Essay on Beowulf as the Archetypal Germanic Hero

Essay on Beowulf as the Archetypal Germanic Hero

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The epic and oral poem Beowulf illustrates a loss of community, cultural values, and tradition. Beowulf, the main character, is an ideal king and archetypal warrior. History is relevant to Beowulf; this Germanic society was being taken over by Christian missionaries who were seeking to convert this culture. The character of Beowulf is a reflection of the Germanic culture's virtues; heroism is emphasized in the text's multiple references and constant focus on heroes and what it is to be a hero. Beowulf, who is reflective of an older generation of heroes, strives for community. In contrast, Christianity's focus is on the individual. This conflict is ended once Beowulf, a figure of the past and the old world, passes on. With Beowulf, the hero dies. Hence, Beowulf's efforts to keep his culture and his ethics alive are impossible as war and Christianity conquer the Germanic land.

    Beowulf, physically and emotionally, is representative of the Germanic ideal hero. Beowulf is ?brave? (688), honest, and strong. One of the first scenes in the poem describes Beowulf?s arrival on the beach of a foreign land. Instead of fearing the large warrior that has arrived and summoning for help, the ?watchman? (229) is in awe of Beowulf. Before even getting to know Beowulf, the watchman thinks that this warrior is one of the strongest and noblest men he has ever seen: ?Nor have I seen/a mightier man-at-arms on this earth/than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,/he is truly noble? (247-250). Therefore, Beowulf?s towering height and stature convince others that he is a hero. Like the typical hero, Beowulf gives boasts. While in Hrothgar?s kingdom, Beowulf defends himself against the kin-killer Unferth; Beowulf brags that he will kill Gren...


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...on. It is obvious that the singer will have no place in the future because the text ends with a war and with its heroes fading away. This end of heroism and of orality is suggested by the last singer in the text; during Beowulf?s funeral, a woman cries instead of singing, implying that there will never be a happy song about heroes again: ?A Geat woman too sang out in grief? (3150).

    The epic poem Beowulf centers around the hero. From the character of Beowulf, the reader can see the importance of community, orality, and heroism. Beowulf, as a result, is an icon of his ancient Germanic heritage. He is mimetic of the world around him. In addition, he reflects the past?s tradition of heroes; he follows in Shield and Sigemund?s footsteps, mirroring their characteristics and actions. Thus, when Beowulf passes on, both the ancient world and the new world collapse.

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