On the surface, the poem Beowulf seems to be a simple tale of a brave hero who triumphs over three monsters and who engages in several other battles in order to preserve what is just and right. A more thorough reading, however, reveals that the epic poem is filled with events that symbolize historical and social conditions that prevailed during the European reign of the Scandinavians in the seventh century to around the ninth century, following the Danish invasion of England (Sisson 1996).
Analysts additionally point out that Beowulf’s author was a person who has a “strong sense of cultural diversity” (Frank 1982: 52). Though the author was most likely Christian, he or she also had a strong understanding of the pagan moral code. This was illustrated in the way Beowulf was able to move through different European societies with ease.
This essay looks at the heroic code that is exemplified by Beowulf, as seen in his battles with Grendel, his fight with Grendel’s mother, in his relationship with Hygelac. In the second part, the essay then examines how Beowulf moves away from this heroic code in his final battle with the dragon. In the conclusion, the essay shows that Beowulf makes choices that hark back to his past courage and foreshadow his own bravery and death. This shows that his choice of the heroic life has implications not only for himself, but for his kingdom as well.
Heroic code in Beowulf’s battles
Even before the hero’s appearance, the narrator already establishes the strong heroic code that dictates honorable conduct in Scandinavian kingdoms. This is depicted in the court of Hrothgar, ruler of the Scyldings. Early in the poem, the narrator shows how rulers like Hrothgar were very dependent on the allegia...
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...hane origins and his present status as ruler.
However, throughout the epic poem, Beowulf upholds the code of conduct demanded both in battle and, for the most part, in his duties to his adherents. Seen in this light, the departures from the heroic code towards the end of his life matters much less, when compared to the way Beowulf lived with bravery, compassion and most importantly, with honor.
Donaldson, E. Talbot. 1966. “Kinship in Beowulf.” in Beowulf: Bloom’s Notes. Harold Bloom, ed. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.
Frank, Roberta. 1982. “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History.” in Beowulf: Critical Interpretation. Harold Bloom, ed. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.
Sisson, Mary. 1996. “Thematic and Structural Analysis.” in Beowulf: Bloom’s Notes. Harold Bloom, ed. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.