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Since the beginning of mankind, there have been people who were more special than others.
We can understand by special many things, but what I want to point out is that those who
were special did great things for the good of mankind. Those people were the main
characters in myths and legends. Nowadays we call them heroes. The word hero is derived
from the Greek heros, originally meaning demigod, a person who seems to have god-like
powers to defend and protect. In my work I focus on the great Scandinavian warrior of the
sixth century, named Beowulf. Nowadays, I think probably most people get inspired about a
story through movies and not so much through books. This happened to me when I first saw
the movie Beowulf from the year 1999. After seeing the movie, one thing became immediately
clear to me: Beowulf is a fascinating hero.


In my work I am going to focus on the concept of the meaning of the word hero in the
Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. First I am going to describe the basic characteristics of and
theories about heroes. Then I will try to describe Beowulf as a hero and the events that made
him a hero according to the model of a heros journey from Joseph Campbell. I am going to
compare the hero from the book to the hero in the three movies.


It is my belief that the journey of Beowulf will show how he became a hero of renown. I do
not think he is merely a brute warrior with a need to perform heroic deeds, but he is also a
person willing to learn and adapt if the situation requires. It will be very interesting to find out
if a hero can learn and evolve as a protagonist. It is my opinion that the hero in the poem
differs from the hero in the movies, despite the same name.



I employed a descriptive method of the heros journey in the poem and in the movies. Then I
employed a comparative method to study the hero by looking for similarities and differences.


For my diploma seminar I employed primary sources such as the poem Beowulf, Campbells
Hero with a Thousand Faces, articles about Beowulf in literary journals and web pages and
newspaper reviews about the hero and his journey in his recent film adaptations.


Many of the gods of the world's ancient religions began their lives as heroes capable of great
feats of strength or skill. The Hero is a common figure in classical Greek, Roman, Norse and
Anglo-Saxon literature, often portrayed as one who must confront an increasingly difficult
path of obstacles in order to prove his manhood. Mostly heroes are warriors, fighting and
killing in order to save their people from disaster. In the time of the Germanic tribes, the most
skillful warrior in fighting and killing was considered as a kind of hero. Beowulf as a hero is
an archetypal figure. An archetype is a recurring pattern of character, symbol, or situation
found in the mythology, religion, and stories of all cultures.1 Jungs archetypes are not
limited to human characters, which is why animals and objects can also appear as archetypes.
There are several well known archetypes (including the hero, wise old man, trickster, shadow,
divine child, anima, persona, and the mother) and there may yet be some to be discovered.
The hero is the most frequently used archetype of all. He goes on a quest in which he has to
test his heroic strength in order to realize his destiny. He could be described as a role-model,
urging each of us to go ahead and pursue our own quest.2

5.1 The heros journey

A hero helps where help is needed. In myths this can be often very far away so the hero has to
travel. Heroes go on quests in order to save princesses, to find some special artifacts or simply
because they want to prove themselves to their kings. The quest is therefore a journey towards
a goal. The heros journey is, according to Joseph Campbell, called a monomyth. In the
monomyth the hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of
supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the
hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his
fellow man.3



Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, Page 30.

According to Campbell there are three major phases to great stories in mythology: Separation,
Initiation and Return.

There are seventeen stages of the heros journey, but rarely all of them appear in myths. I will
focus on the main stages which appear in the story of Beowulf.


5.1.1 The call to Adventure

This is the first stage of the heros journey. The adventure is always and everywhere a
passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the
boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and
courage the danger fade.5 Here the hero decides if he will respond to the call for help or
ignore it. A very important factor in the heros choice is the amount of self-confidence that he
possesses. It can happen that a hero at first refuses the call for help because he is unsure of his
abilities or he experiences a slight moment of fear.
When the story of Beowulf begins, we meet Hrothgar, a mighty warrior and king who built
Heorot Hall, the hall of halls, a wonder of the world, but the mighty hall is soon attacked by
the monster Grendel. Unable to defeat the monster, Hrothgar is helpless. News of Hrothgars
helplessness travels around the world until it reaches the Geat warrior Beowulf. Beowulf
immediately responds to the call for help and decides to assist Hrothgar. He gathers strong
warriors and together they sail towards the land of the Danes.
At this point, we meet Beowulf for the first time. The fact that he does not even think a
second of not helping Hrothgar shows how heroic he is. Some warriors would have thought a
minute or two about this decision, but not Beowulf. I immediately noticed that he is a warrior
full of confidence in his abilities. We also get the feeling that he seeks the danger and the
opportunities to prove himself as a mighty warrior.

What would be a hero without a companion? Several heroes have men accompanying them on
their quests; for instance, Batman has Robin and Jason has his Argonauts. In the case of
Beowulf, fourteen men accompany him, the best he could find. I am the opinion that because
he does not know what dangers await him, he decides that it would be more suitable if he had
help, in spite of his awareness of the strength he possesses. He presents himself as a warrior
with the abilities to lead his men into an unknown battle. Not only is he strong in body but
also in mind.

Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, Page 82.

After answering the call for help Beowulf arrives at Heorot, where he introduces himself to
Hrothgar. Immediately we can feel his greatness in the way he talks to Hrothgar. The fact that
Hrothgar immediately believes Beowulf can kill the evil monster shows how strong
Beowulfs words and reputation are. Without second thoughts he leaves his hall in Beowulfs
hands and so it seems that even before the fight with Grendel, Beowulf is presented as the
protector of Heorot.
What would a hero be without an enemy, without a character who envies his fame? There is
one person who raises doubts in Beowulfs accomplishments immediately after his arrival in
Heorots Hall, Unferth. He is the one who envies Beowulfs achievements, surely because he,
as a warrior of reputation, did not manage to kill the monster. I think Unferth can be seen as
an enemy from within. For example in the story of Christ, Judas betrayed Jesus from within
the circle of trust. Later he was sorry and the most important thing, Jesus forgave him! A
similar thing happened in the story of Beowulf. When Beowulf defeated Grendel, he proved
himself to all, including Unferth. Unferth felt sorry for doubting Beowulf and when Beowulf
went to fight the monsters mother he gave him his famous sword Hrunting. As in the story of
Jesus, Beowulf forgives Unferth for doubting his abilities. A characteristic of a true hero is his
ability to forgive. This characteristic can sometimes prove to be the weak spot of a hero,
because a person who already betrayed once could do it a second time.
The real enemy, which all but one (Beowulf) feared was Grendel. A combination of sea and
earth-monster who had been metamorphosed into a descendant of Cain.6 The fight between
Beowulf and Grendel happened in Heorot. Beowulf was, in sporting language we would say
on home ground (the ordinary world) which could give him a slight advantage over Grendel.
There are heroes, who possess special powers like Superman and there are heroes who
possess special weapons; for instance, King Arthur possesses Excalibur. Beowulf possessed
the strength of thirty men and the Corslet of Weland (magical armor). In my opinion his most
powerful ability was courage. He was so confident in his strength and fighting abilities that he
decided to fight the monster barehanded, so the fight would be equal.

Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 174.

A distinct notion of Germanic tribes was to fight without armor. In this single moment both
fighters are equal and only their strength will decide who may live or die. For my opinion he

is a little to overconfident, because he in that moment can not really know how strong Grendel
is and if he by chance possesses any special powers. Nevertheless Beowulf proves to all that
his boasts are justified with this plain victory over Grendel. Here we can see an important
characteristic of a hero, fairness. On the other side this fairness could have cost him his life
and his journey would face a prompt end.

5.1.2 Crossing the Threshold

The hero leaves his home (the Ordinary world) and enters a new region or condition with
unfamiliar rules and values. "With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the
hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the 'threshold guardian' at the entrance to
the zone of magnified power." 7
After defeating Grendel, Grendels mother comes to Heorot and leaves a blood bath behind.
Because her path of devastation is even greater than Grendels, Hrothgar asks Beowulf one
more time to assist him. Beowulf, as fearsome as he is, does not hesitate a moment. Let
whoever can win glory before death.8 Beowulf is eager to prove himself again. His desire to
fight increased from his last battle and that is why he wants to test his strength on Grendels
mother as quickly as possible. To do this he must leave the Ordinary World and journey
through the unfamiliar subterranean realm.

Cleary Heorot Hall is the Threshold and Hrothgar is his guardian or gatekeeper."Gatekeepers
are normally terrifying creatures such as Cerberus (the three-headed dog of the underworld),
Pan, Ogres, and shape-shifters of classical mythology." 9Although Hrothgar is not a terrifying
creature, he is nevertheless the guardian of the threshold. As a king and guardian he is the

Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, Page 77.

Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 46.



only one who stands between the ordinary and the mystical. He is the character who gives the
"ticket" to the unknown, mystical and dangerous. The guardian normally tests the hero if he is
worthy of passing into the unknown. In the case of Beowulf, Grendel can be seen as the test
that the guardian gives to the hero. Because he successfully passes he is permitted to leave the
Ordinary World and enter the dangerous realm.

5.1.3 The Ordeal

The Ordeal is a stage somewhere near the middle of the story where the hero enters a central
space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the
moment of death comes a new life.
Beowulf leaves Heorot Hall to fight Grendels mother. This time he is fully armed, but
why? Does he feel Grendels mother is stronger than her son? I am the opinion he developed
as a hero and became wiser. He is no longer an archetypal hero needing only his strength to
defend himself. This time he relies on the sharpness of his sword, Hrunting, and his magical
chain mail.
In the fight with Grendels mother, Hrunting fails him because this creature cannot be
killed with a normal sword. Therefore he decides to fight the monster barehanded, hoping it
would work like it did with Grendel. Beowulf seems powerless and his end inevitable. The
only reason why he survives was because he wore the Corslet of Weland (magical chain mail).
This Corslet was the model for the one Frodo Baggins wore in The Lord of the Rings (the
Corslet of Mithril). No simple dagger or sword could have pierced through it. Beowulfs
strength is not enough in this battle, and he needs some supernatural aid, which is also a
stage in the heros journey. The aid can be a supernatural mentor, who provides the hero with
talismans, or artifacts that will help him in his quest, or it can be a special item. In Beowulfs
case a sword from the time of giants, a victorious blade suitable to do battle against the
remnants of the race which produced it.10 Beowulf could have never defeated Grendels
mother had not it been for the sword of giants. Beowulfs sword is very similar to Excalibur,

the most famous sword of all. King Arthur proved himself worthy of the sword when he
pulled it out of the enchanted stone. Similarly, Beowulf proved himself worthy, because he

was the only one who possessed the strength to wield it in battle.
The place of the second fight is also very important because this time he is in hostile
territory. Here, Grendels mother definitely has the advantage. She knows where she can hide
and from which position she can best attack. The hero has very little chance of success, so the
only thing he can do is sharpen his senses and wait for his chance. One great characteristic of
heroes is their ability to adapt to the situation and make use of whatever they can find in order
to defeat evil. Another good example of a hero adapting to a situation is Odysseus. In the
giants lair he used everything that was suitable to his response. He used wood to form a huge
spear to blind the giant and his sheep to successfully escape the cave. If Grendels mother had
not had the sword of giants in her cave she surely would have killed Beowulf. In one way her
own collection of weapons became her doom.
Is faith in God essential for a heros success? Without faith in almighty God, Beowulf
would have been lost. This can be seen in his fight against Grendels mother, where he, under
the guidance of God, discovers a mighty sword and defeats the monster- Holy God decided
the victory11Some of his last words before death are an expression of gratitude towards God.
In his symbolic role, Beowulf determines his own fate, but as historical man, his fate is
determined by God.12The more he wants to take fate into his own hands the more he realizes
his life belongs to the Lord of Fate. Beowulf can be seen as a Christian knight who came to
banish evil from the land of the Danes.

5.1.4 The Reward

The Reward is the stage where the hero survives death, overcomes his greatest fear and earns
the Reward that he sought. The Heros Reward can come in many forms: a magical sword, an
PMLA, Vol. 73, No. 3, 171-183. Page 178.


Fisher, P.F. (1958).The Trials of the Epic Hero in Beowulf.


Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 51.

Helterman, J. (1968).Beowulf: The Archetype Enters History. ELH, Vol. 35, No.1, 1-20. Page 5.

elixir, greater knowledge or insight, or reconciliation with a lover. Whatever the treasure, the
Hero has earned the right to celebrate.


Beowulf receives his first and probably the most important reward from Hrothgar; I
adopt you in my heart as a dear son.13 I think there is no greater reward for a hero than the
love of a king. The second reward he received was the promise of eternal friendship and
twelve treasures for the people he loved.14 His third reward was also his last. After defeating
the dragon he earned his last treasure, which also cost him his life. Never did he want the
treasure for himself but for his people. The only reward he ever wanted was fame.
The Geat captain saw treasure in abundance but carried no spoils from those quarters except
for the head and the inlaid sword-hilt embossed with jewels.15Although there were treasures
no single man could carry, Beowulf decided to leave the cave only with the proof of his
victory (the head of the mother) and the sword hilt as a present for king Hrothgar. Beowulf is
a true humble hero, whose only desire is to achieve greatness before death.

5.1.5 Apotheosis

When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves
beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss.16
Beowulf rules his kingdom successfully for fifty years until one day a piece of an enchanted
treasure is stolen. The treasure is guarded by a mighty dragon which then awoke. Although
Beowulf did not provoke the dragon, he decides to fight the dragon and win the treasure for
his people. Both Beowulf and the dragon are guardians and protectors and that is why this
fight is inevitable. We get the feeling he knows that this fight will be his last one, because of
the fear that the Lord of Fate has left him. In the fight against the dragon, Beowulf is soon


Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 52.


Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 30.


Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Page 6.



overpowered and in need of help from his fellow companions, but only one responds to his
call for help, Wiglaf, a well-regarded Shylfing warrior. In my opinion he is the new hero of
the story. He responds to Beowulfs call for help and together they slay the dragon. He also

tries to convince or provoke the others who came with Beowulf to help him, but they are too
scared so they flee. In my opinion they refuse the call for help.
Although the hero suffers death literally, he triumphs symbolically. His heroic deeds
will never be forgotten and are therefore timeless. The heros last wish is to build a barrow on
a headland on the coast to commemorate him. Heroes are often remembered with some stone
sculptures or songs in which they may life forever. Beowulfs sacrifice for the good of his
people is similar to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every sacrifice repeats the initial sacrifice
and coincides with it.17If we take this into account we discover that the heros primary
existence is to serve and sacrifice for a greater cause.

Can a hero settle down or must he continue his journey in pursuit of evil?

There is no necessity for a hero to continue his journey unless he feels the desire to do so.
Beowulf has all the characteristics required for becoming a king. He is a strong warrior, a
leader, and he is of royal blood (probably the most important factor). Because of that it is no
surprise to me that he becomes king of the Geats. As a king he can still act as a hero,
protecting the innocent and fighting the evil. However, as king he is quite bound to his
kingdom and so everything outside is out of his reach.

5.2 The heros companion

Should a quest be taken by the hero alone? Several myths and legends describe not only
heroes but also their companions. Of course heroes are in the centre of attention, but without
Helterman, J. (1968).Beowulf: The Archetype Enters History.ELH, Vol. 35, No.1, 1-20. Page 4.


their companions, would they be half so strong and renowned? What would Odysseus be
without his companions, Peter Pan without his lost boys or Batman without Robin? Not the

hero we all love today! They all serve a certain purpose in the heros journey but in the case of
Beowulf it is quite the opposite. His companions, except for Wiglaf, are in all three fights of
no help to him. In the first fight their assistance is ineffectual and in the second they wait for
him but give up all hope of his success. Finally in the third, where Beowulf for the first time
seeks their help, they take refuge in flight. It does not surprise me that sooner or later he finds
death. The total opposite to Beowulf and his warriors is King Arthur with his knights of the
round table. All of the knights are loyal and would die for their king. For them the greatest
honor of all is to give their life to save their king. A hero does not necessarily need
companions for his journey, but the chance of a successful quest is even greater if he has

What are the most important characteristics of a hero?


Courage is something which every hero needs. Beowulf does not know what dangers await
him in Heorot and when the time comes and the monster appears the hero must not falter. He
must stand firm and face the monster without fear. Fear is something that can influence a
heros decision. For a moment or two a hero falters and already a life can be lost. The hero
must overcome his fears and show courage in order to stand a chance.


A hero is able to distinguish between what is correct and what is wrong - something which
requires a strong conscience. For instance, modern comic superheroes rarely perform the act
of killing; instead, they put the villain in front of a court where he may experience the power
of justice. The temptation to kill a villain is ever present in them; nevertheless, they always
follow their conscience and do what is right.


Selflessness is one of the prime qualities which distinguishes a hero from the rest of us. A
hero always puts others before himself. Beowulf always wants to defeat the monster by
himself, so that no other individual will experience death. To Superman, an individuals life is
worth more than his own and because of that he would not hesitate a moment to sacrifice
himself. Similarly, Beowulfs own sacrifice for his people is a true act of selflessness.


A heros intelligence is an important factor to his survival. Many battles were won because the
hero did not rush into battle but used his brain first. Ripley in Alien used her brain to outsmart
the Aliens and that is the only reason why she managed to survive each time. Beowulfs
decision to take some men into the unknown fight is also considered to be a smart move.

Strength or supernatural aid

Most of the heroes in stories and myths have some kind of special powers, supernatural
strength, or some magical items. How great are the chances of Beowulfs success against
Grendel without his strength of thirty men? Could he defeat Grendels mother without the
sword of Giants? In my opinion he would not succeed because both monsters possess
supernatural powers. The heros courage and selflessness would be insufficient. That is also
the reason why a hero needs to possess some supernatural strength or artifact in order to
defeat the monster.

Beowulf is a true hero because he possesses all the characteristics above. This is also the
reason why some movie companies decided to shoot a movie about Beowulf. The first two
movies were not very successful but the third was a true Hollywood Blockbuster.

5.3 The movie Beowulf (1999)


In this movie, Beowulf is from the beginning of the story presented as a hero who came to
fight evil. He does not respond to the call for help because he can already feel the darkness
which automatically leads him to the places where help is needed. He comes fully armed with
several weapons attached to his body. Because he can feel the evil, he already has an
advantage over the other warriors. A very important fact is that he travels alone, a lonesome
warrior seeking darkness. In his first fight against Grendel he only wounds the monster; on
the other hand, Grendel inflicts a deadly wound on Beowulf. Within a day Beowulfs wound
miraculously heals and he fights the monster a second time. But this time he decides to fight
on shallow water so he can hear the monster when it attacks. He uses the environment to his
advantage. A wise decision, because in the first fight, Grendel was on some occasions
invisible and too fast. This time Beowulf decides to fight the monster barehanded and without
armor. The fight seems to be lost for Beowulf until he finds a hidden weapon and with it he
cuts off Grendels arm. Because of the thick armor that Grendel possessed his only weak spot
was under his arm, a fact revealed to Beowulf in his first fight with the monster. He is the only
one who can defeat the monster because he is the son of an evil named Bale. Although
Beowulf does not seem as strong as the Beowulf of the epic poem, he is therefore more
cunning and courageous, a warrior trapped between two worlds, cursed to fight evil unless he
will become the evil. He seems fearless, yet there is one thing that scares him, love. How
could someone love such a cursed person? He is of the opinion that because he is cursed he is
not allowed to love. Kyra, the daughter of Hrothgar, proves to him that his way of thinking is
wrong and that her love will only make him stronger. With the newly acquired strength he
manages to defeat Grendel and his mother.
The experience of love changes the hero. In the end it seems that faith brought him to
this god forsaken place to defeat evil and find love.

5.4 The movie Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

1. The call to adventure


Like the story in the poem, Beowulf hears about Hrothgars troubles and decides to help. With
his men he sails towards the land of the Danes. Grendel is presented as a troll, although he
seems more like a Neanderthal with the ability to speak. Hrothgar accepts Beowulf in his
Kingdom with open arms, not only because they know each other but also because his faith in
the Nordic Gods is almost lost. Beowulf and his men wait every night for Grendel but he does
not attack. Because of that Beowulf starts to ask himself some questions. He wants to find out
the reason why the troll attacks. The hero is presented as a person who thinks instead of
running blindly into a fight. In the poem he does not ask himself why Grendel attacks, he just
waits for him and kills him. Here the hero seems to be more cautious with his decisions. Fear
has its place. Beowulf does not reject fear but welcomes it. He accepts fear as a part of him;
still it does not weaken him.
He seeks Grendel all around Hrothgars kingdom but he fails to find him, so he
decides to consult the town witch (supernatural aid). With the help of the witch he finds
Grendel but to his amazement Grendel refuses to fight him. In this movie Grendel is presented
as a troll with a conscience. He only kills those who are to be blamed for his fathers death.
Grendels decision has a strong influence on Beowulf. Instead of having the desire to kill the
monster, which he had at his arrival, he rather wants to warn Grendel to leave this place. The
hero experiences a change of mind. He begins to respect his opponent.

2. Apotheosis

In my opinion the stage is not achieved in his first fight against Grendel, because he does not
even hurt him, although he defeats him. Grendel cuts his arm on his own and escapes, but, in
the second fight against Grendels mother, the hero achieves apotheosis. He defeats the evil
monster and shows compassion towards the daughter of Grendel. There is a chance that, when
the daughter will grow up she will try to kill the hero; nevertheless; he spares her life.
Beowulf is presented as a hero who does not try to hide his feelings like in the first movie. In
that certain moment when he realizes that the killing of the troll was justified, his anger
towards the troll vanishes. He buries Grendel and pays him his last respects, a very interesting
ending if you ask me. The hero honors his enemy. His conscience plays a vital role in this last
scene. He knows that this is the right thing to do.


5.5 The movie Beowulf (2007)

1. The call to adventure

We meet Beowulf for the first time when he is already on his way to help Hrothgar. My first
impression was he is a warrior yearning for glory. The king welcomes him and shows him his
price, the dragons horn, if he will manage to kill the monster. Beowulf responds that he will
kill the monster for fame and not for gold. Glory means more to him than treasures. As in the
poem, Unferth raises doubts in Beowulfs achievements, but Beowulf responds in a heroic
manner, which ultimately convinces Hrothgar regarding Beowulfs ability to defeat the
monster. He speaks with such power in his voice that it raises hope in everyone. He puts his
fate in the hands of the gods and prepares to fight Grendel naked, if equal then from the
bottom to the top. In the fight he notices the monsters weakness, his sensitivity to loudness.
He punches his ear drums and wins the fight. The hero observed the enemy, located his weak
spot and made use of this information successfully. He receives the dragons horn as reward
for his victory.

2. The ordeal

With the death of Grendel, his mother pledges revenge on Beowulf. She kills all of his men
except for Wiglaf who waited at the shore. Beowulf decides to revenge his fallen Geat
warriors. He finds her cave and enters. The dragon horn (supernatural aid) lights the cave.
He is aware that the mother is a water demon and that the water is an element that he has to
avoid in order to stand a chance. In the end he falls for her beauty and her promises of a rich
life as a mighty king. He gives her a child, like Hrothgar did in the past (Grendel). Not only
did the hero fail to kill the monster, but he also helped the mother conceive another one.
He returns to Heorot where he tells everyone he killed the monsters mother and
presents Grendels head as proof, but Hrothgar doubts his words and confronts him to tell the
truth. Hrothgar feels that he is not cursed anymore; that is why he names Beowulf as their
new king upon his death. Why did Beowulf lie to all? In my opinion he was scared to admit

that the monsters mother defeated him. He knew that everything, except a glorious victory,
would be a disappointment. For the first time the hero seems vulnerable and only human.
What mortal could have resisted such a beauty?
Beowulf amazes me, not because he falls for the monster, but because he lies to
everyone. A true hero never lies, but acknowledges his defeat. This is the breaking point in the
heros personality. From here on he is a different man. The hero not only betrayed everyone
who loved him but also himself.

3. Apotheosis

Several years pass and Beowulf is an old king. His life is not as happy as he had imagined it.
He lived these past years with a lie and it tore him apart from the inside. When the dragon
appears he knows what to do in order to ease his conscience. The hero acknowledges his
mistake and pledges not to fail his people a second time. He remembers what Hrothgar told
him about the weak spot of a dragon. With this knowledge he manages to kill the dragon (his
son) and repay in some sort his mistake from several years ago. He seems to be one more time
the hero from the beginning of the story, fearless and determined to destroy all evil.
The hero is seduced by evil and turns to the dark side, but his conscience does not disappear
and after several years it manages to change him. He returns to his rightful path of heroism.


In my paper I try to show what kind of hero Beowulf is. In the poem as in the movies, he is
presented as a hero who saves the Danes from the evil monster Grendel and his mother, but
his approach and also his characteristics are different.

In the poem the most important thing he cares about is the achievement of eternal
glory. He does not care how many monsters he must kill as long as his name will never be
forgotten. As a hero he enters three fights. With each fight the level of difficulty rises. The
first fight is fought barehanded and the last with shield, armor and sword. With each fight he
comes closer to death. From battle to battle the hero learns and gains experience. He evolves
as a hero. As in the process of growing up, the hero can grow in his mind and body until, near
the end of his life, he can become a wise mentor (king). Beowulf definitely performs the role
of the savior of mankind, but the role of the savior changes from battle to battle. In his first
fight he is the defender of Heorot. In the second fight he leaves Heorot and filled with anger
becomes the avenger of the innocent. Finally, in his last fight against the dragon he has the
role of a king who sacrifices himself for his people. A hero is not merely a person who fights
the evil but also a person who is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
In the movie from 1999 he does not pursue the wish to be famous. The only thing he
desires is the destruction of evil all around the world. He has two choices; fight evil or
become evil. That is why he travels the land in pursuit of evil. Because of the fact that he is
the son of Bale he can sense evil. He enters three fights, but twice with the same opponent. In
the movie, Grendel is presented as a tougher opponent than his mother. Because of that he has
to fight him twice. The only thing he learns as a hero is that he is allowed to love.
In the movie from 2005 the hero is more like Sherlock Holmes, in constant search of
truth, than a warrior from a tribe. He tries to see the whole picture instead of only seeing what
others tell him. He is more of a modern hero, doing only what is right. The troll Grendel earns
Beowulfs respect by killing only those to be blamed for his fathers death. This is a modern
way of revenge, because normally also the Geats protecting Hrothgar would suffer death.

In the movie from 2007 the hero undergoes some changes in his personality. He enters
in three fights. The first one is a piece of cake for him. He is faster and more skillful than
Grendel, a true hero, but the second fight is a real challenge for him. He gives in to the charm
of the mother. She controls him and in a way he becomes a slave to her, no more worthy of
the title hero! His last fight is against his son, the dragon. Before the fight he experiences a
complete change of heart. One more time he presents himself as the hero from the first fight,

courageous and cunning. Despite his advanced years he overpowers the dragon and kills it.
He dies next to the dragon, knowing that he paid for his mistake.

The various stories of Beowulf are similar, but the hero is a different person every time. He is
not almighty nor is he flawless. He has the strength similar to god, yet he is vulnerable like a
common man. One thing remains common to all the stories; he is and always will be a hero.
His journey is a life changing factor. The dangers he encounters, the people he meets and the
trials he must face largely contribute to the shaping of his personality. When the hero reaches
the end of his journey it does not matter if he lives or dies; the only thing that matters is that
his story of heroism will never be forgotten.


Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber Limited.

Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University

Fisher, P.F. (1958).The Trials of the Epic Hero in Beowulf. PMLA, Vol. 73, No. 3, 171-183.
Helterman, J. (1968).Beowulf: The Archetype Enters History. ELH, Vol. 35, No.1, 1-20.
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Hero. Pridobljeno 2.11.2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero
Voytilla, S.(1999).Excepts from Myth and the Movies. Pridobljeno 2.11.2011,
Stennud.com (2006). Psychoanalysis of Myth. Pridobljeno 2.11.2011,
Milum, L. (2003).The Heros Journey: A Campbellian Look at the Metaphorical Path to
Personal Transformation. Pridobljeno 2.11.2011,
Hero, Questions and Answers. Pridobljeno 2.11.2011, http://tatsbox.com/hero/heroques.htm