Beowulf @ Ellis

Natalie B.

            In the book, Beowulf, fame is a prominent part of the war-like society.  Battle is prized and courage is honored in this story.  Warriors believe that it is their duty to defend their country and, most importantly, gain fame.  Fame is defined as being well known and admired by others for one’s achievements.  But because fame brings praise and power, it can have a mixture of effects on a person.  In my piece of art, I show that fame can make a leader trusted, loved, and remembered for centuries or it can make a leader proud, troubled, and corrupt.  Beowulf, the main character in this tale, gains fame by defeating various terrifying beasts.  For the rest of his life he is admired by his people, but he does not allow himself to become reckless, vain or tyrannical.  In contrast, Hermod destroys his life by letting the advantages of fame go to his head. 
            On the right side of my artwork, I show Beowulf, a follower of Higlac and the strongest man of the Geats.  The sequence of faces from right to left shows all the stages in Beowulf’s life, beginning when he was a child.  When he was a boy, he was an orphan who was laughed at and lonely.  He was tall and clumsy and didn’t seem to fit in with other kids his age.  Beowulf suffered from this, but overcame his unhappiness by self-discipline, and challenging himself to fight for the common good.  As the book states, “Beowulf was ready, firm with our Lord’s high favor and his own bold courage and strength” (44, ll. 669-670). 
            Beowulf fights not only for his name, but for the health and well being of other people.  After Beowulf defeats two terrifying monsters in Denmark, he becomes more confident in himself.  The first creature, Grendel, is an enemy of the Danes.  He raids the mead hall named Herot, a safe haven for the Danish warriors, and kills the men who inhabit it.  After defeating Grendel by cutting off his arm, not only does Beowulf save numerous people from death, but he gains confidence in himself, as other people learn to trust him.  Crowds of people, far and wide, hear Beowulf’s story.  Beowulf enjoys being famous, but doesn’t become conceited.  He attributes his strength and success to God. 
            The second creature, Grendel’s mother, seeks revenge on Beowulf because Beowulf has killed her son.  This time Beowulf fights with the monster under water.  Even though all odds are against him, he prevails.  After a long battle, Beowulf finally cuts through Grendel’s mother’s neck with her own sword.  Once Beowulf is sure that both beasts are dead, he takes the massive head of Grendel and the sword hilt with him.  There are treasures hidden inside the monster’s hall, but Beowulf is not concerned with wealth.  This shows the integrity of Beowulf’s character and helps explain why he is loved by so many people. 
            Fifty years later, Beowulf meets his demise when he faces a dragon.  Even with the help of another man, he is barely a match for the dragon, but he does stop his fiery raids.  After Beowulf dies, there is a lengthy funeral ceremony.  Many people gather to see the ceremony and mourn their great leader.  Beowulf’s body is burned.  Then, the Geats build a tower or lighthouse, as Beowulf requests.  The right side of my artwork has a lighthouse for a background.  I made the light in the lighthouse prominent to symbolize the role model that Beowulf becomes for other people.  The lighthouse reminds people of Beowulf’s courage and endurance, an inspiration to all warriors.  Beowulf also continues to be admired for his loyalty to his people, faith in God, and humility. 
            On the left side of my artwork, I show Hermod, a man with great promise who utterly fails in life.  The sequence of faces from left to right shows the stages in Hermod’s life.  As a child, Hermod had all the advantages and riches he wanted.  He was a spoiled child.  Years passed and he grew into a powerful and courageous warrior, but he also grew vain and arrogant.  He let pride corrupt his strong personality.  Hermod became very self-centered, greedy, and cruel.  He didn’t listen to or care about other people.  Because of this, his later life was filled with violence and conflict.  His people betrayed him, and he went into exile with the Jutes.  “Pride and defeat and betrayal sent him into exile” (51 ll. 901-902). 
            But he learned nothing while in exile and caused more unhappiness.  He ruled the Jutes, but was not successful because he was an arrogant and brutal king.  He listened to no one but himself, taking no advice from wise men.  Finally, he was killed by the Jutes.  No one lamented when Hermod died. 
            The left side of my artwork has a prison background.  This shows how Hermod imprisoned himself much of his lifetime by becoming conceited and vicious.  I made the cell of the prison look dark, cold, and eerie.  I also drew the cell with a narrow perspective, the walls seeming to close in to give the viewer a greater feeling of confinement.  As one looks out of the cell through the barred door, one sees light, a symbol of goodness, shining through the cell bars to show that good people outside in the world live their lives freely. 
            In the center of my artwork, there is a blurred space dividing these two contrasting illustrations.  I placed this here to show that the life that Beowulf led was completely separate from Hermod’s life.  While Beowulf and Hermod are opposites, the blur suggests that there is a wide range of people in between these two polar opposites, and when one is given free will, one can pass from one to another. 
            In conclusion, my artwork illustrates the effect of fame on two unlike characters.  Beowulf, “well loved, followed in friendship” (51-52 ll. 914-916), earned his fame honestly, lived wisely, and was revered.  Hermod, whose “heart has been hollowed by sin” (51-52 ll. 914-916), lived arrogantly, sought fame foolishly, and was despised.


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The Ellis School - 6425 Fifth Avenue - Pittsburgh, PA 15206