Analysis Of Beowulf As An Epic Hero In Comparison With Achilles

February 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

What is a hero? The term’s definition varies by what values one believes in. For example, a hero could be someone who is extremely brave and constantly defeats villains, or a hero could simply be someone who performs good deeds to help the little people. An epic hero, such as Beowulf, consists of both of these traits and many others that one would think of when asked for their definition. When compared to another epic hero, such as Achilles, one can see how their shared characteristics define Beowulf as a hero. Beowulf possesses three important characteristics of an epic hero: He is incredibly courageous, having great faith in fate, is a great warrior, and he is loyal to those around him.

Throughout much of the poem, Beowulf boasts about being the best and about how fate will unravel as it should. He is willing to put his life on the line and let fate do its job for the sake of others. When Beowulf meets Hrothgar, he says, “I have heard, too, that the monster’s scorn of men is so great that he needs no weapons and fears none. Nor will I”. “Fate will unwind as it must!”. Beowulf is obviously very sure of himself and his strength, as he is so bold with his choice of words. He also sounds confident that fate will favor him, as he does not seem to worry about what will happen to himself. Towards the end of the poem, just before his last battle, Beowulf again exemplifies courage and bravery when he says, “When he comes to me I mean to stand, not run from his shooting flames, stand till fate decides which of us wins.” Additionally, the idea of letting fate take its course is also shown once more in the last line. While Beowulf displays courage and confidence in fate, that does not automatically make him a hero.

Not only is courage a trait of heroes, but so is being a great warrior. Having exceptional strength is a quality almost all heroes have in common, and it is also something most heroes need to possess in order to accomplish their feats. For example, in the epic poem the Iliad, by Homer, Achilles was dipped into the river Styx, which gave him partial immortality and therefore superhuman strength. Achilles proved himself in countless battles and those contribute to his completion of the task of defeating the Trojans. This crucial characteristic of being a great warrior is one that makes him an epic hero. While it is unknown whether Beowulf’s strength is by supernatural means or not, it is shown repeatedly throughout the poem. For example, when he says, “They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood. I drove five great giants into chains, chased all of that race from the earth.”, it is established that Beowulf is extraordinarily strong and that he has won many battles. While he is not humble about it, it is still a characteristic of the majority of heroes.

While the previous two traits are a necessity to being a hero, so is being loyal to those around you. Granted, Beowulf certainly was not humble about his feats, but he did stay true to those he was serving. When Beowulf first goes to Hrothgar to help defeat Grendel, he does so because of his loyalty to him for aiding Beowulf’s father in the past. Another example is shown in lines 608-611 when Beowulf says, “I am old, now, but I will fight again, seek fame still, if the dragon hiding in his tower dares to face me.” Beowulf takes it upon himself to fight the dragon himself out of his loyalty to his people. Like Beowulf, Achilles was not only a great warrior, but he was incredibly loyal to those closest to him. For example, his devoted friend Patroclus. Having grown up together, Patroclus fought in the Trojan War with Achilles as well. Once Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles swore revenge due to his loyalty to his friend.

To conclude, what exactly is a hero? As stated above, everyone has their own definition for the word, and each hero has his or her own set of traits and characteristics. Every epic hero throughout history has possessed at least a few of the traits mentioned, and when related to one like Achilles, Beowulf’s heroic traits are obvious. While he is missing the humility aspect, Beowulf is a hero because of his courage and faith in fate, his inhuman strength, and his loyalty to those around him.

Works Cited

  1. The Beowulf Poet, Beowulf. The Language of Literature, edited by Arthur N. Applebee, et. al, Mcdougal Littell, 2006, pp. 30-60 History.com Editors.
  2. “Achilles.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Mar. 2011, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/achilles.
  3. “Achilles (Akhilleus).” Achilles, Hero of the Trojan War, Demi-God of Great Power – Greek Gods, https://www.greek-gods.org/greek-heroes/achilles.php.
  4. Seton-Williams, M. V. Greek Legends and Stories. Barnes & Noble Books, 2000. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/achilles https://www.greek-gods.org/greek-heroes/achilles.php
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