A perfect hero ? who is it? Answers depend much on who is asking and what their needs are. But whether you are an aspiring juvenile of an Anglo-Saxon tribe, an old Viking veteran resting by the fire and memorizing his glory days, a scald entrancing his audience, a newly converted knight looking for someone to follow, a monk trying to praise the power of God or even a modern reader of fantasy books, you are almost equally fascinated by the archetypal image of Beowulf. Strange as it may seem, Beowulf combines the pagan notions of wyrd and individualism, Germanic pride and Christian subjecting to the will of the Lord although not many stories of that time have survived the early Christian zeal in their original form. Certainly, one can easily spot some ?clumsy? passages where the anonymous editor writing down the poem was trying to purge it of pagan motifs, still, whether he was not ardent enough or had been newly baptized, he left most of the original thread unspoiled.
Thus, we can enjoy almost pure Anglo-Saxon idea of a hero ? strength, mighty athletic appearance and hunger for fame being followed by courage and intransigence. And so is Beowulf himself, ?a thane of Hygelac, excellent among the Geats.? - having the strength of "thirty men" in just one of his arms, a formidable fighter at peak physical condition. However, his strength does not only refer to physical attributes and pride but also to politeness, wisdom and piety. Here we can surely trace the attempts to disguise old pagan ways, still, such attributes like adherence to the code of honour, sense of duty, family devotion, tactfulness and loyalty were highly respected virtues in Anglo-Saxon societies. Beowulf, being "The mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame.", perfectly matched the desirable pattern. The poem suggests that he cannot be compared to anyone, both so far and in the future. Moreover, even if he seems to boast beyond all measure, his words are well justified by his deeds - he rips off Grendel?s arm fighting barehanded, decapitates Grendel?s mother, and defeats the hostile dragon. This constant ?advertising? may now be seen as a serious flaw but at the time of early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms was a common practice. As a balance, his pursuit to be humble should be mentioned - he refuses kingship, gives away all the treasures he had gained.
But is this ideal picture all true? Little or nothing do we know about Beowulf?s most human aspects, nevertheless, we may feel allowed to make some guesses. Surprisingly, there appear some scratches. First of all, despite the assumption that a Germanic warrior should never show fear for his life, Beowulf feels he may die fighting Grendel?s mother and his victory is actually an act of despair. This may have resulted from ignoring the realties of his situation and the possible effects of his decisions (Would it stand for recklessness?). Feeling helpless, he cannot control his rage and cuts off Grendel?s head (although some critics argue that there are moments when he shows his use of rage control and copes with fundamental problem of warrior cultures ? the berserker?s fury). This is the first time when we realize that his courage may come from struggling with fear rather than being fearless. Another feature which we usually associate with invincible warriors is a perfect sword command. However, we have some good reasons to be suspicious about his swordsman?s skills. For example, he insists on using bare hands at numerous battle occasions. Then, during his fatal duel with the dragon, he fails to use his sword properly ? he lacks the technique and appears to be too strong. This may look a triviality compared to all his victories; unfortunately, one can have more serious objections. Despite proving to be a good and caring ruler, Beowulf shows baffling indolence when it comes to train an appropriate successor prepared to occupy his place on the Geatish throne after his death ? dying he leaves that matter for the God. Again, he turns out careless, as his people got used to his protection and are unable to face the dangers waiting at the borders (Swedes).
On the other hand, all these strictures (even if not explicit) make Beowulf more real and human. His being a perfect hero does not mean possessing none of