Beowulf is an epic poem with Beowulf as its titular hero. Beowulf is a legendary Geatish warrior who travels to Denmark with his band of soldiers and saves the land by slaying Grendel, whose mother then attacks Beowulf’s own home and kills his king, Hrothgar (Hroðgar). Beowulf’s fame comes from his defeating these monsters, and he is said to be the greatest of Geats.
Beowulf begins Beowulf by introducing Scyld Scefing to us, whose son Beowulf would later become king of the Geats. Beowulf explains that Scyld was a good king who ruled over Denmark for many years. Beowulf states that Scyld was “brought forth to long life by God” (lines 12-13), meaning that Scyld lived a very long time, but Beowulf also makes it clear that there are other people in the Anglo-Saxon world who are given eternal life by God because they do not die like humans do normally. What Beowulf is saying is that Beowulf, through God’s grace, will be able to live forever as well.
Beowulf states that Scyld’s son Beowulf (who Beowulf would become king of the Geats after) was “old enough now to command warriors and declare his noble birth” (lines 16-17), meaning that Beowulf was old enough at this point to rule over a land and be known as a lord among men. Beowulf had yet to leave his home and not lead this group of soldiers like Beowulf has because he has not met anyone worthy. The word Beowulf uses for “noble birth” (lines 17) could mean something else; it may also mean those who are born with power.
Beowulf is Beaw’s biological father and Beaw is of noble birth because his father is Beowulf, a hero. Beowulf may also be called Beowulf’s son despite Beowulf not being his adoptive or stepfather because Beowulf was with Beowl’s mother long enough to make him the child of Beowulf as well.
When Beowulf does finally make an appearance, he quickly shows why. Beowulf begins his adventure when the Geats are in danger from a great fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf is triumphant over this beast and saves his people. Beowulf becomes king of his people “by popular acclaim” (Klaeber 24). The poet tells us that Beowulf was so loved by his people because unlike King Hrothgar, Beowulf had no need to pay tribute to other tribes for protection. No one will deny that Beowulf was indeed king material! We see Beowulf’s character traits within the first few pages of the epic poem Beowulf.
He is brave, strong, handsome, but most of all Beowulf is exceedingly generous. Beowulf spends two-thirds of his time in Beowulf fighting enemies and monsters to save other people’s land (Klaeber 32). Beowulf is the perfect hero! Beowulf was no ordinary king; Beowulf was strong, brave, handsome but above all he was generous. When Beowulf rose to power in Geatland, many tribes of men across the whale’s way had to pay him tribute (BEO 4-11). This shows us that Beowulf was not an aggressive king like most leaders who were constantly trying to increase their territory by any means necessary.
However, Beowulf did have some enemies. One of Beowulf’s most-noted foes was Grendel, a murderous monster who lived in the fens. Beowulf fought this monster for over fifteen years (Klaeber 31). Beowulf was truly an exceptional king because Beowulf did not have to fight for land nor did he have to force other people to pay him tribute — Beowulf was loved by his people. Beowulf’s generosity is emphasized several times throughout the poem Beowulf. Beowulf loves and respects everybody and deserves respect and love in return. From Beowulf we learn that it does not take much to make somebody happy:
What he gave away seemed little enough, but what he kept went far. Beowulf, in Beowulf, was a generous king who did not expect much in return. Beowulf certainly lived up to his reputation as “the strongest and most noble of kings” (BEO 4-11). Though Beowulf is celebrated for fighting dragons and fen beasts, Beowulf’s greatest challenge came from Slaying the Dragon: Beowulf and the Politics of Combat. Beowulf fought against a dragon that had infested his land for over fifty years (Klaeber 32). Upon arriving at the lair of this beast, Beowulf found an underground cavern filled with treasure.
Beowulf stayed there quite some time admiring all the gold. While Beowulf was distracted by all this loot, Beowulf became the target of the dragon. Beowulf was fast enough to protect himself from some serious damage but some of Beowulf’s men were not as fortunate. Beowulf was distressed that his men came to fight a dragon and then died needlessly (Klaeber 32). Beowulf knew the pain-staking work that went into gathering such immense treasure; Beowulf did not want it squandered. Beowulf felt remorse for the death of these warriors; Beowulf took their sorrow upon himself.
Beowulf had to make a very difficult decision: either kill the dragon and keep this treasure or let it go and mourn his men (Klaeber 32). Beowulf decides to kill the dragon and take its treasure. Beowulf kills the dragon by ripping it apart with Beowulf’s bare hands (Klaeber 32). Beowulf took this enormous treasure back to Geatland. Beowulf distributed much of the fabulous booty amongst his people, but Beowulf kept some gold for himself because Beowulf was now a wealthy man. Beowulf then retired from his role as king and lived out his days in happiness until he died at an old age (Klaeber 34-38).
Beowulf is such a great ruler that people still look up to him today; Beowulf had many admirable qualities that we all would do well to take note of. Beowulf was truly a man set apart from others; Beowulf’s care for his people and subsequent generosity is something that we should all strive towards in our own lives. Beowulf lived up to the title, “the strongest and most noble of kings” because Beowulf cared deeply about everybody around him (BEO 4-11). It was not only Beowulf’s strength and daring that made him a great king but also Beowulf’s generous nature. Beowulf is the “strongest and most noble of kings” (Klaeber 32).
We see this aspect of Beowulf when Beowulf is compelled to kill Grendel’s mother. Beowulf feels pity for his people and Beowulf is determined to protect them from any evil. Beowulf says, “I am obliged to go alone…a wounded man needs the help of no other…. I will not refuse a fight with a deadly foe, even if my own body pays the penalty” (Klaeber 43-44). Beowulf gives up his personal safety in order that he might be able to save his men from Grendel’s family. This decision shows Beowulf’s great character because Beowulf was willing to put others before himself at such a high cost.
Beowulf goes on to say “I would rather lose my life in the battle than have it end dishonorably while I am sitting at home” (Klaeber 43-44). Beowulf is so selfless that Beowulf would be willing to die if Beowulf could not win the fight. Beowulf did not want to return home a failure and Beowulf did not mind death because Beowulf was confident that Beowulf would come back from death as a hero instead of a coward. Beowulf also says, “I care more for your safety, headland guardian than any other man on earth cares for his own country or wife or children” (Klaeber46-47).