How does Beowulf protect his people throughout the poem Beowulf?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Part of the reason Beowulf is an epic hero is that he performs heroic deeds not just for his own reputation but also for the good of his people. The poem illustrates Beowulf's concern for both his own people—the Geats—and those of Hrothgar—the Danes.

Early in the poem, Beowulf travels...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Part of the reason Beowulf is an epic hero is that he performs heroic deeds not just for his own reputation but also for the good of his people. The poem illustrates Beowulf's concern for both his own people—the Geats—and those of Hrothgar—the Danes.

Early in the poem, Beowulf travels to Hrothgar's kingdom to fight the beast Grendel, who has been terrorizing the land for years. Beowulf volunteers for this task and presents himself as the only person who could end the tragedy that has befallen Denmark. In defeating Grendel and putting his own life in serious danger, Beowulf saves the Danes from the threat. He resolves what Hrothgar calls their "constant distress" (line 937).

Beowulf further protects the Danes when Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son's death. She kills Hrothgar's best adviser, so Beowulf goes down to her cave, alone, again putting himself in grave danger for the common good. Hrothgar tells Beowulf, "help depends / again on you and you alone" (lines 1376-77). His task is to again save the entire nation from the threat of a monster. Once he wins, "the waves and pools / were no longer infested" with "the wandering fiend" (1620-21). Denmark is safe again.

By aiding Denmark, Beowulf also helps his own people by forming a useful alliance. Hrothgar tells Beowulf, "What you have done is to draw two peoples, / the Geat nation and us neighboring Danes, / into shared peace and a pact of friendship / in spite of hatreds we have harboured in the past" (lines 1855-58). Beowulf has healed past wounds and built new bonds for the future. As he returns to his nation, he honors his king and later becomes ruler of Geatland for fifty years. He volunteers himself to fight a ferocious dragon, putting his life at risk, so as not to endanger his fellow Geats. The poem suggests that this may be an error in judgment on Beowulf's part, as he is bested by the dragon, and they lose their protector. The poem ends the somber reflections of Geats who are anxious that they are now vulnerable to enemies. Nonetheless, Beowulf seems to look at his fight as selfless and for the good of the people. He tells his men, "This fight is not yours" (line 2532). He is trying to save the Geats from the threat of the dragon as he once saved the Danes from their two monsters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ironically, Beowulf's fateful decision to fight the dragon, though supposed to protect his people, actually endangers them. Beowulf did what any self-respecting warrior king would do, and that's defend his people from any real and present danger. The problem, however, is that in taking on the dragon, Beowulf was risking not only his own life, but the stability of his kingdom.

Nordic peoples regarded the death of a king as a potentially great calamity, leaving a kingdom open to invasion and attack by its rivals. Though Wiglaf will doubtless make for a wise and noble king, it's unlikely that he'll be able to step into Beowulf's boots any time soon. Also, Beowulf's death has revealed just how (over) reliant the Geats were on one man's protection. After Beowulf is killed, Wiglaf angrily calls out the supposed cream of Geatland's warrior class for their cowardice after they shamefully deserted their fallen king. This doesn't augur well for the future. These second-rate soldiers are all that stands between the Geats and a Swedish conquest. Indeed, the messenger who brings news of Beowulf's death gloomily predicts an imminent invasion by the Swedes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For the majority of the epic poem, Beowulf helps the Danes by offering his services to King Hrothgar. Beowulf ends up protecting Heorot and the Danes from Grendel and his vengeful mother by defeating both monsters in epic one-on-one battles. After successfully protecting the Danes, Beowulf travels back to Geatland, where he gives Hygelac the gifts he received from Hrothgar's kingdom. Beowulf eventually becomes king of the Geats and ends up protecting his people later in life by defeating the malevolent dragon, which wreaks havoc on the countryside and destroys villages throughout Geatland after its goblet is stolen by a slave. In Beowulf's final quest, he sacrifices his life for his country by fighting the fearsome dragon. With the help of Wiglaf, Beowulf ends up defeating the dragon and beseeches Wiglaf to become king, knowing that he will make an excellent, valiant ruler. Overall, Beowulf protects his people by defeating the ferocious dragon and passing on his kingship to Wiglaf, who is one of the last remaining Geats that exemplifies Anglo-Saxon standards of excellence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the epic poem Beowulf, the hero bravely protects his people. The strongest example of this is his battle with the dragon.  At this point Beowulf is an old man.  Although he knows that fate will not be on his side in this battle, he realizes that no one else has a chance of defeating this monster.  Beowulf states, "No one else could do/ What I mean to, here, no man but me/ Could hope to defeat this monster" (l.682-4).  Facing almost certain death, he does not hesitate to fight the dragon to save the Geats.  Beowulf knows that the dragon is going to continue to lay waste to their land and he feels that it is his duty as king to protect his people.  

Another way Beowulf protects his people occurs in the final moments before his death.  Although he kills the dragon, he is mortally wounded.  Even though none of his men, other than Wiglaf, helped him in the battle, he still instructs Wiglaf that the dragon's hoard should be used to care for his people. He names Wiglaf as the next leader because he is the only one who possesses any of the Anglo-Saxon values.  Beowulf's final wishes involve the care of his people, even though they deserted him in his greatest time of need.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team