The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old English
literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic tells the story of
a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who rids the Danes of the monster
Grendel, a descendent of Cain, and of his exploits fighting Grendel’s mother and
a Dragon. Throughout the epic, the Anglo-Saxon story teller uses many elements
to build a certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important
character elements in Beowulf are Wealth ; Honor, Biblical ; Paganistic,
and Man vs. Wild themes. Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most
epics, defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon
culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a character’s
importance, as well as their wealth and status, where measured not only in
monetary terms, but it was also measured in terms of honor, fame, and
accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is one example of the Anglo-Saxon
measurement of importance in Beowulf. In Canto 1 the story teller describes his
wealth and importance, not as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his
ability to “[lead] the Danes to such glory.” and as his tendency to
“In battle, [leave] the common pasture untouched, and taking no
lives.” Through this display of compassion for the commoner who doesn’t
fight in battles, Hrothgar proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the
extent of his wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true
wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes. As he fights and
defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his companions, and from the
Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor raising him to the level of an
archetypal hero. Grendel, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf.

He has no wealth, no honor, and he in infamous as an evil killer. This lack of
wealth and honor defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption. In addition
to using Honor and wealth to define a character’s character, the story-teller(s)
have incorporated alternating Biblical and Paganistic motifs in the epic-poem.

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The original Epic was obviously Paganistic due to the time period of it’s
creation. But, as time wore on, the rewriting and touching up of the manuscripts
by various sources including religious monks, caused the characters to have
slight Christian characteristics. These Christian themes have become very
important to the epic to add am element of depth that wouldn’t be possible in
modern times due to the lost of the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs. An example
of the Biblical motif in Beowulf is Grendel. Grendel it biblically described as
evil in this excerpt: [ Grendel] was spawned in that slime, Conceived by a pair
of those monsters born Of Cain, murderous creatures banished By God, punished
forever for the crime Of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove Those demons out, and
their exile was bitter, Shut away from men; they split Into a thousand forms of
evil-spirits And feinds, goblins, monsters, giants, A brood forever opposing the
Lord’s Will, and again and again defeated. The Biblical reference in the epic
has become a modern day archetypal motif, and serves to give the listener an
idea of the extent of Grendel’s pure evil and gives a logical explanation for
Grendel’s murderous behavior. This example, not only shows the evil in Grendel’s
nature, but also the torture in his heart caused by his Banishment from God. It
serves to give the reader an idea of why Grendel would kill the Danes for no
reason other than their happiness. Beowulf also has a religious motif to his
character. One example of this is in Canto 6 line 381 in which Hrothgar states,
“Our Holy Father had sent [Beowulf] as a sign of His grace, a mark of His
favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror.” This religious
description shows Beowulf as a sort of messiah sent by god to save man from
evil. But, more than that, since Beowulf is in fact not a messiah, this
description shows the good in Beowulf’s heart and the purpose of his mission.

Another Biblical reference in Beowulf is shown in the tower of Herot which is
very similar to the tower of Babel in the fact that it’s built as a sign of
superiority and accomplishment. Like Babel, though, Herot only serves as a
symbol of downfall more than one of glory because it causes many deaths and the
coming of Grendel. Apart from Wealth, Honor, and Paganistic vs. Biblical themes
and motifs, character is also shown through a certain Man vs. Wild motif. This
motif shows the difference between mankind’s ways (good), and evil’s wild nature
(evil). Grendel for one, is totally wild and is therefore shown as evil. His
wild home, “Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his
home in a hell not hell but earth.” shows his wild, untamed, and therefor
evil nature. Grendel’s wilderness is countered in mankind’s ways, especially
Beowulf’s. Beowulf is tame and civilized, the epitomy of goodness and purity.

Beowulf doesn’t fight evil in a wild manner, rather, as shown in his first
battle with Grendel. First off, Beowulf is pure and shows this before his battle
when he removes his armor and vows not to use a weapon to defeat Grendel.

Defeating Grendel, he shows that man, without armor and weapons, can defeat evil
in any form including that of his foe Grendel. This deed serves throughout the
epic serves as a symbol of Beowulf’s Goodness. Beowulf has many other such
archetypal, symbolic themes and motifs, but the most important themes that serve
to add depth to the characters are the wealth, honor, religious, man, and
wildness themes.

Book Reports


Beowulf A writers mind is very intellectual, they tend to have an unparalleled vision within their sense of understanding. The differences of this vision, compared to the levels of understanding, shows itself transversely throughout the novel Grendel and the epic poem Beowulf. Both forms of literature are distinct in the plot and setting, but Gardner’s perceptiveness of Beowulf in his novel differs from the view of the unknown author’s relay of Beowulf in the poem. In the poem, Beowulf is portrayed as an epic hero, brave honorable, and dignified, with vast generosity and munificent loyalty. While in the novel, he is portrayed as an unsettling stranger that connives his way into everyone’s life by his dangerous nature and entrancing stories.

In the poem, the character Beowulf is viewed as a true epic hero. He is very brave, has great strength, and is viewed by his peers as a person like God. He has won many battles, and completed many tasks that normal people wouldn’t have the guts to face. One of these tasks is the slaughter of the great monster Grendel. “That I, alone and with the help of my men,/ May purge all evil from this hall. 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.

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My lord Higlac”. (260-264) In this statement from Beowulf, he is stating his fearlessness to his lord. This shows he is very brave and loyal, because he will risk his life to rid the beast. He also goes on to tell his people that if he doesn’t survive they can have his possessions. “And if death does take me, send the hammered/ Mail of my armor to Higlac, .

. .”(281-282) This shows his generosity and his unselfishness to his people and the reader because he knows that he is not invulnerable. Because he knows this, he is willing to give up his possessions to the people he cares about, and become a better, dignified hero in case of an emergency. In the novel, there is a whole different representation of the character Beowulf, he is viewed as a conniving snake that is feared by his fellows. People see him in an unsettling manner, with tense attitudes, and resented feelings. “The Danes sat sulking, watching the strangers eat, wishing some one of them would give them an excuse to use their daggers.”(159) The Danes are very jealous of Beowulf’s men.

The status of a person, in that time, is determined by the amount of beasts and monsters they have defeated. This is why the character Beowulf and the top man in Hrothgar’s hall are seemingly always on each other’s throat. Beowulf is seen as a threat, not only to Grendel, but to the people of Hrothgar’s hall. Also, they view him as an insane guy who would do anything to be in the spotlight. “I understood at the last look in his eyes.

He was insane.” (162) When a person does anything to get his status , and receive his honor, even to the point of dying for no reason, he is crazy. In the novel Grendel, Beowulf did just so. This makes the people of Hrothgar’s hall fear him, and let him have his way. This results in him killing Beowulf, and the other monsters within Hrothgar’s kingdom. Gardner’s novel, and the unknown author’s poem, had many similarities including the plot and setting.

But the differences were immense in the character of Beowulf. He is everything of an epic hero in the play, and in the novel, he is a cunning fearful snake, that will do anything for fame. These differences go to show how writers have different takes on other people’s work. This creates diversity in the wonderful world of literature. English Essays.


The story of Beowulf is one of courage, nobility, and heroism. Beowulf possesses each of these attributes both as a young prince and an elder king. These qualities allow him to become the honored king that he was, yet they also lead to his death. His actions are to be viewed as a precedent for young princes and future kings.
Clearly every young prince inspires to earn enough respect to become king in their latter years. Beowulf first earns this respect when he sails to Herot to kill Grendel, the monster that has been keeping the soldiers out of their home. Upon arrival in Herot, Beowulf brags of his past accomplishments, in order to earn some respect from Hrothgar and his men.

In my youth I have set about many brave deedsI had bound five, destroyed a family of giants, and at night in the waves slain water-monsters, suffered great pain, avenged an affliction of the Weater-Geats on those who had asked for trouble- ground enemies to bits. And now alone I shall settle affairs with Grendel, the monster, the demon. (Page 32)
While this beast has killed many of Hrothgar’s men, Beowulf vows to destroy him with his bare hands.
Even after doing as he so promised, Beowulf has still not finished his duties. The following day, he is faced with another challenge; killing Grendel’s angry mother. When Beowulf is asked to perform this task, he accepts whole heatedly , as he sees it as another chance to gain fame, “Let him who may get glory before death: that is best for the warrior after he has gone from life.”(page 45) Once again, Beowulf returns successful in his battle with the monster, only to increase his popularity within his people.
These courageous and heroic deeds are expected of any young or aging prince. Clearly Beowulf’s brave encounters with these monsters show his king and followers that he is worthy of becoming a fearless leader. However, his ability to rule goes beyond those feats in battle. Beowulf was showered with gifts of gold and riches for his tremendous achievements of killing the monsters. This is where his manner is shown to be one of strong moral. While he could have easily kept them all for himself, Beowulf gives his rewards to his king, Higlac; as he was instructed to do. In addition, Beowulf declined his first offering at the throne. His sense of morality and loyalty to Higlac tells him that it is only right for Higlac’s son to take the throne before himself. These decent acts should be wisely followed by a young prince.

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When Beowulf accepts the role of King of the Geats, he does not change as a person or as a warrior. Once again, a monster is brought to the attention of Beowulf, this time in his own land. Even in his old age, Beowulf vows to fight this dragon on his own. Yet this battle was not to be fought for his own fame, yet for the safety of his people. Beowulf attacks the dragon as he had done so many times in the past, in hope of a victory. However, he quickly learns that his strength and armor are no match for the fire breathing dragon. As the fight comes to a close, Beowulf lies dying on the ground, with all but one man left to his aid.
Although the dragon was defeated, the Geats lost their honorable king. He died doing what any good leader would, defending his land and people. Beowulf’s mistake was to let his ego take over, as he tried to take on the dragon alone. This is especially notable for a young prince to follow. While it is necessary to be brave and courageous, a prince of king must know his own limitations in order to succeed.


Type of Work:
Heroic epic poem
“Land of the Geats,” southern Sweden and Denmark; c. sixth century
Principal Characters
Beowulf, a Geat hero
Hrothgar, King of the Danes
Unferth, a Danish warrior
Wiglaf, Beowulf’s nephew and loyal court noble
Story Overview
Long ago in Hrothgar’s Danish kingdom lived a gruesome monster-giant named
Grendel, who nightly roamed the countryside. Rising from his marshy home, he would
stalk to the King’s high hall, and there devour fifteen of Hrothgar’s sleeping warriors.

Then, before departing, the monster would seize fifteen more men with his huge arms
and bear them back to his watery lair. For twelve years the slaughter continued.
Word of this terror spread across the sea to the land of the Geats, ruled by Hygelac.

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Beowulf, Hygelac’s principal advisor and warrior and a man of great strength and
courage, heard the tale of Grendel’s murderous attacks. Straightway, he set sail to
free the Danes from the demon’s depredations.
In Denmark, a coast-watcher met the weary company of fifteen seafarers. Learning of
Beowulf’s intended mission, he permitted the Danes to pass.
They started out then – the spacious ship
remained behind, riding on its rope,
… Figures of boars, bright
and fire-hardened, gleamed gold-adorned
above the cheek-guards; in war the boar
helped guard those fierce men’s lives …
To Hrothgar’s high hall they marched. There the King spread a banquet feast in
Beowulf’s honor; the mead cup was passed around, and the boasting began. But the
Danish warrior Unferth, “drunken with wine,” taunted the Geat, reminding him of a
five-day swimming contest in which Beowulf was said to have been bested. The Geat
answered boldly, however, that he had not only emerged victorious in the race, but
had been forced to kill nine deadly sea-monsters during the course.
After the feast, Hrothgar and his warriors went to their rest, leaving Beowulf and his
men in the hall. Then came the fiendish Grendel, “with an unlovely light, like a hellish
flame in his eyes.” The ironbound door burst open at the touch of his fingers, and he
rejoiced at the rich feast of human flesh awaiting him. He seized one sleeping warrior,
tore him up furiously, bit through muscles and sinews, and drank the blood in streams.

Then he quickly consumed the entire corpse “as a wolf might eat a rabbit.” He
reached toward another victim, but the beast was destined to dine no more that night.

Without shield or spear, Beowulf took hold of the dreaded monster, wrenching off his
right arm; and the maimed Grendel fled back to his home…… The wise and brave
warrior from afar/ had cleansed Hrothgar’s hall, reclaiming it from woe.” As a sign of
victory, Beowulf hung his bloody trophy on the wall above the door inside the hall.

The brave hero was honored once more with a sumptuous feast and magnificent
priceless gifts.
But on the next night, Grendel’s brooding and miserable mother made “a sorry
journey to avenge her son.” Rushing into the great hall, she seized Aeschere,
Hrothgar’s dearest counselor and a famed and heroic warrior, snatched Grendel’s
severed arm from the wall, and fled into the darkness. Asleep in a house at some
distance from the hall, Beowulf did not learn of the she-monster’s visit until the next
morning. After vowing to rid the people of this second, even more wretched demon,
Beowulf turned to comfort the King with his sage philosophy of life and death:
Grieve not, wise warrior. It is better
to avenge one’s friend than mourn too much.
Each of us must one day reach the end
Of worldly life, let him who can win
glory before he dies: that lives on
after him, when he lifeless lies.
With Hrothgar leading the way, the Danes cautiously approached the dreaded
marsh-lair. Arriving at the moor’s edge, the soldiers came upon the head of the
ill-fated Aeschere and sighted a stain of blood on the water.
Beowulf prepared to descend to the home of the foe. Unferth nobly offered the Geat
his own blood-hardened sword – the finest in the kingdom – thus forfeiting a chance to
win for himself immortal glory and fame.
As Beowulf sank beneath the murky waters, he was immediately encircled by
enormous and vicious creatures. After an immense struggle, he came to the cave of
Grendel’s mother and began to do battle. Beowulf, never lucky with weapons, failed
in his first attempt to wound the she-monster with Unferth’s sword and turned to his
mighty handgrip, strong enough to “match the strength of thirty men.” Though he was
able to grasp the monster by the shoulder and throw her to the ground, still, in the
grim hand-to-hand battle that ensued, Beowulf was almost overcome. But fate
intervened. On the floor of the lair, in the midst of other weapons pried from the
hands of fallen warriors, Beowulf spied a legendary sword that had once belonged to
a race of ancient giants. Stretching with all his might, he managed to reach and take
hold of the “invincible and strong-edged blade” and plunge it into the heart of
Grendel’s mother. She rose, then fell in a helpless heap of death. Beowulf turned and
saw Grendel himself, lying crippled on the ground nearby. Swiftly, he swung the
sword again, and smote Grendel’s loathsome head from its body.
Then, as the hero swam to the surface of the marsh, the wondrous sword melted,
leaving only the head and hilt intact.
Upon seeing Beowulf alive and undefeated, the Danes rejoiced and feasted him anew.

The Geat warrior presented Hrothgar with the sword hilt and returned Unferth’s
weapon to him without revealing its failure.
Now the time had come for Beowulf to sail back to his Geat homeland. He left
Denmark in great glory. Upon his return to the court of Lord Hygelac, he was revered
and rewarded with riches and high position. And after several years, Beowulf himself
became King among the Geats.
One day, after Beowulf had reigned wisely and courageously for some fifty years, a
servant, troubled by his lack of prestige in Beowulf’s court, stumbled upon an ancient
treasure. While its guardian dragon slept, he stole away a golden goblet which he
presented to his King, hoping to gain favor. But the dragon, discovering that the
goblet was missing, rose up in fury and began to ravage the Geat villages with fire.

Beowulf was now an old man. Nevertheless, he determined to rid his kingdom of this
scourge and to win the dragon’s rich hoard for his people. Sensing that this might be
his final battle, he paused to gather strength, bid farewell to his faithful subjects, and to
reflect on his long life of valiant deeds. The moment of confrontation came. Beowulf
advanced toward the dragon’s cave, ordering his warriors to withdraw so that he
alone might engage the beast in battle.

… It is not your venture …
to match Your might with the fearful foe’s,
to do this heroic deed. By daring
shall I gain the gold, or dire battle,
ending life, will take your lord away!
Finding his shield less protection than he had hoped against the dragon’s fiery breath,
he still plunged on through the flames and struck the dragon’s side with his famed and
ancient sword – to no effect. His foil shattered oil the creatures bony plate, and the
infuriated dragon only belched forth more intense fire. Once again Beowulf was
forced to rely on his iniglity grip. In the savage exchange, of all the Geat-King’s
warrior companions, only Wiglaf, a younger kinsman, stood by to defend his ruler. All
others had fled. The dragon rushed and sank its terrible teeth into Beowulf’s neck. But
Wiglaf fearlessly smote the beast on its underside with his sword, and, with his
war-kilife, Beowulf gave it the death blow.
Weak from loss of blood, the old hero was dying. As his last act, Beowulf gave loyal
Wiglaf, the last of his family line, kingly jewels and armor. He rejoiced that he had
succeeded ill winning the treasure for his subjects, but mourned the fact that he must
now leave them.
The Geat troops honored their fallen lord with magnificent funeral rites. The body of
their hero was burned on a pyre, according to pagan custom; then the precious hoard
was taken from the dragon’s lair and buried in the great i-nound covering the King’s
Thus his hearth-companions in the host
of the Geats mourned the going of their, lord:
they said that of worldly kings he was,
the mildest of men and the gentlest,
most kind to his people, most eager for fame.
And so, with due ceremony, the Geats mourned the passing of the dauntless Beowulf,
who had crowned a heroic life with an equally heroic death.

Beowulf, the great masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon literature, was orally passed from
generation to generation by North European peoples. The highly artistic, action-filled
narrative is replete with Christian theology entangled with pagan mythology, testifying
to the great upheavals that occurred in northern civilizations as the poem took form
during the early middle ages. Continuously, the principal narrative is interrupted by
speeches, pronouncements, songs, chants, and remembrances of battles past –
excellent mnemonic devices for transmitting oral history.
The poem contains a valuable record of customs and values from a harsh and heroic
time. It embodies the message: “Do your utmost. A good name, a glorified example,
and fame after death are all you can win in this world. It is the courage to strive – not
success which ultimately reveals and ennobles the true hero.”


Beowulf Within the first piece of written literature known to man during the early Middle Ages comes a character which exemplifies the characteristics of a hero. A hero possesses certain qualities which include the desire to help others, bravery, courtesy, courage, superhuman feats, and the ability to boast about his accomplishments. According to English tradition, this heros name is Beowulf. Within the epic poem “Beowulf” there is clear evidence that Beowulf exemplifies the qualities of a hero which are the desire to help others, bravery, courtesy, courage, super human feats, and the ability to boast about his accomplishments. Beowulf possesses the qualities of the desire to help others, courtesy, and the ability to boast about his accomplishments which proves he is a hero.

First of all, Beowulf lives in the land of the Geats. He hears from others that Hrothgar, the leader of the Danes, is having problems with a monster killing off his men for the past twelve years. Beowulf goes to the king of the Geats, Higlac and asks him to let him take some of the best men and go over to the land of the Danes to help fight this monster. This proves that Beowulf possesses the desire to help others. Furthermore, when Beowulf arrives in the land of the Danes he shows his courtesy by praising Hrothgar of his noble birth and telling how brave Hrothgar is for his victories in battle. Beowulf further shows his courtesy when he leaves all his weapons on the shore of the land of the Danes to make sure the Danes know that he comes in peace.

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Beowulf does leave some of his men by his ships to protect them. Beowulf does everything that Hrothgars men ask to show his courtesy. This proves Beowulf is a hero as he possesses the quality of courtesy. Lastly, Bewulf shows how he has the quality of a hero in his boasting to Hrothgar. When Beowulf first meets Hrothgar he tells him how his youth has been filled with glory and that his people told him he must go and help Hrothgar as he is a great soldier.

He drove five great giants into chains, chased all of that race from the earth, and swam out of the ocean killing them one by one. This proves that Beowulf possesses the qualitites of a hero as he is able to boast proudly about all his accomplishments. Beowulf certainly possesses the qualities of a hero with his desire to help others, his courtesy, and the ability to boast as well as other qualities of a hero. Beowulf further possesses the qualities of a hero during the Anglo-Saxon times as he shows real bravery and courage. Beowulf tells Hrothgar that he will fight the monster, Grendel, to the end to save Hrothgars mead hall and his men. Beowulf explains to Hrothgar that he will fight the monster without any weapons and with out any help, proving his bravery and courage.

Futhermore, when Grendel comes again to the Mead Hall as all the men are sleeping, Hrothgar sees him and stops his men from helping him. He battles the monster himself and tears off the monsters arm. The monster runs back to the sea to die, and Beowulf hangs his arm in the hall to show that they have won. Grendels mother comes to the hall to get revenge for his sons death. Beowulf takes a magic sword given to him by Unferth to battle Grendels mother. Beowulf goes into the deep sea, finds Grendels mother and with superhuman strength, bravery, and courage he kills her.

This certainly proves Beowulf has real bravery and courage which heros of the times possesses. The last quality of a hero is the ability to perform super human feats. Beowulf performs super human feats along with his courage, his bravery, and his desire to help others. When Beowulf fights Grendel he does this without using any weapons only his bare hands. He pulls the monsters arm right out of its socket, a super human feat.

Plus, when battling Grendels mother, Beowulf goes under the waters of the sea to find the monsters mother and to kill her with a magic sword. He completes this feat with super human strength. Lastly, Beowulf returns to his own land after helping Hrothergar and becomes king of the Geats. He rules for many years. When he is an old man, his land is ruined by a fire dragon.

This dragon has a great treasure which it is protecting. Beowulf goes out to fight this dragon to protect his people even though he is too old. While fighting the fire dragon with his sword, the dragon cuts Beowulf at the neck. But Beowulf fights back and ends up killing the dragon with one blow of his sword. He cuts the dragon right in half. The killing of this fire dragon uses super human feats, courage, and bravery which definitely shows that Beowulf has hero qualities.

To show his honor and concern for others, Beowulfs last request is that the treasure of the fire dragon be given to his people and that a monument be built to show all other sailors the safe way home. This last request certainly shows Beowulf is a real hero of the Middle Ages. Repeat thesis – summarize by using all the beginning or opening sentences and a simple example . Then end with Beowulf proves that heros must have certain qualities to gain the title of “hero”.


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