Relation of Beowulf to Modern Society’s Notion of Heroism

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Relation of Beowulf to Modern Society’s Notion of Heroism

Beowulf, an epic poem from the Anglo-Saxon period, offers insights into ancient notions of heroism that still resonate in modern society. This essay examines how the character of Beowulf relates to contemporary ideas of heroism, exploring themes of bravery, honor, and moral integrity. It discusses how Beowulf’s actions and choices, particularly his battles with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, parallel modern concepts of heroism. The overview also considers the societal and cultural contexts of heroism in Beowulf’s time compared to today, reflecting on how these timeless qualities continue to shape our understanding of what it means to be a hero. On PapersOwl, there’s also a selection of free essay templates associated with Beowulf.

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The Evolution of Heroism: From Antiquity to Today

What is the image of a hero? In an age where protection and defense are necessary, the concept of a hero came into being: a great defender and a fiercely brave warrior. On the surface, it is all physical. The skilled hero charges into battle, armed with only a weapon and his bravery. The outcome of the struggle ends with the successful slaughter of the enemy horde. The disadvantaged hero conquers the stronger foe, and the hero is born.

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The leap from the old to the new hero leaves the skilled animal that would and moves to the intellectual moralist that dares. Both warriors, but their images could not be further apart. The image of a hero is now different than that of antiquity or even that of four generations ago. Today’s hero does not require a sward but a moral countenance; he does not serve himself but others, do not yearn for glory but justice and does not demand honor but equality. Beowulf most fits our modern-day hero image.

Beowulf and Society: An Everchanging Image of Heroism

Beowulf, however, would not fit into the social context of the twentieth century. The polite warrior ready to battle for honor and glory is not the acceptable hero of today. As time skews the medium of life, with the everchanging build-up and resetting of social proclivities, moral distortions, and technological advances, the image of the hero inevitably changes as well. However, the concept of a hero remains constant. This is the vantage point from which we will evaluate the person of Beowulf as a modern image of a hero.

Beowulf exhibits a consistent quality key to his success as a hero. The quality Beowulf possesses is selfless bravery. What is a hero if not someone who sacrifices on behalf of others? Beowulf is not learning but acts on his virtue as experienced and confident. He needs to be led to his opportunity, but he is drawn to the opportunity to help and readily accepts its challenges.

When we meet Beowulf at the Danish shore, we immediately begin to see the qualities of a modern hero. Beowulf says he heard stories about the issues King Hrothgar and the Danes were experiencing (Beowulf 410-414). He describes the news as “hard to ignore” (Beowulf 410). A hero’s heart makes it hard to ignore people that need help.

The response to help is an opportunity to exercise a hero’s virtue, and a hero cannot stand idly when people are suffering. The issue of one’s safety must come into evaluation at this point because a hero must put his safety in the equation when the question is regarding helping fight a powerful foe. Beowulf bearing the stories brought to him by sailors, does not shrink from the occasion but rises to the occasion. He shows his willingness to sacrifice his safety for the safety of the people of Denmark.

Modern Day Heroes: The Intellectual Moralist

The modern hero acts selflessly because his concern for others’ well-being overshadows his own and defines him as a hero. Again, we see the selfless nature of this hero when he embarks on the quest to battle Grendel’s mother on behalf of the Danes. Not only is his bravery and selflessness on exposition once again but now it is coupled with apparent concern for his fellow man.

Before Beowulf plunges into the lake to fight Grendel’s mother, he calls on King Hrothgar, “If this combat kills me, take care of my young company, my comrades in arms. And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar, to send Hygelac the treasures I have received.” (Beowulf 1480-1483). This proves Beowulf had a deep concern for his people and the welfare of his own King. After ensuring his men and King were secure to his desires, Beowulf continued his quest.

It is not by chance that Beowulf fits the mold of a modern hero; his selfless acts define him as a mold defines the shape of the liquid poured into it. A modern hero’s essential quality involves putting aside one’s self for the betterment of others. This must be possible to fit the image. Like modern heroes, Beowulf dares to position himself against greater odds for the wellbeing of others. This makes him the more modern hero.


  1. Heaney, S. (1999). Beowulf: A New Translation. W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Thompson, J. (2015). The Concept of Heroism in Western Literature: From Antiquity to the Modern Age. Oxford University Press.
  3. Wagner, R. A. (2017). Modern Heroes: Evolving Definitions and Archetypes. Journal of Cultural Studies, 21(4), 255-270.
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Relation of Beowulf to Modern Society’s Notion of Heroism. (2023, Aug 20). Retrieved from