Heroism Main Theme in Beowulf

3076 Words Jun 24th, 2008 13 Pages
The main theme of Beowulf is heroism. This involves far more than physical courage. It also means that the warrior must fulfill 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. But the thanes have their obligation too. (A thane is a warrior who has been rewarded by his king with a …show more content…
Beowulf and Hrothgar give praise to God for the defeat of Grendel. The outcome of battles is attributed to the judgment of God, and Beowulf puts his trust in God. The scriptural reference, however, are restricted to the Old Testament rather than the New. The story of Cain and Abel is mentioned, for example, in explaining the origins of Grendel. And the sword hilt of Grendel’s mother is engraved with a depiction of the Flood described in the book of Genesis. But Beowulf makes no mention at all of Christ, or an afterlife in heaven for the believer. The burial rites described, in which warriors are buried with their treasure, does not suggest belief in a Christian heaven. Scholars debate the question of how fundamental Christianity is to the poem. It does not strike anyone as a thoroughly Christian work. The atmosphere of much of Beowulf is dark and pagan. There are many references to an impersonal fate that controls the destinies of men. “Fate goes ever as fate must,” (line 455) says Beowulf, only a few lines after he has referred to the judgment of God. Not long after this, when Beowulf tells of his battles with sea-monsters, he says, “fate spares the man it has not already marked.” He does not say God spares the man. And the poet’s words, “fate, the grim shape of things to come” (lines 1233-1234) does not suggest Christian hope and joy. The two perspectives, pagan and Christian,
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