The Epic Poem, Beowulf - Beowulf and Heroic Virtues

The Epic Poem, Beowulf - Beowulf and Heroic Virtues

Length: 1196 words (3.4 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Beowulf and Heroic Virtues

   Although the main character in Beowulf is Beowulf himself, I believe that the single section which most concisely illustrates the heroic values in this poem occurs on pages 61 through 64 of the text, and is illustrated not by Beowulf's actions, but by Wiglaf's. Although Wiglaf is by nationality Swedish, he identifies himself as Beowulf's kinsman when he says "I did begin to help my kinsman." (Chickering 64)


Wiglaf, in coming to Beowulf's aid in the fight against the dragon, typifies several important heroic virtues. The most obvious of these is the importance of the relationship between lord and thane. In trying to persuade the other thanes to assist Beowulf, Wiglaf says, "Now the day has come that our liege lord has need of the strength of good fighters. Let us go to him, help our war-chief while the grime terrible fire persists." (Chickering 61) In stating this, Wiglaf reminds the other thanes of the necessity of holding up their end of the bargain in the lord-thane relationship. Beowulf is a good lord, who protects his thanes and dispenses treasure to them, and it is their turn to support him in battle in his time of need.


When Wiglaf comes to aid Beowulf against the dragon, he also illustrates the importance of the kinship bond. Beowulf states that "Fate has swept away all my kinsmen" immediately before he dies. (Chickering 63) As one of Beowulf's last surviving kinsmen, Wiglaf's aid would be especially valuable to Beowulf. As the editors of The Norton Anthology of English Literature point out in the introduction to Beowulf in their introduction to this text, relationships between kinsmen were extremely important to this society. (Introduction 23)


Wiglaf also exemplifies the heroic virtue of courage. He give no thought to his own safety or to the odds against him when he fights the dragon, but goes to help his thane and kinsman. In the fight he conducts himself courageously; the author of the poem says that, in attacking the dragon, "he took no heed for that head" -- that is, the dragon's head, which breathed fire -- but that "that hand of the brave man was burned as he helped his kinsman." (Chickering 62).


Finally, Wiglaf's action demonstrates the heroic virtue of living up to a promise made. "I remember that time we drank mead, when we promised our lord in the beer-hall -- him who gave us these rings -- that we would repay him for the war-arms if a need like this befell him," says Wiglaf of an earlier promise made by the thanes.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Epic Poem, Beowulf - Beowulf and Heroic Virtues." 25 Sep 2018

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay Christian and Pagan Virtues Displayed in Beowulf

- Many times in literature authors blend two dissimilar traditions and virtues in order to make up a persons true identity. In the epic poem Beowulf, the Christian allegory is woven with a pagan fable in order to truly represent the characters. The Christian and pagan virtues are successfully synchronized and amalgamate the story as a whole which is displayed by the two main characters, Beowulf and Grendel, through their personal traits. Many Christian elements and values create the disposition of Beowulf....   [tags: Epic Poems, Grendel, Anglo-Saxon]

Research Papers
1009 words (2.9 pages)

Essay about Christianity and Paganism in the Epic of Beowulf

- Christianity and Paganism in Beowulf The story of Beowulf shows the effect of the spread of Christianity in the early Danish paganistic society that values heroic deeds and bravery above all else. The mythical creatures that Beowulf kills with his supernatural strength make the story into an epic celebrating the life of a great hero. However, blending in among Beowulf's triumphs against the three key creatures, we also see Christian virtues being instilled upon the listeners. The good qualities of loyalty, humility, sacrifice for the good of others, and sympathy for those less fortunate are seen woven into the text as well as the negative consequences from greed and pride....   [tags: The Epic Poem Beowulf]

Research Papers
1801 words (5.1 pages)

Essay Englad Oldest Epic Poem: Beowulf

- In "Beowulf", England's oldest epic poem, we find many parallel terms for the things most commonly described. The world that created Beowulf is a world of plain and direct morals and standards. Confidence underlies the trials of its characters and heroes are the ones who take that action with no hesitation or second thoughts. The way in which Beowulf and his kinsmen deal with difficulties is not less than an urgent call to action. It's very rare in "Beowulf" for a discussion on the dilemmas at hand not to end in some kind of action....   [tags: adventures, hero, armed conflict]

Research Papers
741 words (2.1 pages)

Heroism as the Main Theme of Beowulf Essay

- Heroism as the Main Theme of Beowulf The main theme of Beowulf is heroism. This involves far more than physical courage. It also means that the warrior must fulfil his obligations to the group of which he is a key member. There is a clear-cut network of social duties depicted in the poem. The king has an obligation to behave with generosity. He must reward his thanes with valuable gifts for their defense of the tribe and their success in battle. This is why King Hrothgar is known as the "ring-giver." He behaves according to expectations of the duties of a lord when he lavishly rewards Beowulf and the other Geat warriors for ridding the Danes of Grendel's menace...   [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]

Research Papers
2552 words (7.3 pages)

Pagan and Christian Elements in Beowulf Essay

- Pagan and Christian Elements in Beowulf                 The praised epic poem, Beowulf, is the first great heroic poem in English literature. The epic follows a courageous warrior named Beowulf throughout his young, adult life and into his old age. As a young man, Beowulf becomes a legendary hero when he saves the land of the Danes from the hellish creatures, Grendel and his mother. Later, after fifty years pass, Beowulf is an old man and a great king of the Geats. A monstrous dragon soon invades his peaceful kingdom and he defends his people courageously, dying in the process....   [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essay]

Research Papers
2163 words (6.2 pages)

Essay on Beowulf as the Archetypal Germanic Hero

- 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....   [tags: Epic Beowulf Hero Essays Papers]

Research Papers
2093 words (6 pages)

Beowulf: A True Hero Essay

- Religion in Beowulf The famous poem Beowulf was written sometime in the eighth century by an unknown poet. It was based on legend passed down over time. Prior to the time the poem was written, Anglo Saxons had converted from Germanic Paganism to Christianity. Some people argue that it was a Pagan poem rewritten by a person or persons educated in Christianity. “ has come down from heathen times and acquired its Christian character gradually and piecemeal from a succession of minstrels.” ( Hector Monro Chadwick as quoted by Brodeur 182), while others believed that Christianity and Paganism both belonged in the poem....   [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]

Research Papers
1044 words (3 pages)

Essay on Beowulf is a Christian Poem

- The epic poem Beowulf, was written sometime in the eighth century by an unknown author. It was based on legend passed down over time. Prior to the time the poem was written, Anglo Saxons had converted from Germanic Paganism to Christianity. Some people argue that it was a Pagan poem rewritten by a person or persons educated in Christianity. “ has come down from heathen times and acquired its Christian character gradually and piecemeal from a succession of minstrels.” ( Hector Monro Chadwick as quoted by Brodeur 182), while others believed that Christianity and Paganism both belonged in the poem....   [tags: Papers]

Research Papers
1373 words (3.9 pages)

Pagan Burial Rites in the Epic of Beowulf Essay

- Pagan Burial Rites in the Epic of Beowulf Scores of essays are written about the Christian influence on the Beowulf poet. Most notable Beowulf scholars such as Kl‘ber, Robinson and Whitelock do not fail to address the matter. Given the complexity of the issue and the proliferation of evidence within the poem, we can understand the universal appeal of this topic. The poet transposes his Christian convictions onto a story which formed in a culture devoid of Christianity. In many instances, however, the poem's pagan basis shines through....   [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essay]

Research Papers
1715 words (4.9 pages)

Beowulf Society Essay example

- Beowulf Society The earliest known manuscript of Beowulf is thought to have been written in the tenth century, however, the poem had most likely been told as an oral tradition for centuries before that. In fact, the poem’s events date back to the sixth century. However, because there is only one manuscript of Beowulf still in tact very little is known about the poem or its author. The poem does, however, give us great insight into the culture of the people who composed and told this epic tale....   [tags: essays research papers]

Research Papers
1721 words (4.9 pages)

Related Searches

(Chickering 61) For Wiglaf, unlike Beowulf's other thanes, the fact that he has made a promise is enough to hold him to it; other circumstances do not enter into his consideration of the situation. Rather than worrying about how the outcome of the battle might affect his own life, Wiglaf wades in through the smoke from the dragon's mouth and says, "Beloved Beowulf ... you must protect your life with all your might. I shall help you." (Chickering 61)


Of course, not all of the heroic virtues illustrated by this poem are demonstrated by Wiglaf in this short section, and those which Wiglaf does not demonstrate are demonstrated by Beowulf himself at various points in the story. For instance, Beowulf demonstrates the heroic virtue of fairness by refusing to take weapons into a fight with Grendel, since Grendel is known to rely on strength alone. (Chickering 32)


Beowulf also demonstrates, through his actions, that glory is important to the audience of the poem. In describing Beowulf's victory over Grendel, for instance, the author remarks that "Glory in battle was given to Beowulf" and that Beowulf "rejoiced in his night's work, a deed to make famous his courage." (Chickering 37)


Beowulf also demonstrates the heroic ideal of vengeance throughout the poem. Beowulf, in counseling Hrothgar, says that "it is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn." (Chickering 45) Even monsters follow the practice of vengeance, although it seems to surprise all of the Geats and the Danes when Grendel's mother attacks Heorot. (Chickering 44) The practice of extracting wergild -- man-price -- or taking revenge on a killer was an important part of this culture's values.


Finally, Beowulf demonstrates throughout the story that bears his name that it is crucially important to accept the lot that fate has measured out for a person. "Fate always goes as it must," Beowulf tells Hrothgar. (Chickering 33) As Beowulf lies dying from the wounds that the dragon has inflicted, he says to Wiglaf, "Fate has swept away all my kinsmen, earls in their strength, to destined death." He simply concludes, "I have to go after." (Chickering 63). He then dies.


Christian virtues also make an appearance throughout the poem, although they are very different from the Christian ideals western society holds today. God -- that is to say, the Christian god -- is referred to throughout the poem in various ways. Beowulf's speech just before he dies refers to God as the "King of Glory" and the "Eternal Prince," and gives thanks to God for his victory. Characters in Beowulf are constantly thanking the Christian god for good fortune: Beowulf's warriors thank God for granting them a safe journey over the ocean, for example, and Hrothgar gives thanks to God for Beowulf's victory over Grendel. (Chickering 30; Chickering 39)


Throughout the poem, God is sometimes identified as the ordainer of a person's fate, as in Beowulf's speech before his fight with Grendel: "may wise God, Holy Lord, assign glory on whichever hand seems good to him." (Chickering 36). On the other hand, God is also sometimes seen as separate from fate, as in Beowulf's welcoming speech to Hrothgar: "Fate always goes as it must," and Beowulf's statement that "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good." (Chickering 33; Beowulf 34) As the introduction states, "it is hard to read 'the will of God' for fate" in many places in Beowulf. (Introduction 24)


God is also spoken of as the creator of the world throughout the poem, and many events from the Old Testament are referred to in Beowulf. However, as the introduction points out, there is not a single reference to the New Testament or to Jesus' sacrifice, "Which [is] the real [base] of Christianity in any intelligible sense of the term," as the introduction's author says. (Introduction 22)


Because of these discrepancies, it seems safe to conclude, as the book does, that Beowulf was indeed written in a time of transition, when Christianity had been accepted by the audience but had not yet rid itself of the pagan virtues it had assimilated from the native cultures.


Works Cited and Consulted:

Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Frank, Roberta. "The Beowulf Poet's Sense of History." In Beowulf - Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Robinson, Fred C.. "Differences Between Modern and Anglo-Saxon Values." In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

Tolkien, J.R.R.. "Beowulf :The Monsters and the Critics." In TheBeowulf Poet, edited byDonald K. fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Return to