Beowulf Epic Essay Example
“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” — Abraham Lincoln. At this time I believe Abraham Lincoln wanted the people to know that as long as you know yourself and how you feel the shadow is irrelevant. Like Lincoln Beowulf by an unknown author has given the reader a look into his interpretation on the importance of character and the influence on others. Two of the most influential themes of this poem are the importance of identity and reputation.
The notion of identity, with which the two key components have inherited the legacy and personal image, is central to the poem since Beowulf is simply a record of heroic deeds. The opening passages present a world to the reader in which every male character is known as the son of his father. Characters in the poem, without reference to family lineage, are reluctant to speak about their identity or even introduce themselves. Leading to the poem's focus on family ties, this obsession with family heritage is so prevalent. Protagonists take pride in leaders who have behaved bravely, and they aspire to live up to the same expectations as those predecessors.
Although ancestry can provide behavioral templates and help create identification, strong credibility is a key to solidifying and growing one's identity, as with the line of Danish kings mentioned early on. For instance, the mythical originator of the Danish royal line, Shield Sheafson, was orphaned; since he was fatherless in a way, the only means by which he could establish an identity for himself were valiant deeds. Though the pagan warrior culture of Beowulf does not seem to have a definition of the afterlife, it sees fame as a means of ensuring that the legacy of a person survives after death-an appropriate worry in a society where death still seems to knock at the gates.
Reputation is another driving force for Beowulf and a central theme in the epic. Beowulf was right from the outset to think about how the rest of the universe would see him. By mentioning successes that acquired honor for him and his king, he presents himself to the Scyldings. At the first banquet, as an intoxicated Unferth verbally attacks Beowulf, the hero's integrity is in question. Unferth's slur is Beowulf's worst kind of offense, for his integrity is his most precious asset. Reputation, his sole key to longevity, is also the single attribute that endures after death. That is why, after beating the mother, Beowulf later leaves the gold in the cave below the mere, opting to return with the head of Grendel and the hilt of the magic sword rather than treasure. He has and continues to acquire treasures; his aim now is to develop his reputation.
The poet mentions the virtues as he addresses Beowulf's later years, referring to the fine status of the great man. Beowulf is valiant and renowned for his military efficiency but is as well respected for his virtuous deeds. While aggressive in battle, Beowulf has “no savage mind” (Beowulf 2180) and, in the valiant world of the mead-hall, never kills his comrades while drinking, a significant quality. A more considerate assumption may be that Beowulf is an elderly man who deserves the right to die as a warrior with little time remaining. The poem's final lines, claiming that Beowulf was “most eager for fame” (Beowulf 3182), maybe better grasped by a contemporary audience by recalling that fame is associated with prestige in Beowulf's culture.
Beowulf has begun to let his reputation affect his self-identity in multiple ways. He has let it take over his feelings and actions. By Beowulf allowing himself to worry about what people think of him he is not confident in himself and what he believes in. Just like many of us, Beowulf has trouble finding who he truly is. For example, when Unferth verbally attacks Beowulf, he let Unferth get to him and let what he said to drive him to make certain decisions.
Another way he has let his reputation diminish his true self is by family heritage. It is very important to Beowulf and the rest of the characters in the story to continue their family legacy. Although most of the characters maintain this standard, Shield Sheafson decides to go against the norm. Unlike Beowulf, he is confident in himself that he creates his path. I think we can learn from both of these characters because one side is telling us that it's okay to be lost but trying to find who you are and not letting your reputation affect you and having self-confidence.
Continually, taking a step back from the piece and diving into the true meaning behind reputation and integrity helps the reader relate. I believe that finding your identity allows you to grow as a person just like it has for Beowulf. Finding who you truly are and your purpose whether that's through your faith or anything else allows you to feel a sense of importance in life. Likewise, not allowing your reputation to dictate how you view yourself makes you that much more confident just like Shield.
Lastly, the value of personality and integrity are two of the most influential themes of this poem. As Lincoln said as long as you know yourself, the shadow is insignificant to how you feel. This story portrays this perfectly by establishing Shield as the strong confident one and Beowulf as the one who has many things to learn including who he is. Society tells us to focus on people’s perception of us but not what we think of ourselves. So, what will you focus on?