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However, we soon learn that a major motivation is a family debt that Beowulf owes to Hrothgar.The young Geat is devoted to the old king because Hrothgar came to the assistance of Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, years before.Loyalty A theme in a literary work is a recurring, unifying subject or idea, a motif that allows us to understand more deeply the character and their world.
His reputation intact, Beowulf prepares to meet Grendel and further enhance his fame.
As he discusses Beowulf's later years, the poet lists the virtues (2177 ff.) leading to the great man's fine reputation.
Beowulf is courageous and famous for his performance in battle but equally well known for his good deeds.
Although aggressive in war, Beowulf has "no savage mind" (2180) and never kills his comrades when drinking, an important quality in the heroic world of the mead-hall.
Beowulf respects the gifts of strength and leadership that he possesses.
As he prepares to meet the dragon, near the end of the poem, now King Beowulf again considers his reputation.Beowulf comes to the assistance of the Danes (Scyldings) for complicated reasons.Certainly he is interested in increasing his reputation and gaining honor and payment for his own king back in Geatland.He has and continues to amass treasures; his intent now is in building his fame.Unferth's slur accuses Beowulf of foolishly engaging in a seven-day swimming contest on the open sea, as a youth, and losing.After Heardred is killed, Beowulf does become king and rules with honor and fidelity to his office and his people for 50 years.In his final test, the burden of loyalty will rest on other, younger shoulders.From the beginning, Beowulf is rightly concerned about how the rest of the world will see him.He introduces himself to the Scyldings by citing achievements that gained honor for him and his king.When it is apparent that Beowulf is losing the battle to the dragon, however, all but one of his men run and hide in the woods.Only Wiglaf, an inexperienced thane who has great respect for his king, remains loyal. Realizing that they will be no help and that his king is about to be killed, he stands beside the old man to fight to the death — theirs or the dragon's. Although he and Wiglaf kill the dragon, the king dies.