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Two Sides of Beowulf

In the epic, Beowulf, Beowulf is characterized into two different identities: Beowulf as a
humble and defensive warrior and Beowulf as an aggressive and offensive brute. Each of these
identities define the ideals and vices of the allegorical hero and are portrayed in the battles
between Beowulf and the antagonists. Despite his overwhelming heroic character, Beowulf
eventually succumbs to the vices of materialism and aggression, strays from the path of the hero,
and eventually dies during his battle against the dragon.
In the beginning of the epic, Beowulf establishes his role as the hero and defender against
Grendel, a remorseless monster who wreaks havoc in Herot. In this situation, Grendel, being the
first antagonist, establishes the offensive. Due to the fact that Grendel strikes first portrays him as
the aggressor. In the journey of the hero, the hero must not strike first, rather he/she must defend
and refrain from seeking conflict (Kearney). Thus, Beowulf engages the monster for noble
purposes; he intends to help Hrothgar and defend the Danes from Grendel. Beowulf refrains
from attacking Grendel for purposes of aggression but rather takes a defensive position. As a
result, Beowulf is portrayed as the humble warrior who does not seek out conflict, thus fulfilling
his role as the hero.
Once Grendel is slain, Beowulf then fights Grendel's mother. Similar to Grendel,
Grendel's mother takes the offensive and strikes first:
She had pounced and taken one of the retainers
in a tight hold, then headed for the fen.
To Hrothgar, this man was the most beloved...
There was an uproar in Heorot. She had snatched their
trophy,
Grendel's bloodied hand. (1294-1296, 1302-1304)
In this passage, Grendel's mother kills Aeschere and steals the hand of Grendel. As another
antagonist, Grendel's mother provokes the first attack. Although Beowulf takes a defensive
retaliation against Grendel's mother, he uses his sword against her. In the allegorical battle
between good and evil, the hero must fight evil without his/her own weapons or the hero must
use the enemy's weapon against them (Kearney). Beowulf strays from the path of the hero and

uses his own weapon, resulting in no damage towards Grendel's mother.


Beowulf then experiences ire, one of the seven deadly sins, as he throws his weapon
away and takes the offensive. Due to the fact that Beowulf strays from the path of the hero and
attacks Grendel's mother results in his near death. However, Beowulf takes a defensive
retaliation and kills Grendel's mother with her own sword. Beowulf relies on her weapon as a
defensive response, fulfills the requirements of the hero at the last opportune moment, and kills
Grendel's mother.
Finally, Beowulf fights the dragon in the second part of the epic. Similar to Grendel's
mother, Beowulf makes the same mistake and uses his sword against the dragon. As a result of
his reliance on a weapon, the dragon is unharmed, Naegling snapped, and Beowulf is bitten on
the neck by the dragon (2690-2693). As a phallic symbol, the sword, Naegling, portrays
Beowulf's masculinity. When the sword breaks in half, Beowulf's masculinity is broken and
becomes vulnerable, thus allowing the dragon to poison him. Beowulf's offensive stance and
reliance on a weapon resulted in his drifting away from the path of the hero and ultimately led to
his death.
The fall of Beowulf derives from the eventual failure of his ability to follow the path of
the humble hero. Beowulf is victorious when he acts defensively and follows the path of the
hero, however Beowulf succumbs to the reliance of weapons and the offensive character of the
antihero and strikes against the antagonists. Through Beowulf, the status quo of human morality
is established, promoting humble, defensive actions and rejecting aggression and reliance on
material goods.

Works Cited
Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney.
New York: WW. Norton & Company,
2000.
Kearney, James "The Cosmogonic Cycle" Marquette University High School. n.p. n.d.