Updated: Jul 21, 2020
"The only reason why you know about a dead hero is because a live coward was there to tell his story" (ODT, S02E05)
Beowulf is the renowned hero of this tale, and one of the original heroes in Western literature, fighting many battles, and defeating many enemies. Part of what furthers Beowulf’s renown to such an extent is his honour and valour in battle. When Beowulf is slain by the dragon he tells his companion “Death is better for any earl than a life of dishonor!” (2890-91) This statement can be taken as a direct criticism of the men who fled into the woods, the cowards who abandoned their lord when faced with the tremendous dragon; the survivors. The men who give their lives are deemed “heroes in their graves” (2458), similarly to soldiers who die in war today, whereas those who find a way to survive are simply ordinary, or even cowardly. Yet those are the ones who continue on and share the story of Beowulf, the tradition of oral storytelling being the only reason that Beowulf is still around today.
Furthermore, Beowulf is not the only one to uphold this statement of death over dishonour. When Grendel meets with Beowulf and knows he has found his match, he is also “eager to escape to the darkness” (755), a potential reading of which is that Grendel wishes a speedy, and honourable, death in battle as opposed to being captured by Beowulf. Grendel, though, is not deemed a hero for this but a coward, despite the fact that his death would be met by a “host of devils” (756) due to the villainous life he has led.
Equally, in this day being eager to escape into the darkness, whether that be the abyss of drug or alcohol abuse, or suicide, is not the mark of a hero. Whereas to fight and die for a cause, creates a martyr. But if there are more battles and devils to face in cowardice, are they really all that different? And how do we know about the heroes if there were no cowards there to share their story?