This is the beginning of an essay which is supposed to be about if Beowulf is a hero or not, by the definition set forth in the story. I'm feeling like its all written a bit awkwardly, so I'd hugely appreciate editing or any other feedback!
The definition of a hero has changed profusely throughout the evolution of society. In the days of Beowulf and the Vikings, a hero was a man who was strong and courageous, willing and able to protect his tribe and provide for his people. But today, since our culture has vastly changed, so has the meaning of this word; now it is used for the brave and selfless people of the world.
Beowulf is painted as a great hero before his name is even mentioned in the story, and this image does not falter against those of previous kings. Every man described as "great" through the story is also always described as some combination of warrior, ring-giver, powerful, and war-lord. Some of these traits, particularly being a warrior, are simply logistics of the era; it seems Vikings were always either being attacked or attacking someone else, therefore their leaders and heroes must be warriors to keep the tribe alive. Along with this is the fact that heroes must be faithful and protective of their tribe. But also, the book depicts the "greats" as admirable leaders who can provide for their people. An interesting aspect, very different to what we would consider today, is the prominent point of being a ring-giver. Treasures and gifts were a very significant part of Viking culture; upon every notable event, they are given out or passed along to mark the occasion. For this reason, a hero must be capable of providing these ever-important objects as well.
With these standards set forth by the story, it becomes clear that Beowulf is, in fact, a hero in this sense. The narrator's portrayal of Beowulf is nothing but heroic from his first mentionings, where he is described as "[the] mightiest man on earth" (pg 15), "the noble warrior" (pg. 23), and "the man whose name was known for courage, the Great leader" (pg 25). However, as the story continues, there are a number of contradictions between what is said and what seems to have really happened in his journey to aid Hrothgar and his resume as a hero before defeating Grendel. In the beginning of the story, it says "...nobody tried to keep him from going, no elder denied him, dear as he was to them. Instead they inspected omens and spurred his ambition to go..." (pg 15). But later, we find that the narrator may be untrustworthy because King Hygelac states "I dreaded the outcome of your expedition and pleaded with you long and hard to leave the killer be, let the South-Danes settle their own blood-feud..." (pg 137). These quotes directly contradict each other and introduce the issue of whether the narrator's descriptions of Beowulf can be trusted. Furthermore, this matter is more directly put into question when the it is stated that "[Beowulf] had been poorly regarded for a long time, was taken by the Geats for less than he was worth..." and "They firmly believed that he lacked force, that the prince was a weakling..." (pg 149) because these go against the narrators previous descriptions of Beowulf as a strong, warrior and leader. Despite this though, Beowulf must still undoubtedly be considered a Viking hero because of his actions through the story. He proves to be a great warrior and protector by killing three terrorizing beasts, a provider by bringing back great treasures from each of his exploits, and faithful by always looking out for his tribe and fighting in their honor. Although it seems that he may not have always been a hero, through these acts he proves to be a true hero in the end.