You hold power with balance, with the wisdom of mind… And you shall bring peace to your people for a long time to come, a source of strength to the heroes. This is a quote from Beowulf and this is applicable not just to the epic poem but to you in real life as well. What is Beowulf? Is Beowulf an epic? How is Beowulf an example of an epic poem? Let yourself get the answers to these questions and more in this article.
Table of Contents
1. What are Epic Heroes?
The main character with impressive qualities is known to have completed awe-inspiring deeds such as a grand quest in which they used extraordinary and superhuman abilities and can be called an epic hero. This was first brought about by the greeks who defined protagonists to be known as epic heroes. In literature, the main character or protagonist is just a hero but in an epic or an epic poem, the protagonists perform deeds that are too good to be true and impressively great and thus become the story or poem for the epic heroes. Some great examples of epic heroes are King Arthur, Rama, Siegfried, and Beowulf among others, great heroes. (See What are Characteristics of Tragedy in Drama?)
2. Is Beowulf an Epic?
Beowulf is known to be the longest poem in Old English which is the language that was spoken in the Anglo-Saxon part of England. It is more than 3000 lines long and is also one of the earliest European vernacular epics. So, is Beowulf an epic? Well, Beowulf is certainly epic. The author of this is unknown but this epic has Nordic roots.
The story of Beowulf circles around the epic hero and warrior, Beowulf, who goes on to defeat a terrifying dragon, a monster named Grendel, and Grendel’s mother. The story goes on from Beowulf traveling far and wide to locate the caves of these monsters and destroy them. So this becomes part of the broader tradition of heroic poetry thereby becoming an epic.
3. Why is Beowulf an Epic?
There are many characteristics that make Beowulf an epic poem. Beowulf is a manuscript whose author is unknown and bears no date. While some scholars suggest it was made at the end of the 10th century, others believe it to be made at the start of the 11th century. This epic is related to the epic hero Beowulf who won battles against a monster named Grendel, with Grendel’s revengeful mother, and also a dragon that guarded treasure. There is the presence of superhuman abilities. Apart from the contents, the start of the poem is in the middle of things which is known to be a characteristic of epics. This suggests why is Beowulf an epic poem.
4. How is Beowulf an Example of an Epic Poem?
Is Beowulf an epic? It absolutely is because to be considered as an epic, literature or a piece of it in the form of a poem includes quite many specifications including being a narrative poem that is long, having the main hero with strength enough to destroy evils, and also containing some kind of imagery and rhythm. One can say these are criteria as to how is Beowulf an example of an epic poem.
Going a bit into the details, this epic has 3182 lines in total that have been divided into 43 sections and written in a way that the reader would have an imaginative experience of the story that it tells while stimulating an emotional response. And one more criterion for it being an epic poem is that the title is the name of the beloved hero!
5. What Genre is Beowulf?
Beowulf is known to be an epic, a heroic poem, being one of the most prized possession of Old English literature. So, why is Beowulf an epic? To help understand this better, a heroic poem or poetry is known to refer to a piece of poetry that uses a dramatic, dignified, and formal style to describe the deeds done by the aristocratic warriors or heroes of the poem. Beowulf is said to belong to the grounded traditions of germanic mythology and religion while having nordic roots. There are instances of motifs from folklore that are familiar in the incidents mentioned while including the hero’s descent into the mere and the tearing off of the monster’s arm by the hero Beowulf.
6. How would You Describe Beowulf?
The heroic poem named after the hero Beowulf is known to have been divided into two major parts namely youth and age. He defeats three monsters including Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. While in his youth Beowulf was characterized by strength and courage, his manners and values are deeply dictated by the heroic code of Germanic tradition which also includes loyalty and courtesy.
Defeating Grendel and his mother made his reputation for bravery and made him a hero in an instant. From the start, Beowulf is known to possess heroic qualities which helped him win against the evils and demons. He did become a king but after many years and his exemplary career as a warrior prepared him the run for his ascension to the throne. (Also read Was Beowulf a Good King?)
7. What is the Theme of Beowulf?
The story of Beowulf circles around the epic hero and warrior, Beowulf, who goes on to defeat a terrifying dragon, a monster named Grendel, and Grendel’s mother. The theme of Beowulf is divided into three themes, starting off with identifying the importance of establishing identity which is between ancestral heritage and individual reputation which is vital to this epic poem.
The tensions between the heroic code and other value systems make up the second theme and in this, the Anglo-Sazon heroic code values of courage, strength, loyalty, and hospitality were shown. Coming down to the third theme is the difference between a good warrior and a good king which was the journey of Beowulf.
8. Did Beowulf Actually Exist?
Is Beowulf an epic? Yes, it is but did Beowulf actually exist? There are several discussions on this question and while it is not considered real as there is no evidence of a historical Beowulf but at the same time it is not a myth as well. While there are no pieces of evidence of real people, some locations, sites, and events are historically verified.
An instance the mead hall of Heorot is fictional, findings as per archaeological digs have made academics believe that a real mead hall similar to this does exist. Another example is the Danish King Hrothgar and his nephew Hrothulf in the poem who is also based to have been on historical figures. (See Can Othello be considered a tragic hero?)
9. Is Beowulf an Epic Hero?
You might have heard a lot of good things and high light that are put upon the hero but is Beowulf an epic hero? There are certain citations that do make it evident that this is true.
- Nobel birth: Epic heroes are known to be born members of royalty or nobility and though Beowulf is not a descendent of any god he was the nephew of the king of the Geats, Hygelac. This is also a reason why he was also referred to as Hyfelac’s kinsman.
- Strength and bravery: Beowulf is known for his courage and strength wherein he fought against monsters that are feared by others. He even fought with Grendel and his revengeful mother underwater which nobody dared to go. In the end, he destroyed a dragon single-handedly which needs immense courage.
10. What Qualities make Beowulf an Epic Hero?
Some qualities that make Beowulf an epic hero are as follows:
- Courageous: Beowulf was characterized by strength and courage, his manners and values were deeply dictated by the heroic code of the germanic tradition which includes loyalty and courtesy. Defeating Grendel and his mother made his reputation for bravery and made him a hero in an instant.
- Birth: Though the birth of Beowulf was not into royalty or nobility, he was the nephew of the king of the Geats, Hygelac. This is also a reason why he was also referred to as Hyfelac’s kinsman.
- Reputation: Defeating Grendel and his mother made Beowulf’s reputation for bravery and made him a hero in an instant. An epic hero always has a high reputation and the characteristics of Beouwulf helped in this.
- Warrior: He was a strong and brave warrior for many years and this also helped in him being able to destroy the many evil characters named in the epic poem. He had singlehandedly killed many demons as well as a dragon.
- Great king: Beowulf was a warrior, a great one and he was in this post for quite many years. He did become a king but after many years and his exemplary career as a warrior prepared him the run for his ascension to the throne.
Do not grieve, wise warrior! It is better for each man that avenges his friend than to mourn him much. Coming to the end of the article is another quote from Beowulf. This might have helped with the knowledge of the epic and answered questions like whether is beowulf an epic, the theme of Beowulf and why is Beowulf an epic hero. If you haven’t read this epic, open a new tab and start reading!