Throughout history, kings have been the primary figure in kingdoms and territories. People looked to these authoritative figures for many different things ranging from religion to leadership and guidance. The heroic epic Beowulf takes the concept of kingship and elaborates on it through the roles of two very different characters: King Hrothgar and Beowulf. In doing so, it reveals the differing values instilled within each man.
Very early on in Beowulf, it is evident that the German and Scandinavian world that exists at this time is both hostile and unpredictable. The constant upheaval between the differing cultures force the people of these villages to look to a higher power for a sense of well-being. King Hrothgar of Heorot embodies the necessary characteristics of a leader at the beginning of the tale: strength, bravery, and leadership. The introduction of Grendel, however, eliminates any sense of stability in the King of the Danes.
Instead of standing up to fight Grendel, Hrothgar cowardly retreats and allows the monster to terrorize and pillage his kingdom for many years. As a result of this, the people lose their sense of trust and security. It is at this point that they place their belief in pagan rituals, turning their backs on God.
Beowulf, the hero of this epic, demonstrates what a hero truly represents. He first and foremost places his trust in God rather than in other humans or pagan rituals. His strength, bravery, and self-sacrifice shine through his underlying persistent optimism.
This drive stems from Beowulf's ultimate goal of being remembered after he is long gone and time has passed. As he tells Hrothgar, "We must all expect and end to life in this world; let him who can win fame before death, because that is a dead man's best memorial."
When Beowulf hears of...