Digressions In Beowulf Essay On Heroism
Beowulfincludes several digressions--Unferth's challenge to Beowulf, the fight at Finnsburg, Hrothulf's treachery, among others--that are designed either to enhance Beowulf's stature as the poem's hero or to remind the listener's of important events in their history. Because the culture to which the poem is addressed is an oral culture, the poet uses digressions not only to remind listeners of important historical events but also, through the act of recounting these events in this poem, interpret this shared history.
One of the most important digressions early in the poem in Unferth's challenge to Beowulf:
Are you that Beowulf/who with Breca strove,/on the open sea/over a swimming match,/where you two out of pride/tempted the floods/for this doltish boasting. . . . (ll. 506-509)
Unferth's purpose in this digression is both to challenge Beowulf's physical strength and his common sense, essentially accusing Beowulf of stupidity in choosing to waste his strength and, more important, to point out that Breca came ashore first--implying that Breca was the winner of this swimming contest. Unferth concludes this challenge by saying that Beowulf, just as he failed in the swimming contest, will fail in his struggle with Grendel.
Beowulf's version, however, is significantly different from Unferth's: Beowulf recounts several battles with sea serpents during the contest--battles that Beowulf won--and points out that "Breca never yet . . . performed such a deed with drawn sword." Beowulf concludes this digression by pointing out that neither Breca nor Unferth performed such heroic deeds with swords "although you were your brother's killer,/your close kinsman." (ll.587-88) This digression performed two purposes--it recounts an instance of Beowulf's physical prowess, and it brands Unferth as the killer of his own brother and therefore unworthy to challenge Beowulf's credibility.
Another similar digression occurs with the mention of Sigemund and Fitela at lines 875-900. One of Hrothgar's retainers recounts the story of Sigemund in which Sigemund
. . . killed, after a struggle,/a strong worm-dragon,/a hoard's keeper. He, the prince's son,/under a hoary stone ventured alone,/a fearless deed. . . the dragon died of that wound. . . . (ll. 885-892)
Clearly, this digression would have resonated with the audience of Beowulf because Sigemund's tale, in large part, is very similar to Beowulf's last battle with the dragon whose hoard has been violated. The digression, then, connects Beowulf directly to Sigemund, whose reputation would have been widely known and highly regarded by the audience of Beowulf.
Essay Use of Digressions in Beowulf
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The author of Beowulf cleverly uses digressions throughout the work in order to foreshadow events or give more insight on a situation. Some digressions may be used as guidance in how to live one’s life. The digression on page fifty-two in lines 884 through 914 of Beowulf in The Norton Anthology: English Literature Volume A, the entertainer who is singing in Beowulf’s honor after he slew the monster Grendel. To the characters of Beowulf, the song is simply entertainment, but to the reader it is foreknowledge of future events that will unfold as the story continues. The digression is used to hint to Beowulf’s fight with the dragon, becoming king, and tell what kind of king Beowulf will not be in the future. The digression begins as a story…show more content…
For the well-being of his people, Beowulf should have let his warriors fight the dragon in his place in order to win the hoard. Even though Beowulf gains all the treasures of the dragon hoard, his people suffer a greater loss from his death. Beowulf’s death would lay out the welcome mat for eager conquerors to come and attack his land. However, like Sigemund, Beowulf’s glory will always remain and grow with his death. On the other hand, the digression tells of another king, King Heremod, who has the opposite characteristics of Beowulf. King Heremod lost his “prowess” and values that make a good leader which would lead to his being conquered and killed by the Jutes. King Heremod was every aspect that Beowulf was not and would not be when he became king; Beowulf retains his courage and becomes an exceptional leader for his nation. The story of King Heremod could also be used as a warning to Beowulf that he should always stay brave and never let his power decline. Heremod was unsuccessful in fulfilling the responsibilities of a king to his country; therefore, as the poem says in lines 903 through 905, he was a burden on his warriors, nobles, and people. He let his own interest and grief overpower his responsibilities. Beowulf would prove to always do what he feels fit to protect and benefit his people. Beowulf, unlike King Heremod, would not fall the normal evils of men. Beowulf’s only fault is he is too eager