Beowulf: one of the most respected poems of all time. Author: unknown. Original publishing date: also unknown. Yet it remains one of the most popular stories in the world.
Why? Many would argue the reason is the original plot; Beowulf was the first dragon-slayer tale ever recorded. Others would fight for the historical evidence of ancient Geat, or Swedish, kings it offers. This epic poem endured not only for these excellent reasons, but also because of the colorful character of Beowulf himself. Because the scop who recorded the tale first did not thoroughly describe Beowulf’s character traits other than his bravery, this important piece of the story is often overlooked in the dense shadow of the huge historical implications the poem holds. Beowulf was a distinctive hero because of three obvious personality traits – pride, bravery, and generosity. Before his escapades with the monster Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf was nothing in the sight of the world, but his pride spurred him to expound upon his often-overlooked talents.
When entering Heorot, the hall he came to rescue, he began his personal introduction with the statement, “When I was a youngster/I had great triumphs,” (lines 408-409.) As Beowulf aged, his ego did not diminish in the least, as shown before he faced the deadly dragon that terrorized his kingdom. He ordered his band of eleven thanes to “remain (there) on the barrow/safe in (their) armor” (lines 2529-2530) to wait and see which would win the deadly fray: Beowulf or the dragon. However, unlike many prideful people, Beowulf’s pride was well grounded in his bravery, as shown in several battles. Deep in the reeking quagmire of a skeleton-filled mere, Beowulf gallantly hunted down Grendel’s mother.
No one from the Danish or Geat nations requested that he fulfill this task – indeed, he was fighting the Danes’ battle for them, using their strongest thane’s own sword. Beowulf refused to allow anyone to fight his battles for him, and even after he turned seventy he continued to fight like a demigod, as shown in his skirmish with the dragon in the last third of the book. With only the young thane Wiglaf to aid him in the final portions of the fight, Beowulf valiantly parried with the dragon to his last breath. In addition to his personal pride and bravery, Beowulf was an incredibly generous soul. When most people dub another as “generous” they mean the other party willingly parts with material possessions only, but not so with Beowulf. He selflessly put his own safety at stake at least three times, protecting his allies and country.
His generosity did not end there. From his valiant escapades with Grendel and Grendel’s mother Beowulf gained many riches from the Danes, but his generosity overcame his human nature and he presented the Geat royal family with many of his war trophies. These included seven saddled horses, a gold standard, and ornate armor for his king. Beowulf personally owned these items and was not obligated to surrender them to anyone, yet he did so willingly and nobly. Beowulf was an extraordinary compound of extreme character traits. His pride catapulted his career.
His bravery upheld it. His generosity preserved it. When most people consider the poem Beowulf, only man vs. monsters warfare comes to their minds, and many people exclude the notable personality of the hero. An exciting mixture of complex high-velocity forces resided in his frame.
It only requires a thoughtful mind to discover them.