Beowulf Compared to Modern Day Heroes

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  • 0:00 The Hero Beowulf
  • 1:42 Beowulf & ''Star Wars''
  • 3:26 Beowulf & ''The Lord…
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deke Parsons

Deke has a Ph.D. in English from Claremont Graduate University and has published a book.

Beowulf is the first hero in English literature. You can still see echoes of him in modern heroes like Superman. However, current works like 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars' show why Beowulf is different from a modern hero.

The Hero Beowulf

Beowulf is the first hero in English literature. The main character of a poem written in Old English centuries ago, Beowulf is a great warrior who uses his incredible strength to defeat three monsters. There are still heroes of Beowulf's basic type today. Some superheroes and other heroes of popular culture act basically like Beowulf even though they were created over a thousand years later. However, many modern heroes act very differently from Beowulf. Today's values are different from the medieval values of the time of Beowulf's creation. Different values make for different heroes.

There are two basic types of heroes. Some heroes take the direct approach and overcome obstacles with raw power and strength, both physical and moral. Others use their wits, or intelligence, in addition to trickery and ruthlessness. These different types of heroes go back long before Beowulf to ancient Greek heroes from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Achilles is a nearly indestructible warrior with divine strength, while Odysseus is a crafty hero who uses his brains more than his brawn. There are modern versions of these two types of heroes. Superman is like Beowulf and fights with superhuman strength, while Batman is a superhero without any special powers who must rely on his wits and determination. There are a whole host of superheroes who follow in Beowulf's footsteps, including the Hulk and Thor. Muscle isn't the only power that modern heroes who follow Beowulf's direct approach have. For example, Luke Skywalker uses the power of the Force in the Star Wars movies while Harry Potter fights with magic. Beowulf fighting his monsters is not so different from Superman fighting supervillains or Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader or Harry Potter fighting Voldemort.

Beowulf and Star Wars

It is hard for a hero to take a more direct approach than Beowulf - he rips Grendel's arm right out of its socket! However, it is not only feats of physical strength that make Beowulf a hero. He also shows moral strength by being a champion of the values of his society. Beowulf's boasting is shown as a good thing; he is showing everyone his qualifications for being a leader and is building up his fame in a world where fame is the only thing that lasts. He also shows himself worthy of heroic status by displaying generosity in giving much of his treasure to his followers. This makes him the opposite of the dragon, who is a villain precisely because it keeps all the treasure for itself. Beowulf is most heroic when he defeats the dragon. This is not because he is such a strong warrior that even in old age he can defeat a dragon but because he fills the role of a king in his society, showing his bravery while going out to certain death fighting to protect his people.

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