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Essay example - Beowulf: fame after death is the noblest of goals

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Reputation, fame, and the building of both are central to the themes of Beowulf. In accordance with the pagan belief that there was no afterlife, the inhabitants of the world of Beowulf seek their treasure and glory in the living world, to build a reputation that will carry on after their deaths…

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Identity in the world of Beowulf is made up of two main components - heritage, and reputation. Heritage is the sum of the deeds of one's forbears and the bloodline of one's ancestors. Reputation is the sum of the deeds of oneself. Beowulf's fame and identity are both made up of deeds performed by himself and his ancestors.
Beowulf introduces the reader to a world where every man is known in relation to someone else. Even Grendel is introduced to the reader as being "conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cainpunished forever for the crime of Abel's death" (105-108) Grendel is known firstly by mention of the deeds of his ancestor, Cain - it is only in the following lines that the deeds of Grendel himself are told. Beowulf himself is first introduced to the reader as "Beowulf, Higlac's follower and the strongest of the Geats", (193-194) and subsequently introduces himself as the son of "a famous soldier, known far and wide as a leader of men". (261-262) He is talked of by the Danes as "a mighty warrior, powerful and wise", (370) and a man with "thirty men's strength". (380) This is even before Beowulf and Hrothgar have met - clearly Beowulf's fame is such that it precedes him a fairly long way.
For the most part, characters do not speak without first introducing themselves in relation to their ancestors and each introduction of a character by the narrator necessitat ...
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