"In his far-off home Beowulf, Higlac's follower and the strongest of the Geats--greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world--heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he'd go to that famous kind, would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, now when help is needed. None of the wise ones regretted his going, much as he was loved by the Geats: the omens were good, and they urged the adventure on. So Beowulf chose the mightiest men he could find, the bravest and best of the Geats, fourteen in all, and led them down to their boat; He knew the sea, would point the prow straight to the Danish shore...."
After reading the lines above from Beowulf, what traits of an epic hero does Beowulf seem to possess?
Beowulf is an epic Anglo-Saxon tale of a man named Beowulf who was the greatest hero of the age. In the passage you cite, we hear about and meet Beowulf for the first time, and the anonymous narrator gives us a glowing description of this epic hero.
First of all, he is a loyal follower of his king, "Higlac's follower." This is an admirable trait and essential for all epic heroes; they win glory for themselves, it is true, but their greatest glory comes in bringing honor to their lord.
Second, he is strong; in fact, he is the strongest of any of his people and "greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world."
Third, he is moved to compassion for the plight of others. He has heard of Hrothgar's troubles with Grendel, "how Grendel filled nights with horror," creating terror in the minds and hearts of Hrothgar's people.
Fourth, he did not hesitate to act. He
quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he'd go to that famous kind, would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, now when help is needed.
Fifth, he is loved by his people. They of course would rather not lose their beloved warrior Beowulf, they do not begrudge losing him to someone else in need.
Sixth, he is wise. He "chose the mightiest men he could find, the bravest and best of the Geats" to go with him on this quest. He chose fourteen good men rather than a grand army, knowing he would need no more than this. He also knows exactly where they need to go.
Finally, he is willing to make a great sacrifice to benefit others. Hrothgar and Grendel are far from his home, but Beowulf is undeterred.
Clearly Beowulf is an epic hero, for these reasons and even more, which you will undoubtedly discover for yourself as the story progresses.
To begin, let's first look at the traits of an epic hero.
- Excels in Strength, Skill, and Courage
- Succeeds in Adventure
- Values Honor and Glory
- Battles against outrageous odds
- Generous and a man of Action
- Willingly accepts adversity
Keeping these characteristics in mind, let's analyze our "Hero".
- Excells in strength: (1)"greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world"
- Success: We have yet to see him succeed in Adventure, but the confidence of the wise suggests a history of success. (2)"None of the wise ones regretted his going"
- Honor: Beowulf leaves (3)"when help is needed". Honor dictates that he must help where he can.
- Outrageous Odds: Beowulf takes only 14 men to encounter a monster who terrorizes an entire town, who (4)"filled nights with horror".
- Generous and a Man of Action: News of Grendal reaches Beowulf in his (5)"[I]n his far-off home". So Beowulf (6)"quickly commanded a boat fitted out". Without thought of cost, Beowulf undertakes the adventure.
- Braves Danger: Fully aware of the monster menacing Hrothgar's people, Beowulf leads his men into the boats and (7)"He knew the sea would point the prow straight to the Danish shore."
Here we have seven passages which support seven key traits of an epic hero.