Essay On Heroism In Beowulf

1894 Words 8 Pages
Arthur Ashe, a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once said that “true heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” There is a sharp contrast between these words and the aggressive depictions of so-called heroism that abound in popular media. Take a look around you- from movie posters to book covers, images of heroism defined as synonymous to violent masculinity prevail. In Ashe’s eyes, to be heroic is to be empathetic and caring, willing to put others before yourself. Unfortunately, the popular depiction of heroism is less focused on morals and intent, and more on strength and results. This incorrect representation of heroes …show more content…
After his defeat of Grendel, Beowulf addresses the Danes, saying of the battle “I wish / I could show you, here in Herot, his corpse / Stretched on this floor! (...) Let him burn / In torment, lying and trembling, waiting / For the brightness of God to bring him his reward” (42). Though Grendel died in an honest battle against a creature seeking to destroy him and his kin, the very sort of death most valued by the Geats, Beowulf speaks confidently of his condemnation. He states that Grendel’s killings were unforgivable but also passionately tells of the pain and humiliation that he wished for Grendel even after his death. This disconcertingly sadistic boastfulness and disrespect for the bodies of his enemies is further demonstrated by the fact that after Beowulf killed Grendel, “no Dane doubted / The victory, for the proof, hanging high / From the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was the monster’s / Arm, claw and shoulder and all” (37). Beowulf claimed to want an honest, maximally honorable victory over Grendel, and yet he was not content with simply killing Grendel, but chose to dishonor him in death, too. It is clear that, given his treatment of Grendel’s arm, Beowulf did not see him as a respected opponent to be fought fairly. This, of course, would be logical, …show more content…
He is celebrated not for the goodness of his heart or the purity of his intentions, but for the victories he achieves at the cost of the suffering of others, such as the innocent man he allows to die in order to defeat Grendel in a more honorable way. True heroism is found in the moral opposition to evil, not in the strength it takes to destroy individuals seen as embodiments of it. In “Beowulf” and other works featuring heroes defined by force, evil is depicted as a monster to battle, a physical entity that can be destroyed through skill and strength alone. Violence is shown as that which makes the hero a hero, but also that which makes a monster a monster. As our society continues to define heroism in this limited and incorrect way, we encourage generalizations about good and evil and justify the use of violence against the people we decided were unworthy for the same actions. Strength and courage can be valuable traits in a hero, but they do not mean anything if they are not used with the right motives. In the real world, unlike in “Beowulf,” heroism is separated from villainy not by its ability to win in the end, but by the intentions that drive it from the

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