How does Beowulf influence our society? Give some specific examples.

The character of Beowulf (a great but flawed hero) and the epic of Beowulf (the story itself) have a lasting impact on contemporary society.

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The impact of Beowulf on contemporary society can be considered in two ways. First, there is the character of Beowulf himself, a great but flawed hero. Second, there is the epic of Beowulf as a work of literature. Both aspects have demonstrated their staying power but not for precisely the same reasons.

Beowulf the hero shows tremendous bravery in many regards, and he usually acts out of concern for his people. Protecting the people from the constant threats around them becomes his life's work. He is a strong warrior and uses his physical prowess to help others, not to become a king. That being said, he also acts from the desire for revenge. This emotion blinds him to the possibility that he is stoking a cycle of violence that is likely to endanger his people further. (Even Grendel has a loving mother.)

These aspects of Beowulf make him resemble modern military fighters, who put their lives in harm's way out of duty to country. They also make him kin to modern world leaders, who speak of national interest but may be reckless in not thinking through the implications of their actions. Leaders who have access to nuclear weapons, for example, could benefit from tempering their behaviors.

Second, the Beowulf story has had a lasting impact. The people who first wrote down the story pulled together various oral versions to commit it to paper. Ever since then, people have been not only celebrating but debating Beowulf. Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet, published a new translation into English not quite twenty years ago.

Not everyone has been convinced that Beowulf is the true hero or that his actions are entirely justified. Tearing off an arm seems kind of harsh. John Gardner in 1971 inverted the story, making Grendel the protagonist—although an anti-hero. Most recently, Maria Dahvana Headley has focused on Grendel's mother and situated her 2018 novel The Mere Wife in the contemporary US suburbs. Beowulf and his friends and foes live on!

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Beowulf, the epic poem, continues to impact the modern world with its depiction of heroism as well as its illustration of the experience of the outsider.

Beowulf, the first documented hero in all of English literature, exemplifies heroism. One could argue that it is thanks to his example that the comic book heroes and movie heroes of today even exist. Beowulf's heroism is over-the-top; he is humble but strong and powerful, and though he is certainly human, he is nearly supernatural in his abilities. This crossover into near-magic enables today's fictional heroes to take on qualities that exceed human expectations.

Grendel's experience as an outsider also has an impact on the modern world. In the first literary work in (Old) English, the experience of an outsider is presented, giving modern outsiders some comfort that their experience is one that has affected beings for as long as humans have been writing poems. Grendel's feeling of being left out and his consequent desire for revenge on the chosen favorites is one that is very understandable, especially to fellow outsiders who understand the emotions of such a situation.

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Perhaps the biggest and most tangible way in which we are impacted by this text today is through our notion of what it is to be famous and what celebrity actually involves. Beowulf, as befitting his status as an epic hero, presents readers of all ages with a model of what it takes to be considered a mighty individual worthy of renown. In many ways, Beowulf is a hero who sacrifices everything to sustain his reputation and heroic status. Note, for example what he says before facing his final foe:

Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast
for the last time: "I risked my life
often when I was young. Now I am old,
but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight
for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only
abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open."

Even though Beowulf has aged and is clearly not going to be as strong as he once was, he still feels a massive pressure to keep up his reputation "for the glory of winning." Arguably, he pursues this goal against the best interests of his people, as after all his death spells their destruction. For our celebrity-obsessed age, that places so much value on the reputation of somebody and is based not on reality but superficial image, Beowulf could be considered to be the prototype of a celebrity who is so determined to make a name for himself that he willingly enters into a battle that he has very little chance of winning and will result in the destruction of his people. In one view, this could be considered tremendously narcissistic. This pervasive influence can definitely be seen in our world today. 

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