greater or lesser extent, it can be seen in much modern fantasy fiction – such as that by Tolkien.
One thing that the basic overarching story or plot summary of Beowulf makes clear is just how formative and archetypal it is, not just in heroic ‘English’ literature, but in fantasy literature, too.
Interpretations of Beowulf
Talking of Tolkien, it was his influential 1936 essay, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, which was really responsible for a shift in the way that people read Beowulf. Rather than viewing it as a historical document, Tolkien urged, we should be reading and appreciating it as a work of poetry. Tolkien also argued that the poem is not an ‘epic’ but an elegy , ending as it does with the moving account of its hero’s funeral.
Tolkien also argues that Beowulf’s death following his combat with the dragon represents a fitting and more ‘elemental’ end for the hero, who had successfully vanquished the monster Grendel and Grendel’s mother (who, although not human, were nevertheless closer to man than a dragon).
The story is about overcoming an evil foe, only to have to give way to death at the end: even heroes must accept that they will not live forever, even if their names will. ‘Men must endure their going hence’, as Shakespeare has it in King Lear (a line borrowed for C. S. Lewis’s tombstone).
But Beowulf’s life has been a life well lived because he stood up to evil and was victorious. And Grendel and his mother are ‘evil’ in the Christian sense of the word: the author of Beowulf tells us that they were spawned from Cain (the first murderer in the Bible) when he was cast out of Eden. Grendel and his mother, then, are similarly outcasts, something that has been rejected by mainstream society and whose violence must be overcome. (For more on Tolkien, have a read of our five fascinating facts about him .)
Beowulf’s name, by the way, was long thought to mean ‘bee-wolf’, as in the two animals. The ‘bee’ theory appears unlikely, however – as does the idea that it is from the same root as our word ‘bear’, suggesting bearlike strength.
No, it turns out that the first part of Beowulf’s name is more probably related to a pre-Christian god named ‘Beow’. Beowulf has an almost divine strength, but also something primal and temporal, but just as valuable: the courage of a wolf.
If you enjoyed this brief summary of, and introduction to, Beowulf , then you can learn more about the poem here at the British Library website.
25 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of Beowulf”
Beowulf is indeed a fascinating work and I always look forward to introducing my students to this foundation of hero motifs. Beowulf, despite his tendency to boast a bit (isn’t that where we get kennings?), he was pretty much the perfect hero–intregrity, strong, clever, self-sacrificing.
Reblogged this on Willow's Corner and commented: We read a snippet of Beowulf in Jr. High School (the dragon part) and I’ve always found the story fascinating. I can’t quite read the Old English, but I love to read the different translations. And anyone who’s a Tolkien fan should read his essay.
I would argue that Grendel’s mother (who is interestingly only ever referred to as “the mother”) commits her acts of revenge out of grief, as well as anger. Also, Beowulf is most commonly described as an epic poem; the label makes its main character, Beowulf, an epic-hero. By virtue of being a hero, Beowulf is set-apart from the society presented in the heroic epic. However, in order to be recognized as heroic hero, Beowulf must participate in society in some meaningful way. Thus the character’s role is split and this binary role is portrayed in different ways depending on the translation of Beowulf. There are more than 85 translations of Beowulf, and each one is slightly biased in its interpretation. Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s translation in particular equates Beowulf with the dragon, another “other” figure, in a way that is not replicated by the other translators to emphasize Beowulf’s role as a distinct hero. Since translation is a form of interpretation, I believe Heaney’s translation is particularly biased in thinking about Beowulf in the ancient Ango-Saxon tale and makes Beowulf a more complex character than the original tale describes, torn by his glorious role as epic hero and his duty to his people within a carefully constructed social structure. As the author of this post writes, the morals, tropes, and figures create a bases for understanding many other English works that were to follow, so it’s interesting to see how relatively young Britain works with this tale and interprets its own history.
Tolkien was also heavily influenced by the old Norse (Norwegian/Icelandic) prose Edda and Voluspa; this was where he found the names of his dwarves. In addition, the poem Havamal also speaks of how everyone must die, except a man’s reputation.
Reblogged this on F.T. McKinstry and commented: Some interesting thoughts here on a classic, with references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s take on it.
Reblogged this on Mistrz i Małgorzata .
Fantastic article, it was education and entertaining all at once. I definitely want to go read Tolkien’s essay.
I have often wondered why the Beowulf story was lost for so long. The Arthurian story was passed down for generations, but Beowulf and his bravery forgotten. I think it is because people could relate to, and thus embrace, the faults of Arthur over the heroism in Beowulf.
Reblogged this on Storey on a Story Blog and commented: This is a great commentary on the story of Beowulf. I wanted to share it with you all.
The poem actually begins with Scyld Sheffing’s funeral, and it ends with Beowulf’s. This is deliberate. The central section is the killing of the monsters. The pattern is the establishment of the house of the Geats, the rescue of the house of Heorot by destroyng the house of Grendel, and the end of the house of the Geats with Beowulf.
How utterly fascinating! I have a copy of Beowolf which I confess to my shame I’ve never read despite it being on my shelf for more than 30 years. I must make amends!
Interesting post (!) and it struck a chord (!) funnily enough with a podcast i was listening to yesterday made by a music blogger, who did a 20 minute podcast on the 12 bar blues https://goodmusicspeaks.wordpress.com/good-music-speaks-podcast-3/ . Which of course is heavily dependent on the rule of 3 – line A; repeat line A; variation/resolution. And funnily enough, listening to a Mozart piano concerto, the same pattern was in the phrases, with the third line, the variation, leading of course to a musical resolution /transformation which enables the lead on the the complete next stage – so, in this, there is Beowulf triumphs, Beowulf triumphs again, Beowulf triumphs but in this third phrase his ‘phrase’ resolves with transformation/death.
I guess the ‘rule of three’ is viscerally satisfying!
There’s an excellent film called ‘The Thirteenth Warrior’, in which an exiled Islamic poet joins a band of Vikings to defeat what appears to be a Beowulfian monster attacking a hall. The producers showed some respect for scholarship by including authentic details, for instance the rituals surrounding the ship burial of a Viking chief.
The film being referenced in the comment above by poetmcgonagall, is a film adaptation of Michael Crighton’s excellent ‘Eaters of the Dead’ which gives a facinating take on the Beowulf/Grendel legend. Pay particular attention to his treatment of the Dragon which is all the more horrifying for not being a giant lizard.
I’ve read Beowulf many times over the years (was introduced to the Old-English version back in High School) and you’ve provided an excellent summary.
“not so far removed from, say, a James Bond or Indiana Jones film, or a fast-paced fantasy novel or superhero comic strip” Yes–but also, surely, the Western? What this tells us, I think, is how deep-rooted is the human need for the idea of the stranger who rides (all right, comes by boat) into town, deals with the monster/fear/rich landowner/evil bandit who is terrorising the townfolk and rides out again. No?
Reblogged this on Blogging Beowulf and commented: A great post on one of my favorite works.
- Pingback: What Happens in Beowulf? An Interesting Summary | the shadows illuminated
Reblogged this on cjheries and commented: If, in my first year at Reading University in 1964/65, we had studied Beowulf instead of extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (so dull!) maybe I should have stuck with reading English instead of switching to Philosophy and obtained a better class of degree than the Gentleman’s I ended up woth (a pass, just like T S Eliot).
I’ve just startd reading Seamus Heaney’s translation and I must say it’s easy to follow so far!
I’ve had the Heaney translation on my shelves for years, but your post has piqued my interest. It will be moved to my TBR pile. Thank you!
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Reblogged this on beocorgi and commented: Very Interesting. I never thought of Jabberwocky like that but now that its pointed out I can definitely see it
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- My Preferences
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- Literature Notes
- Major Themes in Beowulf
- Poem Summary
- About Beowulf
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- Summary and Analysis
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- Character Analysis
- Grendel's Mother
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- The Beowulf Poet
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Critical Essays Major Themes in Beowulf
A theme in a literary work is a recurring, unifying subject or idea, a motif that allows us to understand more deeply the character and their world. In Beowulf, the major themes reflect the values and the motivations of the characters.
One of the central themes of Beowulf, embodied by its title character, is loyalty. At every step of his career, loyalty is Beowulf's guiding virtue.
Beowulf comes to the assistance of the Danes (Scyldings) for complicated reasons. Certainly he is interested in increasing his reputation and gaining honor and payment for his own king back in Geatland. However, we soon learn that a major motivation is a family debt that Beowulf owes to Hrothgar. The young Geat is devoted to the old king because Hrothgar came to the assistance of Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, years before. Now deceased, Ecgtheow had killed a leader of another tribe in a blood feud. When the tribe sought vengeance, Hrothgar, then a young king, sheltered Beowulf's father and settled the feud by paying tribute (wergild) in the form of "fine old treasures" (472) to Ecgtheow's enemies. Hrothgar even remembers Beowulf as a child. The tie between the families goes back many years, and Beowulf is proud to be able to lend his loyal services to Hrothgar.
When the hero returns to Geatland, he continues his loyalty to his uncle and king, Hygelac, risking his life even when the tactics of the ruler are not the best. After Hygelac is killed in an ill-advised raid on Frisia, Beowulf makes a heroic escape (2359 ff.) back to Geatland. Beowulf could become king then but is more loyal than ambitious. Queen Hygd offers Beowulf the throne after her husband dies, thinking that her young son (Heardred) is unable to protect the kingdom; Beowulf refuses and serves the young king faithfully. After Heardred is killed, Beowulf does become king and rules with honor and fidelity to his office and his people for 50 years. In his final test, the burden of loyalty will rest on other, younger shoulders.
Preparing for his last battle, with the fiery dragon, Beowulf puts his trust in 11 of his finest men, retainers who have vowed to fight to the death for him. Although the now elderly king insists on taking on the dragon alone, he brings along the 11 in case he needs them. When it is apparent that Beowulf is losing the battle to the dragon, however, all but one of his men run and hide in the woods. Only Wiglaf, an inexperienced thane who has great respect for his king, remains loyal. Wiglaf calls to the others in vain. Realizing that they will be no help and that his king is about to be killed, he stands beside the old man to fight to the death — theirs or the dragon's. For Beowulf, sadly, it is the end. Although he and Wiglaf kill the dragon, the king dies. As he dies, Beowulf passes the kingdom on to the brave and loyal Wiglaf.
Another motivating factor for Beowulf — and a central theme in the epic — is reputation. From the beginning, Beowulf is rightly concerned about how the rest of the world will see him. He introduces himself to the Scyldings by citing achievements that gained honor for him and his king. When a drunken Unferth verbally assaults Beowulf at the first banquet, at issue is the hero's reputation. Unferth's slur is the worst kind of insult for Beowulf because his reputation is his most valuable possession. Reputation is also the single quality that endures after death, his one key to immortality. That's why Beowulf later leaves the gold in the cave beneath the mere, after defeating the mother, preferring to return with Grendel's head and the magic sword's hilt rather than treasure. He has and continues to amass treasures; his intent now is in building his fame.
Unferth's slur accuses Beowulf of foolishly engaging in a seven-day swimming contest on the open sea, as a youth, and losing. If Beowulf can't win a match like that, Unferth asserts, he surely can't defeat Grendel. Beowulf defends his reputation with such grace and persuasion that he wins the confidence of King Hrothgar and the rest of the Danes. He points out that he swam with Breca for five nights, not wanting to abandon the weaker boy. Rough seas then drove them apart, and Beowulf had to kill nine sea monsters before going ashore in the morning. His reputation intact, Beowulf prepares to meet Grendel and further enhance his fame.
As he discusses Beowulf's later years, the poet lists the virtues (2177 ff.) leading to the great man's fine reputation. Beowulf is courageous and famous for his performance in battle but equally well known for his good deeds. Although aggressive in war, Beowulf has "no savage mind" (2180) and never kills his comrades when drinking, an important quality in the heroic world of the mead-hall. Beowulf respects the gifts of strength and leadership that he possesses.
As he prepares to meet the dragon, near the end of the poem, now King Beowulf again considers his reputation. He insists on facing the dragon alone despite the fact that his death will leave his people in jeopardy. Hrothgar's Sermon warned Beowulf of the dangers of pride, and some critics have accused the great warrior of excessive pride (hubris) in the defense of his reputation. A more considerate judgment might be that Beowulf is an old man with little time left and deserves the right to die as a warrior. The final words of the poem, stating that Beowulf was "most eager for fame' (3182), might be best understood by a modern audience by remembering that, in Beowulf's world, fame is synonymous with reputation.
Generosity and Hospitality
The Scyldings' King Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow embody the themes of generosity and hospitality. The code of the comitatus is at the heart of the Beowulf epic. In this system, the king or feudal lord provides land, weapons, and a share of treasure to his warriors (called thanes or retainers) in return for their support of the leader in battle. The leader's generosity is one of his highest qualities. There are more than 30 different terms for "king" in the poem, and many of them have to do with this role as provider. He is the "ring-giver' (35) or the "treasure-giver" (607); his seat of power is the "gift-throne" (168).
When booty is seized from an enemy in battle, everything goes to the king. He then allots treasure to each warrior according to the man's achievements as a soldier. When Beowulf defeats Grendel and Grendel's mother, he expects and receives great riches as his reward, including a golden banner, helmet, and mail-shirt, as well as a jeweled sword, magnificent horses with golden trappings that hang to the ground, a gem-studded saddle, and a golden collar. Such generosity is emblematic of Hrothgar's character. In turn, Beowulf will present these treasures to his own king, Hygelac, who will then honor Beowulf with appropriate gifts. Propriety/generosity is, thus, a crucial part of the political, military, social, and economic structure of the culture.
Wealhtheow shares in the gift giving and is the perfect hostess. When she serves mead in Heorot, it is an act of propriety and diplomacy, attending first to her king and then to various guests, paying special attention to Beowulf. An improper queen would be one like Modthrytho (1931 ff.) who was so inhospitable as to have her own warriors executed for the offense of merely looking into her eyes.
Hospitality is such an established part of the culture that the poet feels free to refer to it with casual humor. When Beowulf reports to Hrothgar on his victory over Grendel (957 ff.), he ironically speaks in terms of hospitality. He tried, he says, to "welcome my enemy" (969) with a firm handshake but was disappointed when he received only a "visitor's token" (971), Grendel's giant claw, "that dear [meaning 'precious'] gift" (973), a kind of macabre gratuity for services rendered. Beowulf had, ironically speaking, tried to be the perfect host; but he wanted the entire ogre body as his tip . Grendel left only his claw as a cheap compensation.
Despite Unferth's jealous rant at the first banquet, the most serious embodiment of envy in the poem is Grendel. The ogre who has menaced Hrothgar's people for 12 years is envious of the Danes because he can never share in mankind's hope or joy. The monster's motivation is one of the few undeniably Christian influences in the epic. Grendel is a descendant of Cain, the biblical son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4). The legend is that the monsters of the earth are Cain's descendants and eternally damned. Grendel resents men because God blesses them but will never bless him. The bright lights and sounds of joy emanating from Hrothgar's magnificent mead-hall, Heorot, especially annoy the ogre.
The scop 's "Song of Creation" angers Grendel because it reminds him of the light and hope of God's creation and the loss he suffers because of Cain's sin. Grendel stomps up from the mere to devour Danes and rule nightly over Heorot as a form of revenge stemming from this envy.
Revenge serves as a motivating factor for several characters throughout the poem, initially stirring Grendel and his mother. Grendel seeks revenge upon mankind for the heritage that he has been dealt. He delights in raiding Heorot because it is the symbol of everything that he detests about men: their success, joy, glory, and favor in the eyes of God. Grendel's mother's revenge is more specific. She attacks Heorot because someone there killed her son. Although she is smaller and less powerful than Grendel, she is motivated by a mother's fury. When Beowulf goes after her in the mere, she has the added advantage of fighting him in her own territory. As she drags him into her cave beneath the lake, her revenge peaks because this is the very man who killed her son. Only Beowulf's amazing abilities as a warrior and the intervention of God or magic can defeat her.
Revenge also motivates the many feuds that the poet refers to and is a way of life — and death — for the Germanic tribes. Old enmities die hard and often disrupt attempts at peace, as the poet recognizes. Upon his return to Geatland, Beowulf (2020 ff.) speculates about a feud between Hrothgar's Scyldings and the Heathobards, a tribe in southern Denmark with whom Hrothgar hopes to make peace through the marriage of his daughter. Beowulf is skeptical, envisioning a renewal of hostilities. In fact, the Heathobards do later burn Heorot in events not covered by the poem but probably familiar to its audience. Another example of revenge overcoming peace occurs in the Finnsburh section (1068-1159).
Beowulf's final battle is the result of vengeance. A dangerous fire-dragon seeks revenge because a fugitive slave has stolen a valuable cup from the monster's treasure-hoard. His raids across the countryside include the burning of Beowulf's home. Beowulf then seeks his own revenge by going after the dragon.
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Theme Of Death In Beowulf
Why is beowulf inevitable.
Scarcely a line will come along having to do with mortality in Beowulf. We are illustrated the inescapable fact of death from two very different and antithetical perspectives. As much as the hero would like to live forever and escape death, they must come the realisation that death is inevitable. They must discern that they can die at any moment mainly in the line of battle. After innumerable battles, Beowulf finally grasps the idea of dying. What seemed like an endless streak of winning, he faces Grendel’s mother and it is then that he develops a sense of mortality.
Selflessness In Beowulf
Beowulf, now an old man, says in his final boast, “I’ve never known fear, as a youth I fought in endless battles. I am old, now, but I will fight again” (lines 607-609). Beowulf realizes the dangers of going into battle as an old man, and despite still knowing that his strength and fighting skills were not what they used to be still goes into battle against the ferocious dragon in order to protect his homeland from the villain. Unfortunately, as Beowulf was fighting saw that “for a time (the shield) held, protected Beowulf as he’d planned; then it began to melt, and for the first time in his life that famous prince fought with fate against him, with glory denied him. He knew it, but he raised his sword and struck at the dragon’s scaly hide/And the Geats’ ring-giver did not boast of glorious victories in other wars” (lines 666-671/678). As Beowulf fights the dragon, he comes to realize that he is not going to win and is going to meet his fate. All the battles he had previously fought had him fighting alongside fate, not against it, but now he realized that this is the battle he would not win. Still, Beowulf fights on knowing he would die. He, as stated in the quote, does not seek any pride nor has he in any of his battles and would valiantly fight until his death. These actions Beowulf has portrayed ultimately
Paganism and Christianity in Beowulf Essay examples
Beowulf believes in fate and “knew the sea, would point the prow straight to that distant Danish shore” (3 123-124). When Beowulf arrives at Herot, he boasts about himself and brags by saying, “’the days of my youth have been filled with glory’” (4 142-143). Beowulf describes all of the monsters that he killed and explains that “’death was my errand and the fate they had earned’” (4 158-159). Beowulf requests to fight Grendel alone and promises to do it without any weapons because he wants all the glory to himself and wants to prove that he is the strongest man on earth. He also seems to know that he will win and says, “’Fate will unwind as it must’” (4 189). Beowulf is concerned with how people view and perceive him. This shows that Beowulf is concerned about glory and fame rather than morality and right and wrong. If Beowulf was truly a Christian, he would only be concerned with God’s view of him. Unferth, one of Hrothgar’s courtiers, is extremely “vexed by Beowulf’s adventure, by their visitor’s courage, and angry that anyone in Denmark or anywhere on earth had ever acquired glory and fame greater than his own” (6 235-239). He challenges Beowulf by saying that Beowulf is foolish and has too much pride and that Beowulf owes his victories in battles to luck. Beowulf replies simply by saying that Unferth’s accusations are false and that “’No man swims in the sea as I
Theme Of Beowulf : A New Telling
Beowulf: A New Telling is a book for people that need reassurance that light will overcome darkness and that we need to accept that we have some darkness inside of us, then our weaknesses can become our strengths. Beowulf has to face many faces of evil, including Grendel, the cruel slimy creature who murders Beowulf’s friends and She, the wife of Cain and malicious monster that lives at the bottom of a pool of blood. He becomes king of Geats and is famous all throughout the land.
The Theme Of Isolation And Death In Beowulf
Beowulf is one of the greatest epics from early British literature history we have managed to salvage, and amidst the tales of brave heroes and mighty battles, there lies an interwoven theme of isolation and death. These two plagues to the human mind and body walk together in a correlated marriage within Beowulf’s many episodes. Death is an obvious theme; the alpha and omega of the poem are grandeur funerals (Beowulf, l. 26-52, 3114-3155) and loss is littered throughout Beowulf’s journey. Isolation, however, is a theme that is directly related to the death inside of Beowulf’s world, and needs further examination as to how and why. It seems that the evil creatures that fall to the hands of our mighty hero indulge this theory, but this thematic duo take more than just the lives of the monsters. Isolation followed by death sweeps up innocent characters as well, including Beowulf himself.
Fatalism In Beowulf
Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined, therefore they are inevitable. Today, society's perception of fatalism died with Beowulf. Fatalistic type qualities exist with one's higher power beliefs, however people still have control of their own endings. Taken, RV, and The Blind Side are excellent examples of how fate could have taken control of the scenarios in the movies, but did not because nowadays, everyone makes their own paths. Fate does not exist, the power for us to make our own decisions does.
Fate In Beowulf
Though Beowulf was god-like and he was able to be successful when faced with decisions and adversity, he eventually succumbed to the destructive forces of nature and threw his nation into conflict. As aforementioned, Beowulf’s battle with the dragon depicts unpreventable death and destruction that afflicts everybody, his last battle also symbolizes that even the most seemingly perfect people are chained to hostile acts of nature and fate. Beowulf’s death is not a product of pride, it was a result of his altruistic nature to do good, however, his death forecasts war in his country as described by Wiglaf when ordering a messenger to tell the Geats of Beowulf’s death, “And this people can expect fighting, once/ The Franks, and the Frisians, have heard that our king/ Lies dead.” (Beowulf 2910-2913). Beowulf’s main purpose was to do good, and though killing the dragon was an act of goodness, he traded in his life for an act of good, however his death brought the large possibility of war to his
Beowulf's Day To Die
Beowulf had just won the battle against his son, the dragon. Beowulf killed his son by pulling the heart out. Due to this battle, Beowulf was severely injured. He was immediately brought to the healer (doctor), but the healer couldn’t heal Beowulf. So, Beowulf was brought back to his castle. Beowulf laid there waiting for his day to die.
Towards the end of the story, when Beowulf sees himself forced to slay the dragon that menaces his kingdom, the author says, “(…)After many trials/he was destined to face the end of his days in this mortal world/as was the dragon, for all his long leasehold on the treasure.” This demonstrates the belief of Anglo-Saxons that death was inevitable, you couldn’t do anything to it, but accept it. As Beowulf approaches his final battle in the narrative, the writer constantly foreshadows its end. The creator inquires repeatedly how our hero knew that his final moments were imminent, it was like if he felt the pull of destiny towards his
The Day We Lost Beowulf Analysis
The day we lost Beowulf was a mournful day. Though it happened many years ago, people still mourn to this day. He was a heroic man that always put his life on the line. People honored the ground that he walked on because he was immortal like. He was the mightiest of them all, and though he was mortal, we all knew this day would come because of all the dreadful battles he was in. His good deeds will never go unnoticed, and his values will never be forgotten. For this man was a warrior, and a great one. By the end of his time, the whole world had depended on this earthly man. When Hrothgar’s tribe had stopped believing in the almighty, they had become desperate. That is when the mighty soldier sailed to save the day. When Grendel came to destroy,
Universal Themes In Beowulf
Life is full of excitement and adventure, but also depression and strife. Some writers choose to write about the ups about life but some choose write about their downs, they can create characters that resemble themselves, or who they would like to be. In many cases writers choose to project their own morals into the theme of a story or poem.
Victory And Death In 'Beowulf'
They waited till night came, with them all having their drink full, but the mighty Beowulf is the one that stays up and waits for the evil Grendel to show up. The sun finally snuck behind the mountains of Denmark and then the monster came out to play. He looks around at all of the soldiers that came with him from their homeland. He was the greatest of them all though, he would fight that beast with just his hands, for using a weapon he believes showed weakness.
Death In Everyman's Journey
During Beowulf's journey he faces deathly tasks, which he bravely confronts, as he is portrayed as a fearless, yet wise hero. Due to his courage, he is granted high status within the epic. Beowulf recognizes that death is a possibility. Beowulf's wish is to be remembered and for his people to be taken care of. Whereas Beowulf will be remembered for a long time, if not forever, and will in that sense become immortal, Everyman will be forgotten.
What Is The Theme Of Beowulf
Cravings for revenge often serve as ammunition for sinful, destructive crimes. These actions, often ignited by vengeance, is demonstrated at the attack of Grendel’s mother on herot hall. By taking away the life of Hrothgar’s advisor and beloved friend Aeschere, she sucks the happiness and joy out of each soul in the hall. Hrothgar’s agony was nursed by Beowulf’s advice as he said, “It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning” (97). Through these words of wisdom, Beowulf calls attention to his belief that avenging the death of Grendel’s mother will bring an end to the sorrow and pain. In these terms, mourning is a sign of weakness and fragility, while Beowulf follows the footsteps of the warrior code’s clout. He takes it upon himself to dive into the murky meere to protect his people and gain additional recognition. As the Danes patiently waited for Beowulf to emerge from the water, it is written, “Hygelac’s kinsman kept thinking about his name and fame: he never lost heart” (107) . In this aspect, Beowulf is a strong king because nothing could get in his way of his success. Through his mission to prove his worthiness to the people of his homeland,
Life In Wuulf : The Concept Of Time In Beowulf
Which is why when Beowulf told Hrothgar that “Whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgement by god (lines 440-441),” he knew his skills would be challenged and his time might come to an end. This quote is when Beowulf is about to go and fight Grendel and realizes that he may lose this battle, but does it anyway because it is the right choice for a warrior like him to choose. However, he does feel that this particular obstacle will be nothing compared to his past experiences. Beowulf even admits in this quote that he may lose this fight. When a situation, similar to as one Beowulf is going through, presents itself to others, numerous people would walk away from it and never look back. Beowulf on the other hand took on the obstacle and let everything else to God, knowing it might be
Home / Essay Samples / Literature / Beowulf / Theme of Death and Mortality: Beowulf, Le Morte D’Arthur, The Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Wanderer
Theme of Death and Mortality: Beowulf, Le Morte D’Arthur, The Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Wanderer
- Category: Literature , Music
- Topic: Beowulf , The Wanderer
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