How is heroism portrayed in Beowulf?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heroism in Beowulf is represented by ancient concepts of honor and chivalry. These concepts evolved, changed, and some were abandoned over the next few centuries, but during the time represented, a person's personal heroism was reflected by his own actions. Beowulf is shown as being an ultimate example of a heroic figure; almost every one of his actions is shown as being not only heoric, but inspiration for any who strive to heroism. Wiglaf call on these acts during Beowulf's last battle:

Briefly discoursing: "Beowulf dear,
Perform thou all fully, as thou formerly saidst,
In thy youthful years, that while yet thou livedst
Thou wouldst let thine honor not ever be lessened.
Thy life thou shalt save, mighty in actions,
Atheling undaunted, with all of thy vigor;
I'll give thee assistance."

In fact, the core story of Beowulf depends on Beowulf's own sense of honor and heroism; he is not called to fight Grendel, but takes the task on of his own volition. Furthermore, he is not seeking personal honor, although he understands that this is a side effect; Beowulf is simply seeking to engage in greater and greater challenges for his own self-development. In this respect, heroism is less about the actions themselves than about the selflessness of Beowulf and other heroes; Wiglaf is also a good example, as he risks his own life to stand by Beowulf when the old king fights the dragon.