Alterity in Beowulf

Beowulf’s alterity while he was a young man is different than when he was an older king, but many of the same great traits were present in both stages of his life. Beowulf’s alterity as a young man was clearer than when he was an older king. His main alterity is evident in his heroic ways, from slaying Grendel and Grendel’s mother to the way he handled himself during normal activities. He was always the strongest and bravest in the room, even if the hall was filled with countless warriors, he still would be the best among them. There was no warrior braver than Beowulf. There was no creature he would back down from fighting, no matter how big, or how vicious people claimed the creature to be. In addition to his bravery, the second aspect of his alterity was his strength. No man or warrior could have tore off Grendel’s arm, and terminated Grendel’s mother. Beowulf’s strength was unmatched to any other man he would ever cross. Both Beowulf’s strength and heroic bravery were his alterity, as those traits made him different than any other man.                                                             

 I consider Beowulf’s elder self starting when he became king, “He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land.” (Heaney 2208-2210). His courage and strength continued from his youth into his elder years, but there was a difference to him. Beowulf was wiser and more reflective in his older years. He didn’t simply run into battle as he once did, there were more thoughts and planning beforehand. Once Beowulf gained knowledge of the impending battle with the dragon, he even thought about the possibility of death, which never would have crossed his thoughts in his youth, “He was sad at heart, unsettled yet ready, sensing death.” (Heaney 2419-2420). He wanted to fight the dragon with his hands again as he did with Grendel, but he realized that he is not the youthful man he once was, but now he settled for using a weapon to fight the creature. Beowulf also no longer seemed to enjoy the battles against creatures for fun, but rather a task that must be completed as a king in order to protect his people, “Now I am old, I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning” (Heaney 2542-2544). One of the major differences of his alterity as an king from his youth is that his strength was not what it used to be,  but he still was the most courageous warrior in all the lands, this line signifies that point, “So the king of the Geats raised his hand and struck hard at the enameled scales, but scarcely cut through” (Heaney 2575-2577). It is also evident in this line that this was the only time he ever struggled in battle, “Beowulf was foiled of a glorious victory. The glittering sword, infallible before that day” (Heaney 2583-2585). During the days of his youth Beowulf was able to destroy the creatures he faced on his own, but this time as a king facing the dragon, he could not do it on his own and would need assistance from a fellow warrior named Wiglaf. Beowulf was also very reflective during his time as a king, “Now is the time when I would have wanted to bestow this armour on my own son, had it been my fortune to have fathered an heir” (Heaney 2729-2731). He was still courageous as he ever was during his youth, but at the same time he understood this time he needed help, and it is rare for a warrior to accept assistance from another, and to admit he needs it. Also, as a king he was wise and thoughtful, along with his fearlessness. I feel most kings during that time were wise and planned very well, but most let their warriors claim the fearlessness, which made Beowulf one of a kind. As a youth he saved a king from Grendel, but as a king he would be wise while doing the saving of his kingdom.                                       

All of this shows that Beowulf’s older king alterity was similar to his young man alterity, but different. He was still fearless but has grown as a personal into a wise leader. Not only was he strong in battle, but he was also strong in all aspects of life, and a well-rounded individual.