The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of OldEnglish literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic
tells the story of a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who
rids the Danes of the monster Grendel, a descendent of Cain, and of
his exploits fighting Grendels mother and a Dragon. Throughout the
epic, the Anglo-Saxon story teller uses many elements to build a
certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character
elements in Beowulf are Wealth & Honor, Biblical & Paganistic, and Man
vs. Wild themes.

Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most epics,
defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon
culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a
characters importance, as well as their wealth and status, where
measured not only in monetary terms, but it was also measured in terms
of honor, fame, and accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is
one example of the Anglo-Saxon measurement of importance in Beowulf.
In Canto 1 the story teller describes his wealth and importance, not
as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his ability to lead the
Danes to such glory. and as his tendency to In battle, leave the
common pasture untouched, and taking no lives. Through this display
of compassion for the commoner who doesnt fight in battles, Hrothgar
proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent of his
wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true
wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he
fights and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his
companions, and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor
raising him to the level of an archetypal hero. Grendel, on the other
hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf. He has no wealth, no honor,
and he in infamous as an evil killer. This lack of wealth and honor
defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption. In addition to
using Honor and wealth to define a characters character, the
story-teller(s) have incorporated alternating Biblical and Paganistic
motifs in the epic-poem.

We will write a custom essay sample on

Beowulf – Analysis of the Epic specifically for you

for only $13.90/page

Order Now

The original Epic was obviously Paganistic due to the time
period of its creation. But, as time wore on, the rewriting and
touching up of the manuscripts by various sources including religious
monks, caused the characters to have slight Christian characteristics.
These Christian themes have become very important to the epic to add
am element of depth that wouldnt be possible in modern times due to
the lost of the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs. An example of the
Biblical motif in Beowulf is Grendel. Grendel it biblically described
as evil in this excerpt:
Grendel was spawned in that slime,
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abels death. The Almighty drove
Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,
Shut away from men; they split
Into a thousand forms of evil--spirits
And feinds, goblins, monsters, giants,
A brood forever opposing the Lords
Will, and again and again defeated.


The Biblical reference in the epic has become a modern day archetypal
motif, and serves to give the listener an idea of the extent of
Grendels pure evil and gives a logical explanation for Grendels
murderous behavior. This example, not only shows the evil in
Grendels nature, but also the torture in his heart caused by his
Banishment from God. It serves to give the reader an idea of why
Grendel would kill the Danes for no reason other than their
happiness. Beowulf also has a religious motif to his character. One
example of this is in Canto 6 line 381 in which Hrothgar states, Our
Holy Father had sent Beowulf as a sign of His grace, a mark of His
favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror. This religious
description shows Beowulf as a sort of messiah sent by god to save man
from evil. But, more than that, since Beowulf is in fact not a
messiah, this description shows the good in Beowulfs heart and the
purpose of his mission. Another Biblical reference in Beowulf is
shown in the tower of Herot which is very similar to the tower of
Babel in the fact that its built as a sign of superiority and
accomplishment. Like Babel, though, Herot only serves as a symbol of
downfall more than one of glory because it causes many deaths and the
coming of Grendel.
Apart from Wealth, Honor, and Paganistic vs. Biblical themes
and motifs, character is also shown through a certain Man vs. Wild
motif. This motif shows the difference between mankinds ways (good),
and evils wild nature (evil). Grendel for one, is totally wild and
is therefore shown as evil. His wild home, Grendel, who haunted the
moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but
earth. shows his wild, untamed, and therefor evil nature. Grendels
wilderness is countered in mankinds ways, especially Beowulfs.
Beowulf is tame and civilized, the epitomy of goodness and purity.
Beowulf doesnt fight evil in a wild manner, rather, as shown in his
first battle with Grendel. First off, Beowulf is pure and shows
this before his battle when he removes his armor and vows not to use a
weapon to defeat Grendel. Defeating Grendel, he shows that man,
without armor and weapons, can defeat evil in any form including that
of his foe Grendel. This deed serves throughout the epic serves as a
symbol of Beowulfs Goodness.

Beowulf has many other such archetypal, symbolic themes and
motifs, but the most important themes that serve to add depth to the
characters are the wealth, honor, religious, man, and wildness themes.
These themes dont only serve to define a character, but they also
factor in as a motive for their actions.