A hero is defined as, “a person who is admired…for…outstanding achievements…or noble qualities.” (dictionary.com). Heroes are well-known for their actions of being brave, powerful, and acting with honor. Courage can not be evaluated from the outside, though, as courage comes from the inside. “‘Bravery is the management of fear,” said Dr. Tissington. He then goes on to say: ‘…We cannot predict who is going to be brave and who is not.’” (Understanding the psychology of bravery and courage, 2 November 2010).
Beowulf, however, exceeds all doubt on whether or not he is valiant. Beowulf is interpreted as an epic hero, meaning Beowulf is a gallant and titled character who is admired for his prominent attainments while being affected by imposing events. Joseph Campbell’s, “The Hero’s Journey,” is an archetype that Beowulf follows. “The Hero’s Journey,” outlines the steps a hero takes on their expedetion to gaining their well-renowned title. In total, the character must face, if not all, at least three main stages of their journey which include: departure, initiation, and return.
Beowulf tells a story for which a heroic man proceeds to rescue the people of Denmark and eventually becomes the ruler himself. Beowulf is often portrayed as an epic poem, due to Beowulf’s heroic quests and one-on-one combats featured throughout the story. Beowulf possesses the characteristics of a hero based on the events he partakes in for the duration of the poem and the similarities shared between the cycle of “The Hero’s Journey.”
Beowulf begins by introducing the “call to adventure,” meaning Beowulf recieved a message signaling for his aid. “Beowulf…Heard how Grendel filled nights with horror And quickly commanded a boat fitted out, Proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king, Would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, Now when help was needed.” (Raffel, 412). The “call to adventure” is a transition from the ordinary world to the special world, the special world being the quest to an unfamiliar setting. When taking the “call to adventure” or in this case, voyaging to assist Hrothgar and his people, Beowulf delivered a sense of dauntlessness seeing as traveling to the special world leads to the unknown. Alongside Beowulf were a group of his most trustworthy and courageous men, “So Beowulf Chose the mightiest men he could find, The bravest and the best of the Geats, fourteen In all…” (Raffel, 412). Once everything was accounted for, Beowulf would journey to the Hrothgar’s land and battle the threat that has been terrorizing the Danish people.
As the story develops, the stages in “The Hero’s Journey” begin to become more significant, such as how relevant “crossing the first threshold” is to Beowulf. Once “crossing the first threshold,” there is sensibly no turning back. “The first threshold usually marks a major decision…This first breakthrough is a feat within itself; however, it is but the first of many turning points.” (How to Use the Hero’s Journey, Jeffrey). Beowulf and the Geats’ advance to their destination, never looking back to their homeland, “…Wulfgar…addressed The waiting seafarers with soldier’s words: ‘My lord…commands me To tell you…that having come to him from over the open Sea you have come bravely and are welcome.’” (Raffel, 413). Beowulf contains many turning points and has multiple thresholds, the battle with Grendel being the first of three.
As the reader continues to read Beowulf, they will encounter the “approach to the inmost cave.” Many obstacles will be faced in this part of the cycle, but the main character will exceed all complications. “Approach to the inmost cave” is the hero’s second major decision, which may lead to physical or mental risks, “…Grendel…came to, ripped him apart, cut His body to bits with powerful jaws, Drank the blood from his veins and bolted Him down, hands and feet…Grendel’s great teeth came together, Snapping life shut…” (Raffel, 416). This stage prepares the protagonist to enter the war zone, which leads to the next level, the “supreme ordeal.”
Lastly for the continuation of the “fufillment” part of the stages, Beowulf goes through the “supreme ordeal.” The “supreme ordeal” being a major obstacle that may lead the main character to death. This ordeal tricks the reader into thinking the protagonist will end in demise, but instead, the opposite occurs. During Beowulf’s battle with Grendel, Beowulf learns the hard way that Grendel had been enchanted to reverse all actions set to kill him, “…they could hack at Grendel From every side…but…the sharpest and hardest iron Could not scratch at his skin…that sin-stained demon Had bewitched all men’s weapons, laid spells That blunted every mortal man’s blade…” (Raffel, 417). The result ends in Beowulf’s victory, as Beowulf outsmarted Grendel and left him to retreat back to his den, “…Grendel escaped, But wounded as he was could flee to his den…Only to die…” (Raffel, 418). Beowulf had summoned all the inner power he possessed in order to defeat the enemy, making him triumphant.
With all the battles Beowulf has partaken in, he finishes victorious. The element “ultimate treasure” is seen three times throughout the poem, one after every battle fought and conquered by Beowulf. Beowulf had completed all his objectives that he promised the Danish people, which was keeping most of them safe, “…He who had come to them from across the sea, Bold and strong-minded, had driven affliction Off…He was happy…Beowulf, A prince of the Geats, had killed Grendel, Ended the grief, the sorrow, the suffering Forced on Hrothgar’s helpless people By a bloodthirsty fiend…” (Raffel, 418). Beowulf’s accomplishments benefit him in the long run. For example, when Hrothgar dies after Beowulf has defeated Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar passes on his title to Beowulf, making him the king of the Danes. “As a result, the hero claims some treasure, special recognition, or power.” (What makes a hero, Winkler).
Unfortunately, Beowulf doesn’t make it to experience his “rebirth.” Beowulf tragicially dies after sleighing the dragon, with assitance from Wiglaf, “Wiglaf joins Beowulf, who again attacks the dragon single-handedly; but the remnant of Beowulf’s sword shatters, and the monster wounds him in the neck…” (Raffel, 92). Beowulf’s dying request is to be buried in the treausre the dragon had been guarding, making “ultimate treausre” his last stop in the cycle. “…Wiglaf went back, anxious To return while Beowulf was alive, to bring him Treasure they’d won together. He ran, Hoping his wounded king, weak And dying, had not left the world too soon. Then he brought their treasure to Beowulf…” (Raffel, 94). Beowulf’s death concludes “The Hero’s Journey” as he failed to accomplish a “resurrection” or “freedom to live.” All of Beowulf’s achievements, though, have earned him the rightful title of being a hero.
Beowulf may not have traditionally ended by continuing the never ending cycle, as stated in “The Hero’s Journey,” but that doesn’t make Beowulf any less of a hero. Beowulf was determined and fearless, making him the exact definiton of a hero. Many will compare Beowulf to Tolkien’s The Hobbit because of their similar literary and cultural elements or Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy because of the similar characteristics between the main characters. Beowulf ended in a tragedy, but his performance will remain heroic.