Heroism In Beowulf

Explain the idea of heroism in Beowulf.

Expert Answers
laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf himself represents the Anglo-Saxon heroic ideal because of his feats, strength, and courage, but also because of his intelligence and honor.

Beowulf is confident in his strength and strong in his honor. When he first spends the night in Heorot waiting for Grendel, he refuses to keep a weapon. He believes he can beat the monster who has devoured many men without one. It turns out that Beowulf's intelligent approach was the right one -- he alone is able to tear Grendel's arm off and mortally wound him. 

When Hrothgar is describing Beowulf, he emphasizes his strength and bravery. He says: 

I knew him of yore in his youthful days;
his aged father was Ecgtheow named,
to whom, at home, gave Hrethel the Geat
his only daughter. Their offspring bold
fares hither to seek the steadfast friend.
And seamen, too, have said me this, —
who carried my gifts to the Geatish court,
thither for thanks, — he has thirty men’s
heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand,
the bold-in-battle. Blessed God
out of his mercy this man hath sent
to Danes of the West, as I ween indeed,
against horror of Grendel. I hope to give
the good youth gold for his gallant thought.
Throughout the novel, people describe Beowulf's strength with admiration. He proves his strength by killing multiple monsters, including Grendel and the dragon who eventually kills him. Beowulf chooses to face these monsters and isn't scared to do so. 
He is so unafraid that he decides to face the dragon alone. When he realizes he may be overcome, he calls his men -- and all but Wiglaf run away in fright. Still, they fight and subdue the dragon. 
Beowulf's courage is another mark of his heroism. At one point, he says, "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good." At that time in Anglo-Saxon society, fate was an important concept and was seen as set -- something that would rarely change. But Beowulf says that courage has the power to change a man's fate. He believes in its power. 
Beowulf is someone who is discussed across the lands. He chooses to have a burial tower that will be seen far and wide -- ensuring his legend is never forgotten. He makes an impact and that is another mark of an Anglo-Saxon hero.
Beowulf is also a hero to his people because he protects the Geats from outside invaders. This is one of the reasons why he is so widely mourned. A woman weeps at his grave as men sing tales of his bravery and strength -- but there is a feeling of doom because they know that without their strong king, it's likely they'll be invaded and conquered. 
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf is considered a "hero" of the story because he is representative of the qualities and characteristics of his people.  The Anglo-Saxons believed in fate or "wyrd", fame, later on they believed in religious faith, and they loved their stories.  Scops were even considered "heroes" as they were the Hollywood movie stars of the time period...memorizing thousands of lines of stories and traveling from place to place to entertain the illiterate masses.

The early Anglo-Saxons did not believe strongly in an afterlife as the Christians did.  Instead they believed heavily in fame--the kind of eternal life given by the scops who told the stories of you and your deeds during life.  This is why Beowulf brags about his sea monsters and swimming abilities, why he travels so far to conquer the monster Grendel, and why he stays to slay Grendel's mother, and again, why he faces the dragon in his old age.  The scops have much fodder and fuel for fireside entertainment with this hero.

The other thing that is very important to the Anglo-Saxons is loyalty.  Beowulf's loyalty to Hrothgar comes out of duty to him for Hrothgar's aid to Beowulf's father when he was in need.  This is the other reason Beowulf goes to Hrothgar's aid against Grendel.

Wiglaf also demonstrates this loyalty as well as bravery when he and Beowulf face the dragon alone since all others ran for the safety of the woods.  Heroes abound!

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heroism is very important in Beowulf.  Beowulf is a fierce and skillful warrior and feels obligated and responsible for defending his people and he does so with absolute determination and with bravery.  Beowulf possesses ALL of the traits of a "perfect" hero, in many ways, because he is brave, strong, wise, and skillful.  He also has great instincts and is intelligent.  He is not without faults, though, and every hero has them!  Beowulf is also a confident warrior, which helps him tremendously.  He is confident in his own abilities.