An epic story is one that combines elements of supernatural powers and heroic deeds with plebeian troubles. In Beowulf , the unknown author paints a typical yet magnificent tale that is one of the great epic chronicles of the Middle Ages. Like the poems of Homer, Beowulf possesses terrible monsters, men with supernatural powers, the search for glory, and deadly defeats. However, this medieval account brings a new element into the folds: the association between established religious forces and personal choices. The concepts of predestination and fate intertwine in this work with the idea of free will.
Throughout the poem, characters struggle to understand who and/or what is the guiding force for actions and events. Although this answer remains a mystery, many proverbs and traditions hint at the proper way to live and act. The advice, "Let whoever can/ win glory before death" (lines 1387-8), exalts the idea that champions are the most likely to live a bountiful life and are the ones who uphold the highest ideals in society. Bravery and wise choices create circumstances that cannot determine a future, but can help to lead a man to his predetermined best end. A specific incident in Beowulf exemplifies this connection among free will, glory, and predestination. Beowulf's fight with the dragon and dying words demonstrate the overarching idea that although fate, destiny, and God work to direct a man toward his death, free will and the glory acquired because of it determine how a man is remembered and honored during his life.
In a society like Beowulf's, ruled by kings and noblemen, destiny is the most common indication of greatness; accordingly, destiny itself is measured most oft...
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... and King Beowulf's dying words, the reader begins to form a clear picture of the warrior's motivations for previous decisions in the poem. Awareness of the lack of fear of death is an important ingredient to understanding the sometimes rash actions of the protagonist. The apparent non-conflict that Beowulf demonstrates in this final scene between free will and fate allows previous choices to have merit and credibility. In the final lines of Beowulf's life, the reader sees the transition between the living and eternal worlds occur in the hero. Because he clearly gains honor and admiration in life due to his choices and will go on to claim his fated seat among the kings in the heavens, Beowulf is the example of this epic poem's declaration to attain glory in both life and death.
Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf . New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000.
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