Beowulf is an epic that has been created as a result of generations of oral tradition and storytelling. Infused with elements of Christianity and paganism, the story portrays the heroic journey of a character as he overcomes many obstacles and in the end he attains victory for his people. Today, this work of literature is seen as a defining landmark in the history of the English language and many of the themes and morals presented throughout the story are still prevalent over a millennium later.
Throughout Beowulf, bravery is a recurring theme with numerous motifs and symbols within the epic which exemplifies the idea that an unbreakable spirit leads to courage, regardless of circumstances. Beowulf’s acts of bravery in the face of seemingly hopeless odds is a reappearing instance of this ideal as all throughout the poem, he is depicted as the most daring and heroic character.
Beowulf is described as a man whose ‘spirit did not break’ even when ‘the ancestral blade would keep its edge, as the dragon discovered as soon as they came together in combat’ (Lines 2599-2601); even though the blade does indeed fail, he keeps his spirit. The motif of a weapon is evident within this quote and it shows how throughout the epic, swords and shields are used as a means to show strength and prowess and in this case, a means to overcome adverse situations.
Beowulf is littered with occurences of violence that is eventually overcome by Beowulf. The earliest antagonist that Beowulf is the monster, Grendel, who has been terrorizing the people of the Geats and who is seems impossible to vanquish. Yet through the sheer magnitude of Beowulf’s expertise, he is defeated and “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.” (Lines 514-518) As a symbol of both victory and vengeance, the remains of Grendel serve to show how in the end that good is able to triumph over against evil no matter the odds stacked against the hero.
Alongside his immense courage and willingness to do anything to protect his people, Beowulf also preserves his own honor in his numerous crusades against enemies of the Geats. When he is tasked with facing the dragon he says that “I’d use no sword, no weapon, if this beast Could be killed without it, crushed to death Like Grendel, gripped in my hands and torn Limb from limb. But his breath will be burning Hot, poison will pour from his tongue.” (Lines 668-672) Like a true warrior, he believes that in order for him to rightfully achieve victory against the beast he must accomplish it through his bare hands thus showing his tenacity and strength that he holds in order to face a daunting creature unarmed.
Likewise, his counterpart in Grendel displays immorality in his attacks as he “Went up to Herot, wondering what the warriors Would do in that hall when their drinking was done. He found them sprawled in sleep, suspecting Nothing, their dreams undisturbed.” (Lines 31-34) This act of murdering people in their sleep shows how Grendel is ethically beneath the standard of Beowulf as unlike the courageous protagonist he takes advantage of those who are virtually unable to defend themselves.
The usage of gold is exhibited throughout the poem as both a means of reward and a defining aspect of victory in battle. With every encounter that Beowulf triumphs in, he is greeted with a bounty of gold to represent his success in battle. Following his subjugation of both Grendel and his mother, Beowulf decides to “[give] file golden sword hilt to Hrothgar, who held it in his wrinkled hands and stared at what giants had made, and monsters owned.” (Lines 1676-1680) The handing over a weapon represents the idea that Beowulf is spreading his courageous ideals to Hrothgar as by giving the sword he is in a sense giving Hrothgar the strength required to vanquish one’s enemies. He tells Hrothgar that “You, your brave soldiers, anyone of all the people in Denmark, old or young—they, and you, may now sleep without fear of either monster, mother or son.” (Lines 1672-1675) This sword is representative of the necessary bravery needed face adverse circumstances and this idea is recurring throughout the epic.
At the end of his life following his battle with the dragon, Beowulf addresses Wiglaf a final time and “gave the golden necklace from around lus throat to Wiglaf, gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings, and his mail shirt, and ordered him to use them well.” (Lines 2809-2813) Once again, Beowulf is using his golden armor as a means to symbolically give Wiglaf the necessary valor that Beowulf had and the ability to face any unfavorable situations that the Geats people may find themselves in.
Bravery and heroism are common morals found throughout Beowulf. From the recurring motif of weapons and gold to the idea that honor represents gallantry and courage in the hero, Beowulf is chock full of symbols relating to the overall theme of courage and the eternal triumph of good over evil. The ideas presented throughout epic poem all relate to the aspect of the early British culture and these ideals of bravery represent the moral thinking of that time period.