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Comparison Between Beowulf the Anglo-Saxon Hero and the Modern Day Hero


The Anglo-Saxon culture required its heroes to be warriors. Therefore, a hero in the Anglo-Saxon Culture was a humble, kind, loyal, honorable, strong, and brave individual with the capacity to face all odds, including risking their lives, for the glory of their people. Beowulf, the epic hero of the heroic poem titled “Beowulf,” qualifies as an excellent example of an Anglo-Saxon hero. He possesses and exemplifies all the traits that the Anglo-Saxon culture requires of its heroes through his adventures and actions throughout “Beowulf,” the epic tale. In the Anglo-Saxon culture, a hero has to be brave, humble, strong, and intelligent, but most of all must keep their fears and sorrows to themselves. Heroes cannot appear weak or complain about their problems; they must always appear fearless and stoic. In the modern-day culture, the concept of real heroes does not necessarily involve physical attainment of strength or portrayals of the pop-culture superstars, but rather involves the portrayal of a selfless character of risking their lives without reward for the benefit of others. Examples of heroes in modern-day culture are people like Gail J. McGovern. McGovern is the American Red Cross Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has continued to carry the Red Cross mission of easing human suffering during emergencies for the past ten years (American Red Cross, pg 4). Another heroic person is the former American president Barrack Obama who saw the enactment of legislation to reform health care, a partial extension of the American Bush cut taxes, a major financial regulation reform bill, among other reforms (Dimock, p 23). This paper compares the similarities and differences between Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon hero, and the modern-day hero.

Similarities between Beowulf the Anglo-Saxon Hero and the Modern Day Hero

Beowulf, the main character of the epic tale, portrays some characteristics like loyalty, generosity, and bravery, which depict him as a hero. Beowulf is generous and protective to the people of Dane. He says, “Whatever it is, this danger abroad in the dark nights, I come to proffer my wholehearted help and counsel” (Heaney, p 277) as he arrives to fight the Grendel monster that destroyed the Danes. Similarly, Beowulf shows loyalty when he wants to protect Hrothgar’s kingdom willingly ” I can show the wise Hrothgar a way to defeat his enemy and find respite” (Heaney, p 280). He does this on behalf of his father, who was very loyal to Hrothgar. Beowulf says that whatever may happen during his fights, his body must be sent back to his leader, for his loyalty belongs there.

Interestingly, modern-day heroes show much of similar qualities as Beowulf. For instance, soldiers are thought of as heroes in the United States. They travel to different parts of the world where they face death, but instead of allowing their bodies to be buried in foreign lands, they choose to be buried in their homeland, indicating their loyalty to their country.

Additionally, Beowulf shows that heroes must be humble. When the people of Dane exalt him after defeating Grandel and Grendel’s mother, he rejects kingship and humbly returns honor to Hygelsac, the king of the Geats, and donates his hard-earned treasures to the Danes. Beowulf likes to constantly refer loyalty to Hygelac, his lord, which makes him a perfect example of an Anglo-Saxon hero renowned as “The mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame” (Beowulf, 52). Beowulf’s humble nature can be compared to that of Firefighters. When firefighters head to rescue people from burning buildings, they gain great respect and feel great pride and honor inside them but do not outwardly express it. For firefighters, being respectable and having pride and honor only feel good but add more glory to their job than anything.

Moreover, whether it is to kill Grendels’ mother, the dragon, or Grendel himself, often, Beowulf has a driving desire to win and is up for the challenge. He boasts, “I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people, I shall pursue this for the glory of winning” (line2511). This quote lets the readers into the heart of Beowulf and enables the reader to understand how bad Beowulf wants to win the fight over the dragon. Beowulf’s desire to succeed can be compared with that of the American Red Cross’ Gail J. McGovern, who has overseen the organization’s response to several high-profile disasters worldwide and across the country. MacGovern has responded to some of the catastrophes that include Hurricane Harvey, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, 2017’s Irma and Maria, including several floods, home fires, tornadoes, and other disasters that affect America every year (American Red Cross, pg 14). McGovern and her rescue teams are involved in these missions because they need to succeed in expanding the reach for life-saving services offered by the Red Cross and in carrying on the legacy and mission of Clarissa Harlowe Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

Notably, Beowulf makes references if he wants to acquire wealth on many occasions. He says, “I sold my life for this treasure, and I sold it well” (Raffel, p 820-821). Beowulf’s statement indicates that Anglo-Saxon heroes seek fortune. Modern-day heroes such as Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Beyonce Knowles, Tayler Swift, among others, are heroes and heroines that young people uphold in high esteem because of their prowess and success in their careers. However, apart from working hard to remain relevant and entertain their admirers, they work hard to acquire wealth.

Differences between Beowulf the Anglo-Saxon hero and the Modern Day Heroes

Modern-day heroes fight with their minds. For example, the military officers or the firefighters fight their battles using their minds, not fists. Also, Superman and Batman, who pass as heroes to children, rely on their wits and determination. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxon Heroes and Beowulf fight with their fists as indicated in the film He raised his arms and seized her by the shoulder” (Raffel, 509-510). Furthermore, from the days of Beowulf, Heroes today have changed. In the days of Beowulf, heroes such as kings and warriors were the main protectors of their country. Today, the roles have changed, and heroes include sports players and celebrities. The roles of our heroes have changed because society has changed too.

Beowulf is known to be a man of strength. He is said ”to have the grip of thirty thanes.” (Heaney, 143). Beowulf fought Grendel with this strength, and Grendel’s mother died fighting Beowulf to avenge his death. Unlike Anglo-Saxon heroes who needed strength to perform heroic acts, modern-day heroes do not require strength. For example, in Queens, New York, a Colombian Migrant, Jorge Munoz, did not need physical strength to feed 70 000 people (Llorente). Munoz only required financial strength to fight the hunger monster and become a celebrated hero. The second example of a modern-day hero is North Carolina’s, Doc Hendley. Hendley started a foundation named ”Wine to Water” to give clean water to people who cannot easily access it (Hendley). The monster Hendley fought is the evil of intangible dirty water, an act that makes him a hero to the North Carolina residents. Therefore, although Beowulf needed physical strength to fight monsters literary about 1500 years ago, today, heroes do not need literal monsters or physical strength to be seen as heroes.


Although Beowulf has many qualities of a hero, he has some flaws that cannot make him a hero in the modern world because heroic concepts evolve with a culture. Hence, Beowulf has characteristics that the Anglo-Saxons regarded as heroic but misses several key qualities to the modern-day hero. Nevertheless, in the Anglo-Saxon culture, Beowulf remains their celebrated hero. Unlike today where the line between a hero and a role model has become closer, still society ingrains through media forums where lucrative celebrities and athletes show how exciting and glamorous their lives are. Unfortunately, people of high profile have done great things that impact people’s lives. Still, they cannot be viewed as leaders because heroes are people who concern themselves with others and exhibit complete selflessness in situations without having selfish motives or interests.

Work Cited

Dimock, Michael. “How America Changed During Barack Obama’s Presidency.” Pew Research Center (2017): 26.

Heaney, S. Beowulf. Faber & Faber 2000. Accessed 24. Feb 2021

Hendley, Doc. Wine to Water: A Bartender’s Quest to Bring Clean Water to the World. United Kingdom: Hooklines Books. , 2012.

Llorente, Elizabeth. “The Work of Angels: Colombian immigrant Jorge Muñoz has distributed more than 120,000 home-cooked meals to out-of-work New Yorkers over the past five years.” AARP (2009).

Raffel, Burton. “Beowulf.” Elements of Literature, 1963. 6th Course.

The American Red Cross. (n.d.). “Gail McGovern; who we are leading.” American Red Cross (2019): 34.


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