Explain the idea of heroism in Beowulf.
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!
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.