Beowulf and Modern Day Heroes

31 Mar

Heroes in epic poems usually accomplish near-impossible tasks in their quest to help members of their societies from enemies. In most cases, epic heroes have to fight against powerful creatures or individuals with superhuman qualities. In some cases, these heroes are able to ascend to leadership thrones. A case in point is Beowulf, who fought powerful beasts more than once and eventually became ruler of his people. While most epic heroes’ tales are often from ancient times, some are from modern day heroes. Bruce Wayne of the Batman trilogy is an example. Both ancient and present day heroes posses powerful qualities that enable them to defeat their antagonists. On the other hand, they contrast in the sense that ancient heroes had the task of defeating creatures with superhuman qualities. Present day heroes mostly set out to correct social evils. Therefore, there are similarities and differences between past and modern day epic heroes.

Both stories are similar in many ways. First, both Beowulf and Batman are sons of upper class members of society. Beowulf’s father, Ecgtheow, was a noble warrior married to a king’s daughter. Ecgtheow was also king Hygelac’s brother-in-law (Heaney, 2000). His ties to nobility also extend to king Hrothgar, who protected him when the Wulfings sought his life when he killed a member of their tribe.  At some point, Beowulf says his father was a well-known noble battle leader. Similarly, Batman came from a well-known and respected family in the city of Gotham. His parents were wealthy socialites and philanthropists (Nolan, 2005).

Secondly, both heroes do not have any superhuman backgrounds. They grew up as normal children but managed to become powerful through rigorous training. Beowulf is a young warrior who comes to the rescue of Hrothgar’s kingdom. Hrothgar and his subjects were suffering under the torment of a demon named Grendel. Beowulf is unarmed but still manages to defeat the demon. On the other hand, Batman is the character of a young boy, Bruce Wayne, who loses his parents to crime. Batman undergoes martial training to not only avenge his parents’ murder but also rid the city of Gotham from a wave of crime and corruption.

Thirdly, both superheroes have personal reasons that motivate them to fight their respective wars. In Beowulf’s case, he offered to kill the demon in an attempt to return king Hrothgar’s kindness to his father Ecgtheow. According to Heaney’s translation, Ecgtheow had killed a man belonging to the Wulfings tribe and they were after his life (2000). Hrothgar offered him refuge, thus saving his life. Therefore, Beowulf thought that if he could kill Grendel the demon, he would have helped king Hrothgar, thus returning the favor he had done his father. The brutal murder of Batman’s parents at the hand of a mugger drove him to fight crime in Gotham city. Like Beowulf, he had to achieve his objective to be at peace with himself. It is for this reason that he undergoes training to become Gotham’s savior.

Lastly, both superheroes show immense courage, strength, and determination. Grendel, the monster Beowulf was to kill, was a powerful demon that king Hrothgar and his band of skillful soldiers were unable to kill. The demon made life so miserable for them that king Hrothgar had to close the great hall of Heorot (Heaney 2000). When Beowulf comes to the nation of the Geats to fight Grendel, few believe he can kill the demon. However, Beowulf boasts of his past conquests in a party king Hrothgar throws in his honor. The noise from the party disturbs Grendel and he comes to slay people in Heorot hall. Beowulf confronts Grendel without any weapon and still manages to overpower him. Just like Beowulf, Batman is courageous and strong. Nolan notes that Batman dreaded bats after they attacked him in his childhood when fell into a well (2005). After his parents’ murder, Batman confronts his fear for bats and turns into a weapon to help him in his pursuit to fight crime. Batman also confronts and is able to defeat powerful criminals such as Bane and Ra’s al Ghul.

While both Beowulf and Batman share several similarities, they are different in some ways. Firstly, Beowulf is an ancient epic hero with a mythical background. He derives his heroism from fighting superhuman creatures such as the demon and the dragon. In contrast, Batman is a modern day hero whose heroics revolve around the desire to fight crime. Secondly, both of them are mortal but only one dies in the course of his heroics. While Batman nearly dies in several occasions, he manages to live through attempts on his life (Nolan, 2012). However, Beowulf eventually dies because of a wound he sustained whilst fighting the dragon. Lastly, Beowulf set out to kill Grendel because he was disturbing the peace of the Geat nation. Grendel had not harmed Beowulf personally. In contrast, Batman set out to avenge his parents’ murder. On the same note, Beowulf targeted individuals such as Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. On the other hand, Batman targeted crime in general. He went after criminals irrespective of whether they harmed personally or not.

Epic heroes such as Beowulf provide an entertaining insight into societal values in the period of their creation. For instance, society held chivalry in high regard during Beowulf’s time. Courageous and skillful knights in shining armor commanded a lot of respect from other members of society. This class of men responded to thwart any threat on the peace of their nations. Historical fiction is also interesting because most of their plots interweave with historical facts. Thus, authors present historical facts from the characters’ perspectives. While historical fiction differs with modern day fiction in terms of content, both are similar in the sense that characters represent the moral characteristics members of society admire.


Heaney, S. (2000). Beowulf: A new translation. London: Faber & Faber.

Nolan, C. (2005). Batman begins. (DVD).

Nolan, C. (2012). The dark knight trilogy. London: Faber & Faber.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Book Review, Fiction


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: