There is more than one way to define a true hero, but when looking at the different definitions of a hero, one will find some common characteristics that truly define the meaning of a hero. A hero has to be brave, loyal, selfless, and capable of loving others with great compassion. A hero has to be strong, not only physically, but also mentally; he has to be able to sacrifice himself for others. A hero has to be a fearless being who stands up for what is right, who does not look down on others, but someone who encourages others. A true hero is not someone who thinks about doing what is right, but one who simply does what is right without thinking. Most heroic characters in many literature follow the ‘Hero’s Journey”, a format used by authors for centuries, that allows the protagonist to achieve a heroic status. The ‘Hero’s Journey” consists of twelve steps, the ordinary world, the call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor, crossing the threshold, tests, allies, or enemies, the approach, the ordeal, the reward, the road back, the atonement, and lastly the return. These steps help to portray certain events in a specific order and help to define a true hero.
The epic poem, Beowulf, provides a perfect example of a heroic character who follows each of the steps of the ‘Hero’s Journey”, Beowulf. Throughout the poem, Beowulf is regarded as a true hero. He embodies the ideals of the Anglo- Saxon’s society. He is brave, strong, loyal, and selfless. Beowulf’s hero’s journey begins in his ordinary world, Geatland. The epic poem states, “In his far-off home Beowulf… the strongest of geats… heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out, proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king… now when help was needed” (23). In addition to this quote showing Beowulf in his ordinary world, it also shows his call to adventure. Beowulf heard stories of Grendel hunting warriors in Herot. King Hrothgar then calls upon Beowulf for help. Beowulf’s hero’s journey did not include refusal. He wanted to show honor to his mentor, King Hrothgar.
Beowulf enters his next step of his hero’s journey, cross the threshold, when he sails to Denmark and tells Hrothgar, “Grant me, then… a single request! …That I, alone and with the help of my men, may purge all evil from this hall” (25). Beowulf and fourteen of his men cross the sea from Geatland to Denmark on a mission to kill Grendel. Beowulf successfully battles Grendel and displays his arm as a trophy, mortally wounding him. After Beowulf defeats Grendel, the Geats throw a feast. However, they learn that “Grendel’s mother is hidden in her terrible home” and seeks revenge for her son (37). Beowulf had to defeat Grendel’s mother to save the Danes. To kill her, Beowulf uses a ‘blessed’ sword and stabs her to death.
Beowulf enters his last four steps of the hero’s journey, the reward, the road back, the atonement, and the return. The “reward” step happens when Beowulf returns to King Hrothgar with Grendel’s head on a stick. King Hrothgar rewards Beowulf with his finest horses and a massive treasure. The next step, the road back, happens when Beowulf returns home and rules for fifty years. “Atonement” occurs when a thief steals from a dragon who then threatens Geatland. Beowulf fights the dragon, but dies after defeating the dragon with Wiglaf, one of his loyalist soldiers. Finally, the last step of Beowulf’s hero’s journey’ is the return, and this occurs in the epic when Beowulf is given a funeral for a hero and his stories are told over generations.
People look up to heroes for many reasons. Heros are inspiring; they bring hope and comfort whenever they are around. They make people feel that no matter how much suffering there is in the world, there are good people out there who can be counted upon to do the right thing, even when most other people are not. Heros give people something to aspire to; they inspire them to be strong and brave. They encourage people to transform themselves for the better. People look up to heroes because they have what the people wish to see within themselves.