Is Beowulf a Hero?

2129 WordsNov 23, 20059 Pages
Is Beowulf a hero? It is vital when approaching the question of whether or not Beowulf can be viewed as a hero to attempt to understand the concept of a ‘hero'. Joseph Campbell, the American theorist, studied mythological characters and texts in great detail and developed the concept of the monomyth (or Hero's Journey) which he suggested all heroes undertook: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men." If we are to take this statement as being accurate it is fair to say that at least in so far as what actually occurs in…show more content…
Shortly before his contest with Grendel's mother we are told he is ‘indifferent to death' a point which is exemplified when prior to the fight he sets out his wishes to Hrothgar for what should be done should he perish. He is not arrogant enough to assume victory is assured and yet he is also courageous enough to not fear the possibility of defeat. In Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf we constantly see him referring to the great Geat as a hero. For instance ‘the hero arose' and ‘hero's helmet' are but two of the references made. Although it is a hugely contentious issue, if we are to assume that Heaney is attempting, if only on the point of calling Beowulf a hero within the actual translated text, to give as direct a translation as is possible then it would seem apparent that the original author was making no secret of the fact he wanted him to be seen in this way too. There have been many criticisms of the character of Beowulf that highlight certain traits which could point away from the notion of him being a hero. One such idea is that he fought the monsters chiefly for personal reasons: ‘Beowulf steadily shifts from a primarily defensive role to an aggressive one, motivated to varying degrees in each of his battles by thoughts of glory, vengeance and treasure' It is particularly the stance that Beowulf was motivated by thoughts of glory that I believe endangers the belief that he was a hero.

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