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Beowulf's followers' inability to assist him in his battles


Beowulf's followers are unable to assist him in his battles due to their lack of strength and bravery compared to Beowulf's exceptional heroism. In critical moments, such as his fight with the dragon, they flee in fear, leaving Beowulf to face his challenges alone, highlighting his unique valor and the theme of individual heroism in the epic.

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What stops Beowulf's men from helping him fight the dragon?

The easy answer to your question is that Beowulf's retainers are simply  too afraid of a supernatural being like the dragon to come to Beowulf's aid, but that is too easy of an answer.  Their failure to support Beowulf is certainly a result of fear, but that is only a part of a complicated equation. 

After the dragon attacks the Geats' town and destroy's even Beowulf's stronghold--described as "the best of buildings, destroyed by a fire-storm" (l. 2326), Beowulf reluctantly decides that he must take action to save his kingdom, after eighty years of a peaceful reign.  Beowulf gathers his retainers and "spoke some boastful words/for the last time" (l. 2510):

. . . again as the old/protector of my people, I will seek battle,/and win glory, if this man-murderer/will face me and come from his earth-hall. (ll. 2513-2516)

In a warrior society, the winning of personal glory--which animates Beowulf as a young man to fight Grendel and then Grendel's mother--is the goal of every warrior and is even more important for the people's leader.  Even though Beowulf understands his age makes success doubtful, the chance to achieve more glory as an individual warrior is too compelling to ignore.  Equally important, Beowulf is still "protector of my people" and is obligated to attempt to stop the dragon's attacks.  After this speech, Beowulf's men may have believed that Beowulf should be allowed to seek personal glory, but that belief should not have prevented them from supporting Beowulf if necessary.

Beowulf's next speech complicates the issue further.  He tells his men to "wait on the hill . . . to see whether one/of us two is better" (ll. 2529-2531) because

It is not your duty,/nor the duty of [other] men, except for me only,/to spend my life against the monster,/to do noble deeds. (ll. 2532-2535)

Here, Beowulf articulates the two primary reasons for his solo attack on the dragon--(i) as the people's protector, this is my duty, not yours, and (ii) I expect to earn personal glory from this fight.  For a Scandinavian warrior-king, there could not be two more important reasons for taking on the responsibility of ridding his kingdom of the dragon--duty and glory.

As we know, in Beowulf's extremity during the fight, Wiglaf, the youngest of Beowulf's followers, is the only one who comes to Beowulf's aid.  He later shames the more experienced warriors, and rightly so, because they should have come to Beowulf's aid even though they had been told to stay out of the fight.  Just as Beowulf had a duty to rid the kingdom of the dragon, his retainers had a duty to support him no matter what they had been told.

Although Beowulf's men clearly followed his instructions, this warrior society demanded ultimate loyalty from his men, and their failure to exercise that loyalty--no matter what the excuses they might make--resulted in terrible consequences for them--they and their families became outcasts.  

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Why aren't Beowulf's followers able to help him during his fight with Grendel?

gbeatty is right as always.
There is, however, the sense that even if they were able to help, Beowulf would have wanted to fight the beast alone. He is the one that is desirous to "win fame for Higlac" and himself. He wants the fame that comes with defeating this monster.
This is the same reason he wants to fight the dragon in the end. Fame for himself, not his army.

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Why aren't Beowulf's followers able to help him during his fight with Grendel?

Good question. Remember when Grendel broke into the hall earlier and killed so many soldiers? Grendel has such strength and power that he's essentially invulnerable to attack by weapons. Therefore, the followers can't really help Beowulf; only he, the hero, is strong enough to fight Grendel bare-handed.

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