Beowulfs Universal Appeal



There are archetypal patterns in life. They reoccur and become familiar to people through all ages and ethnicities. Throughout history, few literary works have captivated audiences by incorporating these patterns. The epic Beowulf is one literary work that effectively incorporates timeless components. The epic poem relates the tale of Beowulf, a warrior who throughout his life overcomes evils. It has strong elements of Anglo-Saxon elements of bravery, strength and of religious tenets. Beowulf enjoys universal appeal primarily because of its elements of characterization, plot and theme that prove timeless.
Beowulf’s portrayal of human nature proves eternal. The protagonist Beowulf brashly lists his accomplishments before entering battle: “But the truth is simple: no man swims in the sea as I can, no strength is a match for mine… other monsters crowded around me, continually attacking. I treated them politely, offering the edge of my razor-sharp sword,” (265-294). His boasts are symbolic of his personal insecurity. Beowulf seems scared of defeat and faliure. His boastful remarks are reminders to himself of his invincibility. Because he is insecure, Beowulf is an accurate representation of human nature. The poem also discloses social behaviors through Welthow, who portrays appropriate submissiveness of a wife. Women in society and position always are hot topics for discussion in any country and time period. She is subservient to her husband and “ [pours] a portion from the jeweled cup for each, till [she] had carried the mead-cup among [the guests],” (354-372). Jealousy is a accurately portrayed in the poem. is a human attribute that will apply to any time period anywhere. In the incident with Unferth, for example: “angry that anyone in Denmark or anywhere on earth had ever acquired glory and fame greater than his own”(236-238) tries to belittle Beowulf’s claims to bravery, and, by doing so, adds realistic qualities to his character. Belief Divine or supernatural notions are also tendencies of human nature. The poem reflects this ageless concern through references to “that Shepherd of Evil” (432) and “[sacrifices] to the old stone gods” (90). These are both conflicting allusions to the two prominent religions of the time. One pertains to Christian ideology; i.e. “The Almighty God” (493), and “the Almighty making the earth” (8), and the other relates to Anglo Saxon religious beliefs; i.e., “the omens were good” (118) and “fate will unwind as it must,” (189). The poem alludes to Christianity, a monotheistic religion that rejects ideas of fate. On the other hand, there are rudiments of Anglo Saxon philosophy, pagan on account of its elements of fate. The conflicts in the epic between the two opposite beliefs reflect human nature’s fickle notions and uncertainty in the belief in the divine. Additionally, the main character’s attributes and conflicts would classify him as a “messiah,” an archetypal pattern. Like Jesus and Moses, Beowulf, the epic hero, comes at a time of need and chaos in Herot, thereupon ending the chaos and destruction by killing Grendel and his mother. He comes after “twelve winters of grief,” (62) and avenges evil by “[purging] Herot clean,” (508). Just as Moses who was reluctant to die without seeing the “promised land”, and Jesus who also was reluctant to die, Beowulf is “unwilling to leave this world,” (738) or complete the final task at hand. Thus, Beowulf’s constituents of supernatural and religious notions and realistic portrayal of human nature create a universal appeal that proves timeless.
The epic develops the nature of the universal and reoccurring battle that men fight against evil. The three battles that occur at different stages of Beowulf’s life imply that the battle against evil is repetitious. Symbolically the three battles are fought with evil: one with Grendel, one with Grendel’s mother, and the third with the dragon. Grendel is decidedly evil because he “was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God,” (20-23). Thus his mother is also of the same origin. The dragon as well is a great evil, whose breath “[was] burning hot, poison [poured] from his tongue,” (672-673). The three battles are fought at different times of Beowulf’s life, to symbolize the perpetual war men fight against evil. Beowulf previously fights various evils: “[He] fought that