Beowulf Courage Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Seamus Heaney's Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
"As God is my witness,
I would rather my body were robed in the same
burning blaze as my gold-giver's body
than go back home bearing arms.
That is unthinkable, unless we have first
slain the foe and defended the life
of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know
the things he has done for us deserve better.
Should he alone be left exposed
to fall in battle? We must bond together,
shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword." (2650-2660)
Wiglaf has thoroughly internalized the code of the medieval warrior. He believes that it is better to die because of a courageous act of loyalty than to survive and make it home without attempting the task you set out to do. He also places his loyalty to his "gold-giver," or king, above his own life.
by the thought of glory, the war-king threw
his whole strength behind a sword-stroke
and connected with the skull. (2677-2680)
Beowulf is able to behave courageously by constantly keeping thoughts of his reputation and the possibility for fame and glory in mind.
the battle-dodgers abandoned the wood,
the ones who had let down their lord earlier,
the tail-turners, ten of them together.
When he needed them most, they had made off.
Now they were ashamed and came behind shields,
in their battle-outfits, to where the old man lay. (2845-2851)
Although the ten Geat warriors who ran away from the battle with the dragon are scorned as cowardly by the poet, they aren't totally vilified. After all, it's not one man who runs away while the others all stay – everyone runs away and only one man, Wiglaf, is brave enough to stay. This suggests that true courage is somewhat uncommon and that most warriors, at least when they're facing a dragon, have momentary lapses in bravery.