|Beowulf vs. Grendel, TheFool432|
First off, what on earth do we actually mean when we say "hero"? By the Anglo-Saxon code under which he should properly be judged, Beowulf is as close as you can get to perfection. He is a valiant fighter whose prowess commands the respect of the men he leads. He never falls victim to false modesty; his boasts are always justified by his feats, and he isn't shy about explaining his worth. He jumps at the chance to win glory, even - especially - embracing the danger by which that glory can be had. And when he comes into wealth and power, he shares it out among his friends and thanes, as a good lord should.
|Beowulf Battles Grendel's Mother, John Howe|
And what do we mean now, when we talk about heroes?
It's a considerably more complicated question than it used to be. Modern myth-readers are less inclined to give heroes a pass on their brutality or their stupidity simply because of their divine birth or their astonishing strength. Hercules is superhuman; he also murdered his first wife and all their kids in a fit of temporary insanity. Achilles is a self-absorbed whiny one-man killing machine. And Beowulf is a glory hound.
|Beowulf's Funeral, John Howe|
|Beowulf's Funeral, Virgil Burnett|
|Beowulf, Olga Falinskaya|
Is Beowulf problematic? Yes. He's too proud, too reckless, too overconfident. But he commands admiration in spite of his flaws. He is a hero, but not a divine one. Despite his supernatural foes, Beowulf is heroism at its most human: endangered by its weaknesses, but always capable of surpassing greatness.