Features of a National Hero as Reflected in Beowulf
The meat of an epic is usually derived from the violent and social chaos which is a central conflict often pitting the hero versus an unjust king. Traditionally the hero is brave; of course, he is almost superhuman in strength, successful in battle and contemptuous of his wounds – even of death. In addition, the hero is of noble stock or sometimes he maybe even semi-divine. Without these, a man would never be recognized as a hero. Yet, within this traditional context, a hero becomes infinitely more interesting as a literary character when he deviates from the usual heroic pattern.
Beowulf is regarded as a national hero for his concern with the national interests for the sake of the nation. He fights with some adverse situations and finally faces mortal wound in the fight with the dragon and dies. Thus he dedicates his life to his people. Like a national hero, he has a number of lofty qualities, his power of action and of suffering. He leads a venturesome rebellion against a man-eating monster called Grendel. He kills Grendel with great success. Thus we see that Beowulf deserves the quality and symbol of national energy, rebellion, and heroic splendor. Beowulf has fluctuations in his boldness; he is as firm as a mountain and as sharp as volcano who infuses new energy and hope into the veins of the English people.
Beowulf, as described by the poet has the dignity and splendor of the heroes of national epics. He fights for the national prestige and is rewarded and thanked. As we are acquired with Greek heroic ages through the heroic description of their famous heroes, in the same way, Beowulf acquaints us with the manner of that time, the picture of society at the court of a warrior, the courtesies, the beer drinking, the exchange of gifts.
Like the national heroes, Beowulf is a hero of masculine character inspired with the zeal to kill and get killed. Beowulf whole-heartedly sacrifices himself to the service of the people of the country. His glory is, indeed based on the fact that he saves the people from the hands of the foe to God and he readily offers thanks to his maker without whose favor he could not even challenge the monsters.
The national feeling acts as a supreme phenomenon to Beowulf and the poet has emphasized on that point mainly. For national loyalty leads Beowulf to endanger his own life and after his heroic death, his dead body has been buried with the same glory and pomp as happened to the national heroes after their deaths. Beowulf’s ultimate victory over the monster Grendel in Hrothgar’s hall Heorot shows us the victory of Achilles over Hector in Homer’s Iliad. One of the most important evidence of identifying Beowulf as a national hero lies in the fact that he believes weird or fate like that of the people of that time. In many respects Beowulf eclipses even Achilles as Achilles is described by Homer – wrathful where Beowulf always proves sufficient benevolent and dedicated to people. even at the time of his final doom, his thoughts are not away from the care and welfare of his people and he orders Wiglaf to look after the Geats. In Beowulf’s character, there is also a strong plea for the renunciation of private and core which alienate man from God.
To conclude it would not be inappropriate to agree with Compton Rickett: “What Achilles is to the Greek, Romulus to the Roman, Charlemagne to the French, Beowulf is to the Englishman.