Was Beowulf a typical epic hero?  

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beowulf, the main character of the Old English poem Beowulf, fulfills many, but not quite all, of the usual characteristics of the epic hero.

Most importantly, he exhibits the qualities esteemed by his culture. When Beowulf was composed, England was primarily an Anglo-Saxon area. The Anglo-Saxon culture was significantly influenced by warfare. This warrior-based culture fostered values like courage and loyalty, both traits that Beowulf possessed in abundance.

Epic heroes often battle supernatural enemies, as Beowulf did with Grendel, Grendel's mother, and finally the dragon that terrorized his kingdom.

A long and dangerous voyage is also a hallmark of the epic hero's experience. We don't really see a lot of this in Beowulf, although his journey to and from Hrothgar's kingdom is briefly referred to.

Epic heroes often have a noble birth. While Beowulf is not born to a king, and is therefore not a prince, he is related to the Geat king Higlac. When Higlac dies in battle, Beowulf ascends to the Geat throne.

Some sort of exceptional ability is often attributed to the epic hero. Beowulf is probably the strongest warrior in the world. He can defeat Grendel single-handedly. He kills sea monsters by himself. He even battles a dragon as an old man.

The one characteristic of the epic hero that Beowulf most certainly does not possess is humility. In terms of our modern sensibilities, Beowulf looks like an arrogant braggart as boasts of his many feats of bravery and strength. However, he is telling the truth—he really is capable of doing all the things he says he can do and has done.

Taken as a whole, Beowulf is an epic hero, even if he does not meet all the criteria. Even Odysseus, the star of the Greek epic The Odyssey, was known to blow his horn about his exploits from time to time.