An epic hero has to perform heroic deeds. Beowulf kills Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon, all of which are heroic deeds that no one else was able or willing to take on. The foes that Beowulf fought were all beyond human strength and capabilities and required superhuman abilities to bring down. Beowulf performed these deeds for the good of others which is another quality of an epic hero. In the end, though, it was the human mortality of Beowulf which brought him down when the poison wound caused by the dragon resulted in Beowulf's death.
Appearance, strength and courage -- for the Anglo-Saxon epic hero -- are balanced by humility. After he has defeated both Grendel and Grendel's mother, Beowulf turns down the Danish throne, and decides to return home without treasure. He is described in the poem as "The mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame." It should be noted by his eagerness for fame, however, that pride, and possibly hubris, exist in Beowulf simultaneously as his humility, and may be interpreted as a tragic flaw for his ultimate downfall.
Characteristics that Make Beowulf a Hero
Every generation of people that have existed since the dawn of time have been different. Therefore, it is no surprise that they all hold a different definition for the word ‘Hero’. The poem Beowulf indirectly states many things about the concept of any early Anglo-Saxon hero. The poem showed that any Anglo-Saxon hero would have been incredibly large and strong, had numerous accomplishments, and been very brave in the face of danger.
Anyone claiming to be a hero couldn’t expect to be taken seriously in that time unless he was enormous. This is because heroes in that time required much brute strength, for fighting demons, evil people, or anyone else who was it was necessary to fight. Beowulf was described as very tall. He towered over almost any other warrior. The guard on the Danish coast said “I have never laid eyes upon earl on earth more stalwart and sturdy than [Beowulf].”
Beowulf was also reputed to be incredibly strong. Hrothgar, King of the Danes, said that “Seafaring men who have voyaged to Geatland... ...say that his hand-grip has thirty men’s strength.” Beowulf demonstrated his incredible strength numerous times. The most prominent display was when he wielded a sword that belonged to a long dead race of giants in order to slay the Troll-Wife. The sword is described as “So heavy no hand but [Beowulf’s] own could hold it,” as evidence to how strong Beowulf was.
Upon arriving at Hrothgar’s court, Beowulf promptly began speaking of his past exploits after greeting the King. He spoke of how he “...slew the nicors that swam the sea,” and “Five foes I bound of the Giant kindred, and crushed their clan.” The Nicors were a form of enormous, evil water demons believed to exist in that time. Beowulf was again attacked by Nicors as he swam to fight the Troll-Wife, and was again victorious.
Bravery was also an essential quality for an ancient Anglo-Saxon hero. To be stalwart and strong in the face of grave danger was something Beowulf did many times. Facing and defeating Grendel without a weapon was a perfect example of this. Beowulf said that “With hand-grip only I’ll grapple with Grendel,” in a fight to the death. He risked his own life...