"It's better to be good than evil, but one achieves goodness at a terrific cost."(Stephen King) is a statement that greatly pertains to Epic Poems, and the heroes that are glorified within them. Over the course of time, it seems as though each great civilization has its own Epic Hero. While these epics generally reflect upon aspects of the society in which the author lived in, a general trend seems to be noticeable throughout. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon poem, by an unknown poet, that retells the deeds of a mighty warrior and king, Beowulf. The epic Beowulf is not an exception to the patterns that seem to manifest themselves in the epics throughout time. Albeit Beowulf is a great warrior, cleansing the kingdom of many beasts that torment the townspeople, he also retains many characteristics that are seemingly evil. Qualities of the Epic Heroes throughout the civilizations generally represent both good, and evil.
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While Beowulf displays many characteristics that represent good, he also shows characteristics that represent evil, as well. The key trait that Beowulf contains is his extreme arrogance. One of the prime examples of this is during Beowulf's initial conversation with Hrothgar, in which he speaks of his former deeds with extreme pomposity. Beowulf says "â€¦Many a deed of honor and daring I've done in my youthâ€¦The best of my peopleâ€¦had in remembrance my courage and might."(li.311-321). After Beowulf says that, he carries on about his past quarrels with miscellaneous beasts, which he had slain. While Beowulf is undoubtedly strong, he is far too boastful; insisting on speaking of his great conquests of old. During that same speech, Beowulf beings talking about how he will defeat Grendel, saying "Single-handed I'll settle the strife!...With hand-grip only I'll grapple with Grendel; Foe against foe I'll fight to the deathâ€¦"(li. 330, 342-343). While Beowulf did end up killing Grendel, he had too high an expectation for himself, and also went too far in trying to prove his strength, in that he said he was going to defeat Grendel with his bare hands.
Beowulf, containing both good and bad characteristics, is a good representation of the Epic Hero. The traits that are manifested throughout the Beowulf are a recurring theme throughout other Epic Poems. Some things that occur during Beowulf can be directly contrasted to many other epics, specifically the Odyssey. Near the end of Beowulf, He kills Grendel's mother, who had been seeking revenge because of her son's death. During the fight, Beowulf "Thrust [his sword] at the throat, broke through the bone rings; The stout blade stabbed through her fated flesh. She sank in deathâ€¦"(li. 1055-1057). Beowulf's heroic killing of the evil troll can be directly compared to the scene at the end of the Odyssey, in which Odysseus kills the banquet hall full of suitors. In both epics, it is a scene of good- in that the Hero of the story slays the loathed villain of the story to restore peace to the community. Also, Beowulf's aforementioned hubris is also a recurring theme. It seems as though the Epic Hero in most of the poems is extremely arrogant (generally for good reason, however). When Beowulf first came to the mead hall, Unferth began taunting him. It was then that Beowulf began telling a story of a swimming contest he was in. Towards the end, Beowulf rebuked Unferth, saying to him "And little I've heard of such valiant adventures from you! Neither Breca nor you in the press of battle ever showed such daring with dripping swordsâ€¦"(li. 451-453). While Unferth did initiate the argument, Beowulf began boasting about his past trials, swimming and fighting the sea-beasts, then asking Unferth if he had been in such valiant adventures. The context is different, but this representation of 'evil' in Beowulf is much like an event that occurred in the Odyssey, when Odysseus taunts the Kyklopes, Polyphemos, after stabbing his eye out; an undesirable action by a so-called epic hero.
While The Epic Hero, which in this case would be Beowulf, does represent in some ways evil, the good generally overcompensates for that. As Stephen King said earlier, with all good comes evil. It isn't possible for someone, or something, to be completely on the good side of the spectrum. With all good comes some evil, that generally has some correlation with said goodness. In Beowulf's case, the many great deeds that he had accomplished throughout his life, and the story itself, came with his rather pompous personality. The greater his achievements, the greater his ego became; his evil reflected his good. While Epic Heroes obviously are tales of fiction, or complete exaggeration, the morals and lessons taught by the poems, and the personas of said heroes do not fall too far out of line, regarding truthfulness. As exemplified in Beowulf, good cannot be without evil, even with the greatest of men.
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