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Beowulf certainly embodies what the Anglo-Saxons valued in a hero. A courageous, skillful, and imposing warrior attractive in appearance, Beowulf hears of Hrothgar's trouble with Grendel and resolves to journey to the Danish land to help King Hrothgar and his people. His determination to help others in distress, risking his own life to do so, is another valued characteristic.
When he heard about Grendel, Hygelac’s thane
was on home ground, over in Geatland.
There was no one else like him alive.
In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth,
high-born and powerful. He order a boat
that would ply the waves. He announced his plan:
to sail the swan’s road and search out that king,
the famous prince who needed defenders.
Beowulf is considered most powerful: his appearance is described by one of Hrothgar's watchmen as the Geats land their boat on the Danish shore:
Nor have I seen
a mightier man-at-arms on this earth
than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,
he is truly noble.
Beowulf does not shy from telling about his own brave feats at the welcome feast in Hrothgar’s hall. In fact, formal boasting of accomplishments in fight or battle was greatly admired. When challenged by the jealous Dane Unferth, Beowulf describes how he swam in full armor for five nights and fought off nine sea monsters.
That night, Grendel attacks the hall where Beowulf lies awake while his men sleep. Beowulf has vowed to fight the monster without weapons, showing his incredible courage and willingness to die in the fight if necessary.
himself in a handgrip harder than anything
he had ever encountered in any man
on the face of the earth.
Beowulf has fiercely grabbed Grendel’s arm and hand--they fight violently, knocking over and smashing benches as Grendel struggles to free himself. The result of the combat is that Beowulf entirely rips off Grendel’s arm and shoulder; the monster flees to die in his den. It turns out that human weapons cannot harm the monster, so Beowulf’s decision to fight unarmed was a wise one. Thus Beowulf demonstrates his incredible bravery, his unmatched strength, and his keen wisdom in his defeat of Grendel.
The Geat captain
had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes...
Clear proof of this
could be seen in the hand the hero displayed
high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel’s
shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.
Anonymous. Beowulf. A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Print.
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