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Beowulf Essay Research Paper Beowulf 2

Beowulf Essay, Research Paper Beowulf – Analysis of the Epic The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic

Beowulf Essay, Research Paper

Beowulf – Analysis of the Epic

The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old

English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic

tells the story of a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who

rids the Danes of the monster Grendel, a descendent of Cain, and of

his exploits fighting Grendel’s mother and a Dragon. Throughout the

epic, the Anglo-Saxon story teller uses many elements to build a

certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character

elements in Beowulf are Wealth & Honor, Biblical & Paganistic, and Man

vs. Wild themes.

Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most epics,

defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon

culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a

character’s importance, as well as their wealth and status, where

measured not only in monetary terms, but it was also measured in terms

of honor, fame, and accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is

one example of the Anglo-Saxon measurement of importance in Beowulf.

In Canto 1 the story teller describes his wealth and importance, not

as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his ability to “[lead] the

Danes to such glory.” and as his tendency to “In battle, [leave] the

common pasture untouched, and taking no lives.” Through this display

of compassion for the commoner who doesn’t fight in battles, Hrothgar

proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent of his

wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true

wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he

fights and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his

companions, and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor

raising him to the level of an archetypal hero. Grendel, on the other

hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf. He has no wealth, no honor,

and he in infamous as an evil killer. This lack of wealth and honor

defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption. In addition to

using Honor and wealth to define a character’s character, the

story-teller(s) have incorporated alternating Biblical and Paganistic

motifs in the epic-poem.

The original Epic was obviously Paganistic due to the time

period of it’s creation. But, as time wore on, the rewriting and

touching up of the manuscripts by various sources including religious

monks, caused the characters to have slight Christian characteristics.

These Christian themes have become very important to the epic to add

am element of depth that wouldn’t be possible in modern times due to

the lost of the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs. An example of the

Biblical motif in Beowulf is Grendel. Grendel it biblically described

as evil in this excerpt:

[ Grendel] was spawned in that slime,

Conceived by a pair of those monsters born

Of Cain, murderous creatures banished

By God, punished forever for the crime

Of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove

Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,

Shut away from men; they split

Into a thousand forms of evil–spirits

And feinds, goblins, monsters, giants,

A brood forever opposing the Lord’s

Will, and again and again defeated.

The Biblical reference in the epic has become a modern day archetypal

motif, and serves to give the listener an idea of the extent of

Grendel’s pure evil and gives a logical explanation for Grendel’s

murderous behavior. This example, not only shows the evil in

Grendel’s nature, but also the torture in his heart caused by his

Banishment from God. It serves to give the reader an idea of why

Grendel would kill the Danes for no reason other than their

happiness. Beowulf also has a religious motif to his character. One

example of this is in Canto 6 line 381 in which Hrothgar states, “Our

Holy Father had sent [Beowulf] as a sign of His grace, a mark of His

favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror.” This religious

description shows Beowulf as a sort of messiah sent by god to save man

from evil. But, more than that, since Beowulf is in fact not a

messiah, this description shows the good in Beowulf’s heart and the

purpose of his mission. Another Biblical reference in Beowulf is

shown in the tower of Herot which is very similar to the tower of

Babel in the fact that it’s built as a sign of superiority and

accomplishment. Like Babel, though, Herot only serves as a symbol of

downfall more than one of glory because it causes many deaths and the

coming of Grendel.

Apart from Wealth, Honor, and Paganistic vs. Biblical themes

and motifs, character is also shown through a certain Man vs. Wild

motif. This motif shows the difference between mankind’s ways (good),

and evil’s wild nature (evil). Grendel for one, is totally wild and

is therefore shown as evil. His wild home, “Grendel, who haunted the

moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but

earth.” shows his wild, untamed, and therefor evil nature. Grendel’s

wilderness is countered in mankind’s ways, especially Beowulf’s.

Beowulf is tame and civilized, the epitomy of goodness and purity.

Beowulf doesn’t fight evil in a wild manner, rather, as shown in his

first battle with Grendel. First off, Beowulf is pure and shows

this before his battle when he removes his armor and vows not to use a

weapon to defeat Grendel. Defeating Grendel, he shows that man,

without armor and weapons, can defeat evil in any form including that

of his foe Grendel. This deed serves throughout the epic serves as a

symbol of Beowulf’s Goodness.

Beowulf has many other such archetypal, symbolic themes and

motifs, but the most important themes that serve to add depth to the

characters are the wealth, honor, religious, man, and wildness themes.

These themes don’t only serve to define a character, but they also

factor in as a motive for their actions.

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