In his own homeland, the thane of Hygelac, the valiant Geat, heard the tales told of Grendel. This Geat was among men the greatest in strength, most noble and mighty, for as long as his life-days were destined to last.
Heroism is the glorification of the warrior hero and of the heroic code of conduct. This first appearance of Beowulf in the poem shows him to be a worthy representative of that code. The hero is valiant, strong, noble, and mighty, a legend in his own time and loyal to his leader Hygelac. And he is on the alert for wrongs to be righted. From the moment Beowulf hears about Grendel, the audience of that time would naturally infer that the hero would eventually take on the monster.
Your fame is renowned wherever men journey, my dear friend Beowulf, among all the peoples. You hold power with balance, with wisdom of mind. Now I shall fulfill our friendship as we earlier agreed. And you shall bring peace to your people for a long time to come, a source of strength to the heroes.
This excerpt is part of a speech made by Hrothgar to Beowulf after Beowulf has killed his second monster, Grendel’s mother. Hrothgar is articulating the basic values of the heroic code. The warrior hero gains fame through strength. His heroic character combines power and wisdom, and his strongest obligation is to bring peace to his people. Hrothgar is about to fulfill his friendship by loading Beowulf and his band with treasure as their reward for defeating the monsters and removing the threat to the kingdom.
And so he survived, the son of Ecgtheow, every one of the dangers of brutal battles, his tests of courage, till at last the day came when he would be forced to fight with the dragon.
The poet summarizes the later part of Beowulf’s life, during which the hero became a king. While the aging hero prepares himself to fight the dragon, the poet reviews other battles Beowulf has fought and won over the years. This review describes how Beowulf used his power to restore order, maintain peace, and avenge wrongs. Beowulf’s heroic code requires him to respond to every test of courage and to remain a warrior to the end.
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