Saturday, June 18, 2011

what's up

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The author of Beowulf is unknown, as are his motives and inspiration for the creation of the poem. Written some four hundred years before the Norman conquests, it is comprised of three thousand, one hundred and eighty-two lines, dramatically reproducing the timeless struggle between good and evil. By far one of the most admirable qualities presented to the reader is the notion of heroism, and the importance of honor. The quality of character was a major element of a heroic man in the ancient world of which this epic poem is set.

As defined in Webster’s Dictionary, personality is the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual. Such a definition would include the persons traits, values, motives, attitudes, emotional reactions, abilities, self-image and intelligence as well as the persons overall behavioral patterns.

Throughout the poem, the author allows the reader to see, in action, the true workings of heroes. Men and women who cast aside their own personal needs and desires for the better of others are heroes. During this time, society sustained a strong honor code. The actions that an individual accomplished over their lifetime were the title by which they were known to the rest of the land, either good or bad. A lot was asked of rulers concerning the protection and expansion of a kingdom, Kings and Queens were known by their conquests and control of their empire.

There are many requirements of a hero. A hero is an individual who is feared and respected by subjects and by enemies alike. To be a hero one must be bold, courageous, valiant, and daring. The hero must not fear death or whatever brings it, instead they must trust in their own personal abilities, being prepared at all times to face whatever is thrown in their direction. The main character of this poem is Beowulf. He was the son of the Geat Ecgtheow, and eventual ruler of the Geats toward the later of his life. Beowulf faces three major battles in the story. The first being Grendel, a descendent of Cain and a monster to look at

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“Grendel was the name of this grim demon

Haunting the marches, marauding round the heath

And the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time

In misery among the banished monsters,

Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed

And condemned as outcasts.” (Heaney 10-107)

Beowulf travels across the sea to the kingdom of the Danes. Its ruler, king Hrothgar, unable to fight Grendel, he granted Beowulf permission to go and fight the beast. Upon Grendel’s defeat, another creature arises. Grendel’s mother has risen for revenge for her son’s death. Beowulf wins both of the first two battles.

When Beowulf must fight the third and final battle with a dragon, he was much older. Beowulf knew this and yet he still continued to fight with the aid of Wiglaf, one of twelve assistants to the king. When Beowulf showed signs of failure all the others fled into the woods, fearing for their lives but only Wiglaf remained to help his king. This is an attribute of a hero, self sacrifice. Even with full knowledge of the great risk they were both facing, Beowulf remained, for the good of his people, knowing that he was their last hope before the dragon would destroy them. Not only does he sacrifice his life, then like a true hero , in his dying moments he thanks God for his prosperous lifetime and he requests that the gold that he fought and died for be distributed to his people and a tower be erected in his name. Dying in battle was not unusual and it was definitely respected, especially in cases like these.

This poem presents other examples of heroism, but at the same time it also contains the exact opposite, those who fell short, cowards. After the dragon has been defeated, the ten deserting soldiers return to bear witness to the outcome. Wiglaf’s fiery speech displays the disgrace that their cowardice brings

“So it is goodbye now to all you know and love

on your home ground, the open-handedness,

the giving of war-swords. Everyone of you

with freeholds of land, our whole nation,

will be dispossessed, once princes from beyond

get tidings of how you turned and fled

And disgraced you. (Heaney 884-80)

Wiglaf is extremely upset and rightfully so after the other ten soldiers fled the scene while they were supposed to help their king, Beowulf, slay the dragon. The way these ten so called soldiers ran away with their tail between their legs is a definite sign of cowardice.

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