In Beowulf, is the title character honorable and courageous throughout the poem?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most important themes in Beowulf is the honor of Beowulf himself; unusually for a great warrior of the time, Beowulf is capable of great empathy for others. His exploits, while incredible in their own right, are usually beneficial to others; Beowulf seeks out great monsters because no one else can kill them, and if he does not perform, people will continue to die. Even greater than his personal honor is Beowulf's courage; he is willing to go where no other man will go, and fight to his last breath.

Then the ring-prince disdained to seek with a war-band,
With army extensive, the air-going ranger;
He felt no fear of the foeman's assaults and
He counted for little the might of the dragon,
His power and prowess...
(Hall, Beowulf,

This is emblematic of Beowulf, as he is idolized as the ultimate hero both in terms of his actual deeds and in terms of purpose and meanings. Beowulf is not simply a man who seeks his own glory; he seeks to make the world a better place for his own people and for others. This can be seen in his interactions with Hrothgar, who is a great warrior in his own right. While Beowulf comes to the rescue of Hrothgar and his people, he doesn't do it out of arrogance or to turn Hrothgar's people against their king; instead, Beowulf comes because he knows his talents are necessary, and Hrothgar is further admired because he knew when to step aside and allow Beowulf to work. Although Beowulf is lauded for these deeds, he returns to his home, allowing Hrothgar to live on as a great king.