The Downfall of Oedipus and Beowulf


King Oedipus written by Sophocles and Beowulf written by an anonymous author is two epics that narrate the tragic lives of two heroes who existed in the pre-Christian era. King Oedipus derived from the Greek mythical stories where goddesses and gods played an essential role in human life that saw the noble King undergo the saddest moments a man can experience in life. On the other hand, Beowulf is based on the oral tales of ancient Scandinavia where the Beowulf the king meets tragedy after a life of victorious accomplishments. Both kings exist during the pagan era where man is subjected to the whims of fate. This paper narrates how both of the mighty heroes succumbed to their nemesis, unknowingly or knowingly they drink from the same cup of fate.

King Oedipus

The book was written in the 420BC Hellenic setting that depicts the story of a man’s desire for discovery through persistence, the guilt of incest and patricide, and his reaction to that discovery (Woodruff and Paul 77). The story creates misconceptions that make the reader to diametrically apply some of the opposed concepts and theories in an effort to untangle the meaning of the story. Keeping a Greek touch on the story, the writer manages to create suspense that engulfs the discovery. The formula of Aristotle takes root in the story through the emergence of catastrophe, recognition, and catharsis (Woodruff and Paul 105). King Oedipus does not only shows the story of an individual but also narrates the events undergone by a man in his life. The tale does not evolve around king’s inward journey to his destruction nor his intellectual adventure to look for answers to his fundamental puzzle of self-discovery; it is a narration of an intellectual who tells his reaction to his intellect.


Beowulf is a legendary story of an ancient existing German epic that reigned during the old German culture (Bishop and Chris 45). The legend was an icon of humanity, courage, and kingly manners affiliated with his sense of responsibility. A monster called Grendel consecutively attacks Heorot- a magnanimous mead-hall built by King Hrothgar and kills people every night. The Geatish warrior known as Beowulf come to Danes purposely to cleanse the Heorot (Ethelbert 91). His purpose is achieved where he conquers the monster and goes ahead to kill the sea-monster, mother of Grendel. The reign of Beowulf lasts for 50 years but on the last phase of his life, he is confronted by another challenge. During that time, a dragon is in his opposition and Beowulf fails to kill the dragon during combat. Though the dragon dies, it leaves him with a fatal wound that sees the end of his life leading to his fall. Beowulf and Oedipus are characters whose lives are a mixture of respect, horror, and woe.

The intense influence of fate is evident in both tales. Due to their heroic characters, there exists a complete stoic acquiescence of fate lacking in their attributes. The ability to fight their enemies; they win all their battles and follow their own path in accordance to their philosophies and wishes (Paul 36). They decide or accept the punishments and rewards that accompany their deeds. There is no regret for what fate has destined for them. This paper delves on the shares of Oedipus and Beowulf in their downfall; discussing as to what extent are they responsible for their fall apart from the allotment of fate in their lives. More emphasis is laid as to whose curse they both fall.

The life of King Oedipus and Beowulf

The lives of both Oedipus and Beowulf have a correlation in that both were Kings, philanthropic rulers; in both lives, they enjoyed golden days of peace and prosperity and later surrendered to the fate that was God-ordained and unavoidable (Woodruff and Paul 135). Oedipus is born in a royal family as a prince but he is abandoned by his parent for death. He surprisingly survives and grows up as a prince in an adopted family; through fate, Oedipus ascends to throne that he was once expelled from; he starts a family and begets children becoming a great king during his reign though later his kingship days prove to be the darkest days of his life (Ethelbert 45).

Beowulf, after his father is banished for his failure to repay life-money or Weirgield, King Hrothgar’s land offers him monetary support and asylum in his youthful years. Due to the invaluable service by the king, Beowulf dedicates his life to cleansing Heorot after being invaded by a monster known as Grendel that killed people every night (Woodruff and Paul 96).

After defeating the monster and killing his mother, the sea monster, he is gifted with huge wealth and embarks on his journey home. He rules his homeland for fifty years but during his old age, a dragon invades his land. Unable to come out for combat, the dragon despite being killed, gives him a fatal wound that marks his death. In both Oedipus and Beowulf, the two heroes achieve glory in their youthful years but fate brings tragedy in their late years leading to their deaths (Woodruff and Paul 97).

The role of fate in Oedipus and Beowulf

Oedipus and Beowulf as seen as tales of the tragedy caused by fate. Both heroes fall prey to a plan of fate. Oedipus who appears to be the most wretched of both stands unparallel with ill-fate after being doomed before birth as he is pictured as his father’s killer and husband to his mother (Ethelbert 47). His efforts to escape the doom prophecy fails and there exist no dissent by referring to him as the cursed one and believe that he deserves the life he lives of tragedy as the foulest sinner.

All his bereavement and punishment cannot be attributed to his sins. Fate is not depicted in this book as to have construed any punishment for Oedipus as the sins he committed were pre-settled and he was left to choose his path and he tried his best. The sins committed by Oedipus were common in mythology (Woodruff and Paul 55). Incest and murder were common sins. As it is noted, the soothsayer does not mention anywhere the king would be punished for his childhood sins nor does he explain the kind of punishment that would befall him. The horoscopic truth foretells a fate that is more severe than a punishment.

At one point, Oedipus inflicts heart-piercing self-torture by his heroic surrender and dreadful utterances to the agony and punishment leaving aside the horror of fate. Oedipus is seen carrying personal judgment, not related to Delphic order and finally undertakes a desolate, death-defying journey of that sightless and friendless king that ends at his death (Paul 94). It is for a fact that he is no less accountable for the sufferings he experiences in his life.

In Beowulf, Beowulf personally decides to fight the dragon. The desire to fight was not for any compassionate reason or by being bound by the call of duty as compared to his fight 50 years ago. It was wise to allow the dragon to be the sole custodian of the hoard and even his chieftains had advised him against annoying the dragon. Wiglaf states:

“…Nothing we advised could ever convince
the prince we loved, our land‘s guardian,
not to vex the custodian of the gold,
let him lie where he was long accustomed…” (Ethelbert 134)

Nonetheless, Wiglaf’s explanation as that being cruel fate that coaxed the king to such an encounter, Beowulf share of his suffering is not scanty.

It is the tendency of man to brave the adversity of becoming a hero by ignoring fate and that is depicted in the lives of the two heroes. There is the predominant exercise of power by fate in both scenarios but there is also an aspect of genuine invite of punishments; one by uttering declaring curses upon self that come to be and the other one by foolishly challenging dragon despite the warning from his wise advisors (Woodruff and Paul 66). One might argue out that if both parties had taken caution of their actions prior to their demise, they could have lived to tell a different story. On the other hand, fate is seen to dominate the lives of these two heroes immensely. Their early victories and the road to glory promised a good ending that lacks in both tales (Woodruff and Paul 89). Ignorance is another virtue that fate in this scenario tends to feed on. Any mistake that both heroes made reciprocated to a more dreadful consequence beyond their control.


The analysis of the downfall of Beowulf and Oedipus depicts a tale of fallen heroes and kings where fall and defeat take the core theme despite them proving prudence and courage in their former conflicts. The endeavor to rise and stand as conquerors is triumphed by life’s woes in both cases. Oedipus and Beowulf are infused with a superabundance of kingly wisdom and knightly valor and dexterity to rule a nation. But they deny their call and deity’s will by entangling themselves in the labyrinth of the concept of punishment and crime, rise and fall.

Oedipus fall comes when he embarks on a journey of self-realization and identity crisis that later surpasses the personal aspects and becomes universal. His misery intensifies when he curses himself and pronounces punishment upon himself that came to pass. In Beowulf, who he has the hope of leaving a mark in the good book of history as a successful leader, falls into the temptation abyss; his wisdom and morality are replaced with intemperance.

The intemperance and resistance to taking heed of wise advice from his advisors work effectively to see a tragic end of their lives. The overindulgence of Oedipus in carrying on retributive duties makes him leave no room for God or fate. His decision to ignore Delphi’s prophecy and Teirasisius and Jocasta’s admonitions not to continue with his discovery journey shows an arrogant kingly shrug. Oedipus vividly opens the self-realization door and finds himself in a place of compromise where he cannot come out. His past chivalry became ignominy and this witlessness turned into sin. He is a major shareholder in his life’s devastations.

Beowulf follows the same path of fate. He deteriorates his glory and humiliates his heroic enigma by giving in to the strength of temptation. He fails to heed to the advice of his wise men and goes ahead to fight the dragon. The decision to face the dragon may have been brought about by his past experiences but leads him to the end of his life. Facing the dragon is similar to biblical narrations of the serpent that made Adam and Eve to be expelled from heaven. Beowulf is actively responsible for the curse in his life and in the nation. He leaves the land leaderless, unprotected, unguarded, and in darkness. Despite the active role of fate in both lives of Beowulf and Oedipus, they are both responsible for the afflictions they experience in their lives that lead their fall and death.