In "Beowulf," what are four virtues that Beowulf displays?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Four virtuous characteristics that can be associated with Beowulf as a character are the following traits.  He is brave, he is strong, he is loyal, and he is humble. 

Let's start with strong.  There are some key lines of text that let readers know that Beowulf is strong.  At one point in the poem, Beowulf is on his way to see Hrothgar.  A guard stops Beowulf and demands to know his purpose.  The guard also comments on Beowulf's large and commanding presence.    

"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.  This is no mere                       

Hanger-on in a hero’s armour."

Beowulf simply looks like a big, strong, brave hero type.  Readers find out exactly how strong Beowulf is when we are told that he has the strength of 30 men combined.  

"Who valuable gift-gems of the Geatmen carried

As peace-offering thither, that he thirty men’s grapple

Has in his hand, the hero-in-battle."

My favorite bit of evidence regarding Beowulf's physical strength is the fact that he rips Grendel's arms off with his bare hands.  

The conflict with Grendel helps readers to see Beowulf's virtue of bravery.  Grendel is a scary monster.  He is described as being a demon possessed thing that eats humans.  Furthermore, no warrior has been able to stop Grendel.  Beowulf chooses to seek out and confront Grendel.  Beowulf is knowingly putting his life on the line against a tough opponent.  That's brave. 

Beowulf's bravery is closely tied to his loyalty.  Beowulf is loyal to his own countrymen, but he is also loyal to Hrothgar.  Hrothgar is a Dane, but Beowulf is not. Beowulf doesn't necessarily need to go to Hrothgar and offer to kill Grendel, but he does.  Part of it is that Beowulf wants to test his own skills against Grendel and claim glory for his country; however, Hrothgar also did a great favor for Beowulf's dad, and Beowulf feels that he must honor his father by repaying that debt. 

Finally, Beowulf is fairly humble.  Sure, he wants to fight Grendel partly for personal glory, but Beowulf is unwilling to "cash in" on those victories.  Beowulf never abuses his hard-earned respect, and he is averse to leveraging his accomplishments for more wealth.  After defeating Grendel and Grendel's mom, Beowulf is offered the Danish throne and immense riches as his reward.  But Beowulf is a humble man of honor, so he turns it all down and returns home the same way that he left.

"The mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people...."

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf is an epic poem depicting an epic hero, Beowulf. The poem depicts the values and virtues not only traditional in epic poetry, but specific to historic Anglo-Saxon values.

Four virtues celebrated by Anglo-Saxons and revealed in Beowulf include loyalty, generosity, brotherly love, and heroism.

Beowulf is loyal to Hrothgar and seeks to help his kingdom despite the fact that he is not a Dane, because the king once helped Beowulf's own father. Beowulf's loyalty extends beyond repaying a family debt however. He returns to his homeland of Geatland after defeating Grendel and Grendel's mother, and pays honor to his own king. He also proves it again and again to his own men, even up until the point he fights the dragon.

Beowulf also displays generosity. Most obviously, as expected, he brings the gifts bestowed upon him from the Danes back to his own uncle and king of Geatland. But it could also be argued that part of Beowulf's motivation to help the Hrothgar in the first place stems from a heart of generosity.

Brotherly love is seen most prominently in Beowulf's relationship with his men. Rather than assuming a position of honor after the defeat of Grendel, he chooses to sleep with his men in the Great Hall. Though he is clearly the man of honor, he never turns his back on these men, and they never turn their backs on him. His continued relationship with Wiglaf, his right hand man, at the end of his life, is a final piece of evidence that Beowulf displayed brotherly love.

Finally, Beowulf is a traditional hero. He is courageous in the way he is unafraid to fight Grendel, go after Grendel's mother, and finally take on the dragon, even as an old man. He has brute physical strength, evidenced by his grip on Grendel's arm and the amount of time he can  both hold his breath and fight Grendel's mother under water. And of course, he displays both skill and resourcefulness in battle, which is evidenced by all of his success.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf demonstrates bravery early in the story. He fights monsters and protects his people. During his fight with Grendel, he realizes that weapons don’t work against the monster, but instead of giving up, he grabs Grendel by the arm and puts up a fight.

He is benevolent and compassionate. Beowulf receives information about the Danes and how Grendel is tormenting and bringing death to the people. He promptly decides to visit King Hrothgar and offers his help to the kingdom.

Beowulf is confident of his abilities even in the face of great challenges. His past experience fighting sea monsters encourages him to pursue Grendel’s mother, and a fight ensues underwater.

Beowulf is also diligent and prudent. Despite being a hero with a record of defeating different monsters, Beowulf does not take the dragon lightly and decides to use his sword and shield for protection.