Why is the focus of the story on Beowulf as a hero rather than as a king, and what is the difference?

Expert Answers

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

Beowulf is only a king in the final part of the poem, but he is always a hero and eventually dies a hero’s death from the wound he received from the dragon in battle. It a standard convention of epics that the heroes should be of royal birth. For example, Gilgamesh and Odysseus are kings, and Achilles (since Peleus is still alive at the time of the Iliad) is a prince. Yet we do not think of any of these men primarily as kings, since their fame comes from the adventures and exploits in which they participate as heroes. Gilgamesh does much more harm than good when he stays at home in Uruk and his counsellors beg him to go out on quests. The Odyssey has a rather uneasy, unsatisfactory ending (which is the inspiration for Tennyson’s poem "Ulysses"). The opening lines make it clear why the story of a king is so much less satisfactory than that of a hero.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 942 words.)

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