Beowulf Summary


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In “Beowulf” translated by Burton Raffel, the character Beowulf is portrayed as a brave, courageous, and very pious man. In the pagan tale the underlying motif of Good vs. Evil heightens these characteristics even to the point where Beowulf comes across as a symbol for God and Christianity. He battles “the demon” Grendel (ln. 16), Grendel’s mother, and a fierce dragon, all in order to save those who need aid, primarily the people of Herot. This too is very Christlike because he is serving those lower than himself for the sole purpose of doing the right thing. Although Beowulf is very brave all throughout, he becomes boastful and greedy from the time he first battles Grendel to when he takes on the dragon.
Upon arriving in Herot, Beowulf initially asks permission to take on the beast,
“...we have come seeking your prince, Healfdane’s son, protector of this people, only in friendship: instruct us, watchman, help us with your words! Our errand is a great one, our business with the glorious kind of the Danes no secret, there’s nothing dark or hidden in our coming. You know (if we’ve heard the truth, and been told honestly) that your country is cursed with some strange, vicious creature that hunts only at night and that no one has seen. It’s said, watchman, that he has slaughtered your people, brought terror to the darkness. Perhaps Hrothgar can hunt, here in my heart, for some way to drive this devil out...”(lines 179-192)
This courteous offer of help is so noble of Beowulf, and it truly exhibits the characteristics of what a true warrior should be.
However, Beowulf’s perfection begins to fade in the second story where he takes on Grendel’s mother who is full of vengeance. Before descending into the depths of the fiery lake to confront Grendel’s mother, Beowulf gives orders to Hrothgar, a few spiteful remarks to Unferth, who questioned his ability before he fought Grendel, and then rudely jumped into the lake without response to his words. This shows Beowulf’s arrogance coming out because he openly displays his own self pride, and boasts of what he will do to the beast awaiting him in the depths.
Somehow the story just takes a big fast forward jumping fifty years ahead to when Beowulf is now an elderly king of the Geats. Now a fierce dragon has settled in Beowulf’s kingdom and he declares that he will take it on.

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There must have been a great number of battles happen between battling Grendel’s mother and the point where Beowulf is now because he is openly boastful saying,
“I’ve never known fewar, as a youth i fought in endless battles. I am old, now, but I will fight again, seek fame still, if the dragon hiding in his tower dares to face me...No one else could do what I mean to, here, no man but me could hope to defeat this monster. No one could try. And this dragon’s treasure, his gold and everything hidden in that tower, will be mine or war will sweep me to a bitter death!”(lines 624-628, lines 644-649)

What a horrible way to change, a man once comparable to a diety, could now be compared to any average being who is infected with greed and self indulgence. Beowulf’s more than noticeable change almost ruins the story by taking out the great warrior aspect, and substituting it with the commonly found faults of greed and being boastful. These two things are something Christ never would have been according to Christian teachings, although Beowulf was once quite a comparable character.


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