Beowulf a selfish heroI need quotes and page numbers for my critical analysis argument paper of how Beowulf is selfish.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps you are mistaking heroic deportment for selfishness. Beowulf was a mighty warrior and champion of right who defended his country and other countries against enemies, tyranny, and oppression. Someone who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is villain and powerful might be perceived as selfish. Having said this, it may be possible to read lines, like the following introductory lines, and conceive of a selfish hero (maybe in the style of modern wrestlers?):

Bills and burnies; on his bosom sparkled
Many a jewel that with him must travel
On the flush of the flood afar on the current.  45
And favors no fewer they furnished him soothly,

In fact, though, all your reading must be framed by the author's actual description of Beowulf's characterization:

Whom God-Father sent to solace the people.
He had marked the misery malice had caused them,
That reaved of their rulers they wretched had erstwhile   15
Long been afflicted. The Lord, in requital,
Wielder of Glory, with world-honor blessed him.
Famed was Beowulf, far spread the glory

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Honestly, I cannot find anything in my mind to support the idea that Beowulf is selfish. He arrives to battle Grendel and says that he will win if it's God's will. He is deeply respectful of Hrothgar, his host. Beowulf is humble. He does not insult others, even when they insult him. Even at the end of his life, when he has been poisoned by the dragon (fire drake) and lies dying, he wants to see the gold the dragon hoarded, knowing that his people will be well-provided for after he is gone. These are all aspects of a heroic man.

Beowulf does things for others: his serves God first, and men after, but always looking to God's will in his life.

Even if I try to stretch and say that at his age, he is selfish to fight the dragon when other younger men might do a better job and not risk the dragon escaping, the younger men actually run away (except for Wiglaf).

However, Beowulf defeats the dragon and gives up his own life to do so, with the protection of his people and his kingdom in mind.

Sorry...I tried!

wshoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf also appears selfish when he asks Hrothgar for permission to fight Grendel without the help of the Danes.  He wants the glory for himself and the Geats.  He goes on to say he plans to fight without a weapon since
Grendel does not use a weapon.  Beowulf explains that he doesn't want to bring shame on his king by engaging in an unfair fight.  We view the request to fight without the Danes as selfish, but men tried to gain as much glory as possible during their lifetimes.  Before Christianity the Anglo-Saxons didn't believe in an after-life, so achieving glory helped ensure they would live on after death with fame.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can't really help you because I don't believe that Beowulf is a selfish hero. After all, he volunteers to go off to Denmark to help Hrothgar. He risks his life twice while he is there, when he could easily have stayed at home. Later, when he returns to his native land, he gives away the presents bestowed on him by Hrothgar. Finally, he risks his life again by fighting the dragon, even though he is by this point a very old man. He may be a bit boastful at times, but on the whole he is a fairly unselfish hero, at least as I see him.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps one could look at Beowulf's wish to fight  Grendal and Grendal's mother alone as a selfish desire to gain all the glory for himself, and gain Hrothgar's rewards and praise for himself. He is very confident and borders on what a modern audience would say is arrogance. Perhaps there is a selfishness in that attitude, but like others above have stated, I just don't see him as selfish, especially in consideration of the attitudes of the Anglo-Saxons.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have a hard time with this topic/subject as well. I have never seen Beowulf as selfish. Instead, he is the true epic hero--far from a selfish character.

Outside of that, I could see how one could justify that Beowulf is selfish if they consider his dying wish to be that he sees the dragon's treasure. Outside of that, I really cannot recall any other passages.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I have an online version so no page numbers. There is this quote: "And I promise you that whoever sleeps in Herot...they, and you may now sleep without fear of either monster, mother or son" and it demonstrates that Beowulf's main concern is redeeming his family name and is father, which can be considered selfish or unselfish depending on your perspective!
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although I don't agree that Beowulf is selfish, I think that the lines quoted in #2 represent the one area that he could be considered to be selfish depending on your point of view. It is possible to see him as having mixed motives in pursuing the dragon rather than staying as king of his people and ruling and protecting them.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not know what edition of the poem you are working with, but you could use a quote from the last section of the poem when Beowulf insists on fighting the fire-breathing dragon alone. He is selfish in his wanting the glory all for himself if the battle is successful.

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