Analyze the role of the heroic ideal and heroic paradox in Beowulf.
Several heroic ideals are mentioned immediately in Beowulf, particularly in the opening lines:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns. (Heaney translation)
Among the heroic ideals suggested here and in the ensuing lines are the following:
- courage (2)
- heroism (3)
- skill in fighting (3)
- victory in battle (9-11)
- generosity (20-21)
- concern for his people (20-21)
- loyalty to God (72)
- loyalty to those who are loyal to him (72)
- restraint in the exercise of his power (73)
- providing for his loyal followers (80-81)
- loyalty to family (84-85)
Perhaps the most obvious paradox concerning heroism is that no matter how good a hero is, his death is inevitable. Not even the brave, generous, and loyal can escape mutability and death. This fact is implied in line 21 and is openly emphasized in lines 26-52. It is implied again in lines 54-64. The entire poem, of course, will emphasize this paradox: Beowulf, the great hero, will die just as surely as anyone else, and the poem that begins by describing one magnificent funeral will end by describing another one as well.