Strength is a constant obsession of the world of warriors and demons in Beowulf. Warriors are willing to go to extreme lengths to find opportunities for displaying their physical might, from pointless swimming competitions to ridding another country of the local demon menace. Even the blackest of enemies seems a little more sympathetic in this epic when he (or she) can demonstrate immense physical strength, and even the best of kings or counselors seems a little more pathetic if he can't defeat his foes himself. It's worth pointing out that strength is more important than skill here; skill smacks of deviousness, while strength is simple, straightforward, and pure.
Questions About Strength and Skill
- Is there any difference between strength and skill in Beowulf? That is, does technique matter for a warrior, or is it all about brute force?
- Why does Beowulf decide to fight Grendel in hand-to-hand combat, instead of using his sword or any other weapon?
- Does a good king need to be a great and mighty warrior, or is it enough for him to have the wisdom he's gained during his lifetime? Should kings literally be "strong men" in the world of Beowulf?
- What is the point of Beowulf's description of his swimming contest with Breca?
Chew on This
Beowulf's strength is impressive, but it's not his most important characteristic; many of the warriors around him are strong, but, without faith and courage, their strength is useless.
Beowulf's wrestling contest with Grendel is a chance for Beowulf to prove his physical strength; saving the Danes from a marauding demon is just a bonus.