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Throughout history, athleticism became widely favored. With such athleticism, many times also comes pride and arrogance. Anglo-Saxon culture highlights many epic-style literature pieces. In Anglo-Saxon culture, epic heroes were often praised for their athletic ability, strength, and bravery. There to save society, epic heroes often are portrayed as the protagonist whose mission is to slay the beast, the antagonist. Whereas in reality, the same epic heroes are arrogant and find every way to boost their ego and inflate their image.
In the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, the main protagonist Beowulf is introducing himself to others. He says that “They have seen my strength for themselves, they have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood,” (Raffel 151-153). Beowulf is describing his immaculate strength to others who will listen, and the imagery he provides create a vivid picture of Beowulf’s supposed bravery and strength. The anaphora utilized in Beowulf’s dialogue intensifies the images he creates to his listeners. Beowulf’s evocative images brought into his onlookers’ heads will make them believe that he is brave for wearing his enemies’ blood and surviving war.
But Beowulf also exhibits an inflated ego later on in his self-titled poem, Beowulf. In reaction to Beowulf slaying the main antagonist Grendel, the citizens rejoiced Grendel’s death. Caught in the midst of all the commotion, they claimed there was no warrior better fit to rule the land than Beowulf, “but no one meant Beowulf’s praise to belittle Hrothgar, their kind and gracious king!” (Raffel 543-544). It seemed everyone was praising Beowulf for saving them from such a monstrosity, for saving their society, that they just forgot about their actual ruler, King Hrothgar, altogether. In lieu of completely forgetting their true leader, they felt compelled to give Hrothgar a few kind words to proclaim how much he was really appreciated. The citizens spend so much time swooning about how great the strong and brave Beowulf is, that their “kind and gracious king” (Raffel 545) is well hidden by Beowulf’s inflated ego.
Beowulf is only one epic hero that exhibits praise for strength while boosting an arrogant ego. In the verse narrative Gilgamesh, the titular character and protagonist Gilgamesh is given a mission to fight Humbaba. The older men reminisce on their old times of fighting in the war, and “their voices gave the confidence his friend had failed to give” (Mason 38-39). These older men are confiding in Gilgamesh to successfully kill Humbaba because they believe he is strong and brave enough to carry out this mission. The older men have already had reached their primal age for glory, and now it is time to let another man have success in trying to hunt down Humababa. Gilgamesh is the strongest and bravest, and perhaps the fittest for the job, as the elders put their vote of confidence in him.
But like Beowulf, Gilgamesh shares similar ego boosting tendencies. At the very beginning of the narrative, Gilgamesh is explaining his plan of attack on Humbaba with Enkidu when he ponders “What happened to your power that could once challenge and equal mine?” (Mason 5-6). Gilgamesh’s words reveal the arrogant and ego building side of him, as he wonders why someone is not as strong as they once were. The dialogue itself reveals the haughty side of Gilgamesh, as he believes that he sets the standard for the epitome of strength. Gilgamesh is almost asking for a fight when he says their power could have challenged his, mainly because he wants to prove he is the strongest and the most powerful of all. If anyone can rival his strength, Gilgamesh would want to prove his superiority, which would also ultimately boost his self-image.
Beowulf and Gilgamesh, both the protagonists of their respective titular stories, are portrayed as strong and brave in their communities. But over time, their arrogance and egotistical views are unveiled. Heroes in epic Anglo-Saxon culture are reflective of both Beowulf and Gilgamesh, where the heroes are portrayed to their communities as the epitome of strength and bravery, but then quickly show signs of arrogance and an inflated ego.