Study Guide

Beowulf Mortality

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Hardly a line passes by in Beowulf without the narrator reminding us that everyone is going to die eventually. It's really a very morbid poem, in fact. The awareness of death is a constant for medieval Scandinavian warriors, who kill their enemies and watch their friends die on a daily basis. In a life filled with uncertainty and violence, these fighters must accept that everyone shares the same fate – death. What matters, then, is to keep one's eventual death constantly in mind and try to perform great deeds so that you can be remembered by those who live after you as a great warrior.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Why does the narrator stress that it is important for warriors to remember that they will eventually die? What is this awareness of death supposed to cultivate for them? What does thinking about their own mortality prevent them from doing instead?
  2. How does the manner of Beowulf's death affect his reputation as a warrior? Why is it important for readers to see Beowulf's death scene?
  3. What is the relationship between the theme of mortality in Beowulf and the emphasis on God's power over human life?

Chew on This

By remaining constantly aware of their own mortality, warriors in Beowulf prevent themselves from becoming overconfident in their own prowess and abilities.

Medieval Scandinavian warriors seek an immorality on earth by establishing their reputations as heroes.

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