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by Unknown

Beowulf Identity 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.

Quote #1

"Nor have I seen
a mightier man-at-arms on this earth
than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,
he is truly noble. This is no mere
hanger-on in a hero's armour." (244-251)

Beowulf's identity as a hero is obvious to the Danish coast-guard just from looking at him. He's not just an impostor or a "hanger-on"; he's the real thing, and he seems to have "realness" radiating off of him.

Quote #2

Undaunted, sitting astride his horse,
the coast-guard answered, "Anyone with gumption
and a sharp mind will take the measure
of two things: what's said and what's done.
I believe what you have told me: that you are a troop
loyal to our king." (286-291)

To us as 21st century readers, this sounds as though the coast-guard is distinguishing between things that are done as "real" and things that are said as "just talk." But that's the perspective of our culture. In medieval Scandinavian culture, talk was just as important as deeds, as long as they matched. Beowulf's declaration of himself and his intentions is a convincing speech that establishes his identity to the guard's satisfaction.

Quote #3

The man whose name was known for courage,
the Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
answered in return: "We are retainers
from Hygelac's band. Beowulf is my name." (340-343)

On its own, this quote might not look like much, but it takes the poem a long time to get around to mentioning Beowulf's name directly. Beowulf literally announces himself, proclaiming his name and invoking the reputation he has built up for himself in the past through his great deeds.

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