Beowulf Is a Strong and Cunning Hero

“We are all just cogs in a machine, doing what we were always meant to do, with no actual volition.” – Baron d’Holbach. Oedipus following the oracles fate, Macbeth fulfilling the witches’ prophecy; these examples serve to show that there is no such concept as free will. In both Beowulf and Grendel, a lack of free will is shown to prove that no one truly has control of their own future.

Grendel will always be seen as a monster. His fate is predetermined, he is “the dark side … the terrible race God cursed” (51).

Grendel has been marked as the seed of Cain and the labels ‘Ruiner of Meadhalls [and] Wrecker of Kings'(80). will always follow him. The Shaper has sealed Grendel’s fate as the evil monster and Grendel cannot shed his stories. Grendel can attempt to change his behavior but no matter what he does, he will never be able to change who he is. He is destined to be the villain of the story that the hero, Beowulf, triumphs over.

When Grendel argues with the dragon about not attacking the humans the dragon encourages him to continue his behavior. The dragon, who can see into the future, knows that in the end, nothing will change for Grendel. No matter how hard Grendel tries to alter his ways, the reader knows that he will eventually attack the humans regardless of what he tries to do.

Beowulf is the classic hero of the story. Blessed by God, his fate is fixed.

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Beowulf is a strong and cunning hero, but he claims that his success is divine intervention. After fighting Grendel’s mom, he states ‘My strong-edged Hrunting stoutest of blades / Availed me nothing. But God revealed / Often His arm has aided the friendless / The fairest of weapons hanging on the wall'(Lines 1131 – 1134). He does not owe his success to his physical prowess or wit, but rather to God. Beowulf had no control over the situation and received aid from a divine being. While facing the dragon, Beowulf did not lose because of his old age, he lost because ‘It was not his portion to prosper in war / Fate did not grant him glory in battle!’ (Lines 1541 – 1542). It was his destiny to fail against the dragon.

The dragon proves the futility of trying to change one’s fate. He is a higher being than humans and Grendel. He is able to see into and comprehend the future. ‘Things come and go … That’s the gist of it. In a billion billion billion years, everything will have come and gone several times, in various forms. Even I will be gone'(70). His vision shows him that the universe is ultimately cyclical. No matter what one does it is insignificant in the grand scheme of things to come. Everything that has happened is bound to happen again, and again. Although the dragon can see into the future he cannot influence it, ‘My knowledge of the future does not cause the future. It merely sees it … I do not change the future. I merely do what I saw from the beginning’ (63). He only does what he sees further reinforcing that he has no control or free will over his fate.

A real-world example of the lack of free choice is an experiment conducted by Moran Cerf of Northwestern University. He created a box with two buttons and a game with two simple rules: Do not touch a button while a light is on or while the box is buzzing. To start the experiment, he asked the participants to wear an Electroencephalogram, EEG, cap to measure their brainwaves. The subject calibrates the box by pushing the buttons for a few minutes, while they do this a computer is reading and analyzing their brainwaves. After the calibration period, the results from this box become very interesting. The computer can predict when the participant will press a button, and the lights and buzzer go off. But this machine is reading subconscious waves from the brain. The decision to push the button does not begin in the conscious mind but it is preceded by subconscious activity. In layman’s terms, this means that the machine can detect what the user will do before they are even aware of it. This begs the question, does free will actually exist? If the subconscious knows what one will do before they themselves do is it really their decision? Or do they think that is their decision? This test truly exposes the fragility of free will in a scientific way.

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Beowulf Is a Strong and Cunning Hero. (2021, Dec 24). Retrieved from

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