Beowulf Characteristics

What are the major characteristics of Beowulf?

Beowulf’s personal characteristics include the heroic traits of loyalty, honor, bravery, faith, and superhuman strength. He demonstrates his sense of honor and his loyalty to Hrothgar by volunteering to kill Grendel and then Grendel’s mother. He proves his bravery by battling these two monsters and, at the end his life, the dragon. His strength can also be seen in these battles, as he rips off Grendel’s arm with his bare hands and holds his breath for a superhuman length of time in Grendel’s mother’s underwater lair. Beowulf demonstrates his faith by giving thanks to God for his victories.

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Beowulf is above all courageous and loyal. These two traits inform most of his actions over the course of the poem. He is courageous in that he is willing to face monsters that give even other warriors pause. He thinks nothing of fighting Grendel bare-handed or going to confront the...

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Beowulf is above all courageous and loyal. These two traits inform most of his actions over the course of the poem. He is courageous in that he is willing to face monsters that give even other warriors pause. He thinks nothing of fighting Grendel bare-handed or going to confront the dragon alone even as an old man. Beowulf's loyalty often drives his courage: he does what he does to rescue the Danes from destruction. Their welfare is important to him, though it must be noted that loyalty and protective instincts are not his only motivations in facing monsters.

Beowulf's third major characteristic is a hunger for glory. He hopes that by defeating many monsters he will be remembered after his death. This trait is part of what brings him to Heorot Hall in the first place. This is ultimately a double-edged trait. His hunger for glory is good because it drives Beowulf to accomplish amazing things and further work in service of the greater good. But it is bad because it causes him to act recklessly at times. Some critics have argued that Beowulf's final battle with the dragon is driven as much by a desire to add to his legacy as it is to protect his people. While his death in battle does temporarily save his people from destruction at the hands of the dragon, the people themselves observe that without Beowulf, they are left vulnerable to the attacks of other tribes; in this sense, Beowulf has been reckless in his final actions.

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Beowulf is an exemplary human being who functions as an ideal person. His courage and effectiveness in fighting is balanced by his love for family, generosity, compassion, and overall avoidance of unnecessary violence.

Some of Beowulf's characteristics are as follows:

Loving and loyal to family: Beowulf was raised by his grandfather from age seven. He loves and remains loyal to his grandfather, Hrethel, as well as to his uncle, Hygelac.

Compassionate towards others: Beowulf offers sympathy and words of comfort to Hrothgar when his son dies, and he worries about Freawaru's marriage. He defeats monsters, but we learn of him killing only two humans, despite his being a great warrior. He also rules his kingdom peacefully.

Faith-filled: Beowulf has a strong faith in God's presence in his life and believes that God guides human affairs. He is able to, with trust, put his fate in God's hands.

Dutiful: Beowulf takes responsibility for civilization beyond his own family and homeland, traveling across the sea to aid Hrothgar in defeating Grendel. He is selflessly willing to risk himself for others.

Strength: Beowulf has immense physical strength. This bodily trait is essential to his ability to defeat Grendel.

Courage: Beowulf models courage in his fearless willingness to confront monsters in order to protect the larger social order.

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Beowulf is depicted as the most ideal of leaders. His most immediately recognizable characteristics are his prodigious strength and endurance, which more often than not fall directly into the category of the superhuman. Indeed, he is able to defeat the vile Grendel single-handedly and go on to defeat Grendel's mother immediately afterward. He does all of this for his people and purely on a volunteer basis, demonstrating his steadfast devotion to his people and his courage in the face of danger.

Furthermore, Beowulf even fights a dragon at the end of his life, against incredible odds, going above and beyond the call of duty for his people. Perhaps most telling of his character is his unfaltering faith, as he thanks and consults God in all that he does, asking that he show him the right course of action and give him the strength needed to pursue justice.

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Obviously, the defining characteristic of Beowulf is his bravery, and his strong desire to demonstrate it to others. He travels to the land of the Danes in large part to prove his courage by destroying Grendel, and he then fearlessly pursues Grendel's mother into her underwater lair. Even late in his life, he dies fighting against a dragon that is terrorizing his homeland. Beowulf is also very concerned about kinship, loyalty, and honor, all of which are related to the self-sacrificial nature of his courage. For all this, Beowulf is also a man of deep personal faith. Before his battle with Grendel, he offers a prayer: "May the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant the glory of victory to whichever side he sees fit." After the fight with the monster, he gives credit to God, who, he says, "allowed" him to kill the monster, who is, not incidentally, descended from Cain. So Beowulf is defined by his martial valor, his sense of honor and loyalty, and by his religious faith.

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Beowulf possesses many great heroic qualities:

  • Inhuman strength: he is able to defeat Grendel by ripping his arm off; he is able to defeat Grendel's mother by holding his breath an insane length of time; he is known for this great strength in battle as well as sport competition.
  • Loyalty: he is loyal to King Hrothgar- who once saved his father - evidenced by his arrival to kill the monsters threatening Herot; loyal to his own king (evidenced by bringing the gifts from Hrothgar back home); loyal to his own men - evidenced by his decision to stay with them and sleep in the same place rather than a place of honor.
  • Courage: Beowulf never thinks twice about fighting the monsters that, until his arrival, have done nothing but kill those who came before him - evidence of his courage can be found throughout the text.
  • Faith/Gratitude: Beowulf frequently references giving glory to "God" or the "Lord" after a victory; the traditionally paegan tale passed down orally was finally written by a Christian monk (scholars believe) so the faith in God element was likely added as a means of spreading Christianity - it is there, nonetheless.

There are certainly others, but I'd say these are the easiest to find examples of throughout the text.

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The epic of Beowulf illustrates the characteristics the Anglo-Saxons desired in their leaders. As the protagonist of the epic, Beowulf possess all of the traits the Anglo-Saxons embraced.

Beowulf was a polished speaker, a great warrior and leader, brave, strong, desired to help others, and noble. His battle speeches excite and band together his men. He has proven to be a great warrior based upon his multiple victories over foes of equal or greater strength than he. He leads his men without fear across great expanses of water. He refuses to leave Hrothgar's lands until evil has been defeated.

Time and time again, Beowulf proves the worthiness of his name, his ancestry, and his rise to king.

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Beowulf is certainly brave and strong, but I would argue that his perseverance is his strongest characteristic.  He keeps going even when it is difficult, and that is ultimately why he succeeds.

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Beowulf has a great sense of pride and will not leave a battle unfinished.  This is revealed in big and small ways throughout the text.  He kills Grendel, but he makes sure that the battle is done by taking Grendel's arm and nailing up on the mead hall front door.  He then doesn't shy away from Grendel's mother who could be just as menacing -- he finishes the battle of Grendel by eliminating any threats from her as well, putting the final touch on this conflict.

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One thing we see about Beowulf is his desire for fame- or to be remembered.  When de dives into the lake to fight Grendel's mom, the book even tells us, "Beowulf, longing only for fame, leaps into" the lake.  Even our modern day heroes may pause and think about the best plan to fight the monster's angry mother, but not Beowulf.  Pausing would make it seem as though he doubted his own abilities, and so he grabs Hrunting and a helmet, throws on his mail shirt and dives in ready to fight.

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One of Beowulf's most important characteristics is his desire to help others, even at his own expense; this is best seen in the final battle with the dragon, where despite his advanced age he lays his own life down to defend and protect his people.

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Beowulf displays a number of important characteristics, including bravery, intelligence, initiative, concern for other people, loyalty to his superiors, loyalty to God, humility, and, of course, great physical strength as well as real skill in the use of that strength.  Practically all of these traits can be seen in the description of his fight with Grendel.

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