Lineage of hero-warriors in Beowulf

Consider the importance of the lineage of the hero-warriors in the poem.  The narrator always introduces characters in this manner: “Beowulf, son of Beow. . . .”  Thereafter, he frequently repeats this formula when he refers to one of the major characters in the poem.  Why is there such a great emphasis on the lineage of the hero-warrior, and why is this so important to the characters in the poem?  How does their lineage affect their sense of who they are–how they see themselves–and also how the other characters in the poem see them?

The main characters of the poem are introduced as son of whomever. There is such a great emphasis on the lineage of the hero-warrior because “the life and death of the hero recapitulate the cycle of age: the heroic generation is born, flourishes and dies” (xlii). This means that if a family begins, it also ends, “if races begin, they also end” (xxxii). A woman is identified as someone’s daughter and “a man is identified as someone’s son or of someone’s kin;” therefore, heroes are treated as “children of men” (xxxii). For example, “Beowulf the Dane…he next fathered four children that leapt into the world” (5). This patriarchal structure is very important to the characters in the poem because it gives them a sense of their identities. Furthermore, it also gives their lives more importance and their glory more value. In contrast to the heroes, Grendel, the antagonist, is not identified as someone’s son. This is an important distinction that separates him from the heroes of the story. Though he is male, he is identified by his mother and his mother plays an important role in his evilness/antagonism/otherness. Instead of positioning him in the patriarchal world of heroism, Grendel exists in the matriarchal world of the unknown/ the other. Instead of a child of men, he is a child of women. Therefore, by separating Grendel from the world of heroes that the protagonists exist in, the story promotes Grendel as the unknown/ the other who must be destroyed.

Anonymous.  Beowulf: A Verse Translation.  Translated by Michael Alexander.  New York: Penguin Books, 2003.  Print.

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