Embedded Journeys: Beowulf as Mythic Hero


For readers of a Jungian bent, the masterwork of Old English literature, Beowulf, seems to tap into a kind of collective unconscious; the poet draws from a universal wellspring of mythological motifs to craft an heroic epic that still possesses profound psychological resonance some twelve hundred years later. In his seminal work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the mythological hero’s journey as an amplification of the basic rite of passage common to all cultures, consisting of a separation from family or tribe, an initiation, and then a return or homecoming (30). Campbell goes on to delineate in great detail what he calls the monomyth, the universal pattern of the hero’s quest: the call to adventure, the crossing of the threshold of adventure, the voyage into the dark unknown with its attendant trials and ordeals, and ultimate triumph, in which the hero wins a boon that restores his or her world and/or brings about his or her apotheosis (245-46). The hero might be semi-divine (like Herakles or Achilles) or an otherwise exceptionally gifted individual (like Odysseus or Beowulf) “who transcends the ordinary scope of human actions” (Fisher 172). InBeowulf, the poet endows his Geatish champion with extraordinary – even superhuman – abilities, and sends him on an epic voyage that neatly parallels Campbell’s monomyth, but with a twist: there are actually three miniature quests embedded within the larger quest that is Beowulf’s life.

Beowulf’s preternatural abilities are conspicuously evident in the poet’s hyperbolic descriptions of the Geat’s prodigious strength, inexhaustible endurance, and unflagging courage. In the very first lines pertaining to the protagonist, the reader is told that “Hygelac’s thane…was the mightiest man on earth” (lines 194-97). Later, in the hero’s first meeting with Hrothgar, this incredible puissance is quantified when the Danish king describes his would-be champion as having “the strength of thirty / in the grip of each hand” (lines 380-81). Beowulf’s unarmed defeat of the monster, Grendel, lays to rest any notion that the reports of the warrior’s might are unwarranted puffery. The Grendel fight is also a contest of endurance, another quality for which Beowulf is justly celebrated. Both the hero and his adversary are noted for their tremendous strength; the outcome of the battle thus hinges upon which combatant’s strength can outlast the other’s. Of course, during the initial feast at Heorot, Beowulf boasts of his endurance when he relates the details of his five-night swimming contest with his comrade, Breca. To accomplish this Herculean feat, Beowulf’s endurance must hold out against “the waves, the perishing cold” (line 346), the “winds from the north” (line 347), and the “foul things” (line 559) that beleaguer him along the way. The Grendel fight proves this story to be more than an idle boast, as does the warrior’s arduous swim to the bottom of the mere to confront Grendel’s dam. These incidents also serve to highlight Beowulf’s surpassing intrepidity – fighting a ravening monster without using weapon or armor, grappling with the creature’s terrible mother on her own territory, and pitting oneself against a harsh and unforgiving sea all bespeak matchless courage. This is all the more true since Beowulf goes into each battle with the intention of confronting his formidable foes in single combat – the man may be rash, but he is manifestly no coward; he is imbued with a plenitude of heroic qualities.

These heroic abilities stand Beowulf in good stead during his monomythic quests. Each of his three battles follows Campbell’s general paradigm, and when all of these episodes are considered as an organic whole, they represent the stages of a grand quest that takes the hero more than fifty years to complete. Consider, first, the fight with Grendel. Beowulf receives the call to adventure when “news of Grendel, / hard to ignore, reached [him] at home” in Geatland (lines 409-10). Beowulf sees in these tidings both an opportunity to enhance his personal glory and a chance to requite a family debt of honor to King Hrothgar. His arrival on the Danish coast and subsequent encounter with the coast guard represent the threshold of adventure and the guardian of the threshold, respectively. In the monomyth, such guardians must either be conquered or conciliated before the true adventure can begin (Campbell 245). Beowulf chooses the latter path, and through his forthrightness and eloquence, convinces the watchman to conduct him to the great mead-hall, Heorot. According to Campbell, the next step for the questing hero is descent “into the kingdom of the dark” where he must undergo an ordeal (often taking the form of battle with a dragon) in order to prove himself (245-46). The fight with Grendel literally takes place in a dark kingdom – the royal seat of Heorot in the middle of the night. Here his strength and courage are tested and proven, and the hero triumphs, winning a boon (Grendel’s arm, symbolizing the purgation of evil) that restores the world of Heorot to its erstwhile felicity. Upon his return to the familiar, daylight world of the mead-hall, Beowulf undergoes an apotheosis of sorts as he is lavishly praised and rewarded, and Hrothgar’s scop begins to immortalize the hero in song, “rehearsing Beowulf’s / triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines” (lines 871-72).

The warrior’s two subsequent battles follow much the same Campbellian pattern. The next call to adventure comes in the form of the murder of Aeschere, King Hrothgar’s “most beloved” retainer, by Grendel’s infernal dam (lines 1292-99). Now, the king personally implores the hero’s aid, telling him “help depends / again on you and on you alone” (lines 1376-77). Once again, Beowulf must cross a threshold and deal with its guardians, both of which are more formidable this time around. In order to reach the lair of Grendel’s mother, the doughty Geat must enter the mere that protects it and overcome its guardians, which take the form of “writhing sea-dragons / and monsters” (lines 1426-27). Conciliation is not a viable option, so Beowulf must defeat the guardians by killing them. His dark journey this time is truly a descent, as he must swim to the bottom of the forbidding mere, “a world of unfamiliar…forces” (Campbell 246). The underwater journey tests the limits of his endurance, taking “the best part of a day” (line 1496), but his supreme ordeal comes in the form of Grendel’s mother, a far more dangerous and adamantine foe than her son had been. His strength is much more sorely tried than before, but enables him to prevail in the end by giving him the power to heft a sword “from the days of giants” (line 1559) and decapitate his hellish enemy. Beowulf carries his “boons” (the bejeweled hilt of the sword and the head of Grendel’s mother) back to the world of the familiar to restore once again the good cheer of Heorot, where the hero is elevated to an even higher position of esteem among the Danes.

The final battle has all of the same monomythic elements, and brings the hero to his highest level of apotheosis, but there are some unique twists and ironies in this episode. There is a call to adventure, in the form of his people’s anguish over the depredations of the dragon, and there is a threshold of adventure, in the form of the entrance to the treasure cave. One twist in this final encounter, however, is that the threshold guardian and the hero’s supreme ordeal are one and the same – the dragon that guards the hoard. Another departure from the previous incidents can be seen in the fact that, for the first time in his life, Beowulf has need of another monomythic figure, the helper (in this case, Wiglaf), in order to defeat the foe. Furthermore, in this ordeal the Geatish king must give his life in order to save his people and bring them the boons, which include the treasure hoard and freedom from the dragon’s wrath. This time, his voyage is literally a descent into death, but there is no corresponding return to the world of light and life, at least not literally. Figuratively, he achieves the ultimate apotheosis available to a Germanic warrior – everlasting fame, symbolized by the monumental barrow constructed by the Geats to memorialize their fallen king. It is tragically ironic, however, that in this final episode, the boons prove to be illusory – Beowulf is buried with the treasure; and the safety he has won for his people is transitory, since the leaderless Geats are now vulnerable to attack by the hostile Swedes (line 2999).

As Peter Fisher points out, these three episodes are “structurally parallel” and can be viewed as successive stages in a larger, greater, more spiritual quest (173), which also follows Campbell’s general outline. In this grand journey, Beowulf is transformed from a somewhat rash, inexperienced and untested youth into a wise, confident, and heroic king – a beloved ring-giver and guardian of his people. The heroic emprise commences with the traditional call to adventure, as stories of King Hrothgar’s tribulations reach Beowulf at home in Geatland. What follows then is the separation, in which the hero leaves family, country, and the protecting environs of Hygelac’s mead-hall, and begins the journey that will take him into the dark and unknown region of trials and ordeals. Along the way, he encounters, in the figure of King Hygelac, the helper or wise master (the Obi Wan Kenobi, as it were) who prepares the hero for the perils that lie ahead, attempts to teach him the ways of true wisdom and maturity, and leads him to the threshold of adventure. In this context, the fight with Grendel is, in fact, the encounter with the threshold guardian, not the true quest -Grendel is merely an obstacle to Beowulf’s mission, not the mission, itself. Having crossed the threshold by defeating the guardian, the hero is now free to continue his journey through a dark world of unfamiliar forces and meet his trials and ultimate ordeal. The perilous descent through the mere and the dire battle with Grendel’s fell mother represent this stage of the quest. The defeat of Grendel merely pruned a branch of the evil, now the hero must defeat the evil at its source. In a larger sense, Beowulf is purging his own inner demons, a necessary step before he can complete his spiritual journey and achieve what Campbell calls an “expansion of consciousness” (246). The hero returns to the familiar world with his boons in the form of the sword hilt and the monster’s head, restoring that world to its halcyon days and earning lasting fame and glory for himself. Beowulf acquires an even greater boon, however, in the friendship and sage counsel of good King Hrothgar, a boon which he carries back to his own homeland and which ultimately brings happiness and prosperity to the Geats since it enables Beowulf to fulfill his destiny as wise king, generous ring-giver, and protector of his people. After a distinguished rule of fifty years, the aged and beloved King Beowulf achieves his ultimate apotheosis after confronting the dragon and sacrificing his own life for the sake of his countrymen, an act reminiscent of the great Christian version of the monomyth.

Beowulf, Christ, Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, Sigurd, Gilgamesh, and a host of other epic heroes from disparate cultures the world over, all have one thing in common: they all travel a well-worn mythological path through the primordial human psyche. Throughout the ages, all human beings have had to confront and overcome similar challenges, both internal and external. This universality of human experience has led to a universality of mythological motifs, including that of the hero’s journey, which Joseph Campbell so brilliantly illuminates in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It is clear that Beowulf’s individual battles, as well as his entire life’s journey, follow the outline of Campbell’s monomyth. As alien as the Germanic warrior culture is to the modern reader, we are still inextricably linked to the themes and motifs of its mythology because they are the same themes and motifs of our own mythology, of our essential human nature. This is why Beowulf still resonates, still touches a place deep in our unconscious, and will continue to do so as long as mankind continues to use myth in an attempt to grapple symbolically with the big questions of life, death, and the individual’s purpose and place in the universe.

Embassy Suites South Nashville, TN Cool Springs Hotel Review

Embassy Suites is an upscale hotel that is part of the Hilton chain. The Franklin, TN property offers the 2 room suites that we’ve come to expect from this hotel chain. Our suite was large and comfortable.

The first room held a large television, couch and chair, coffee table and desk and computer area. We had a microfridge combination plus a 2 cup coffeepot and sink. Along with the coffee pot was regular and decaf coffee, tea, sugar, cream etc. A bottle of water was on the counter. A label on the bottle told us about the additional $4 charge.

In the second room we had 2 large queen sized very comfortable beds, a dresser and nightstand and another large television set. Both rooms had telephones. The shades kept the light out of the room so well that Hubby had no trouble taking an afternoon nap. Our view from the 8th floor was great. The hotel has 9 floors so we were near the top level.

Our wireless signal remained steady and strong, the soft carpet felt good on our feet after a day of meetings. I also appreciated the muted earth tones that the room was designed. Everything was tasteful, plush and very clean.

The only downside to our room was the shower. The hotel was full when we stayed so adequate hot water was a problem. Our showerhead provided a steady stream but ran cool quickly in the morning. It surprised us that a hotel that thought of everything else would have this problem.

We were staying with a group that had negotiated free internet access. Normally there is a charge of about $10. Given the room price I feel that this is over the top.

They do offer printing and copy services that some hotels do not offer. Create the document in your room. Send it through the system to the business center in the lobby or to the front desk. During the process you will be given a code which you will need to pick up your document. You can also make copies. It worked seamlessly and went off without a hitch. There is no additional charge for these services which may justify the internet cost.

Parking is not a problem at the Embassy Suites South Nashville Cool Springs location. Ample space surrounds the building. The lot is well lighted. Use your room key to access the side and rear entrances. All rooms open to the interior of the building.

It is hard to describe how spectacular the inside of the Embassy Suites South Nashville Cool Springs really is. This high-rise luxury hotel could have been a movie set.

The structure is almost circular. It is built around a stunning open air atrium. The design combines aesthetically pleasing colors with attractive indoor landscaping. Glass elevators whisk you away to your room.

The ground floor has a large area where you can mingle with other guests. A large fountain provides soothing eye-catching appeal. Other downstairs amenities include the front desk, Athletic Club Bar and Grille, gift shop and meeting rooms. The swimming pool and workout center is near a side entrance.

Breakfast in the morning isn’t your usual cereal and bagels (although they do have that too). It’s a full restaurant. A side window offers cooked to order eggs and omelets with almost any filling that you can imagine. The buffet offers scrambled eggs, bagels, and two kinds of toast, cereals, Belgian waffles, bacon plus everything in between.

In the evening there is a manager’s reception with free drinks and snacks. Legal drinking age is required. Soda is also available.

The Athletic Club Bar and Grille is open daily from 11am – 11pm. They have two 10′ TV screens plus 12 smaller screens. A speaker is on every table. I would say that the prices are comparable to the Outback Steakhouse. Most of the entrees seemed to run between $12 – $25.

The people in the restaurant seemed to enjoy being there. I found it to be overwhelming. We skipped the restaurant and went for dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants.

We enjoyed the fact that the Embassy Suites South Nashville Cool Springs is only a minute away from the Cool Springs Galleria Mall. There you can find everything you would expect in an upscale mall.

Embassy Suites South Nashville Cool Springs is located in the Corporate Centre Office Park. It’s hard to imagine any place that caters to business needs more than this hotel. Everything you need is right at your fingertips or will be in a minute.

Audio-visual equipment was available. Meeting rooms and tables were set up with ice water and glasses within easy reach for all attendees. Covered candy dishes contained mints. The room temperature was comfortable.

Catering was also provided. A lunch buffet line provided tasty lunches. I forgot what we had the first day I arrived. The second day I was there we had a Mexican style buffet with all of the trimmings. Everyone seemed to be pleased. The large dining room was comfortably set with formal settings. The setting was fun but seemed to catch most of the attendees off guard.

There were several meetings going on at the hotel. Staff took everything in stride. Everyone that I ran across was responsive and courteous. The front desk clerks answered questions and gave helpful directions. Bell hops were available.

All in all, we had a perfect stay. I have to attend this training event next year. Hopefully, we’ll get to go back to Embassy Suites South Nashville Cool Springs.

Céline Dion Returns to the Stage in Las Vegas

After taking a year-long break from her Las Vegas residency last summer to care for her ailing husband René Angélil, the powerhouse made a triumphant return to the stage Thursday night at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum in Las Vegas.

“Thank you for all your love,” she tweeted after the show. “Tonight was not a new day, tonight was not really a new show. Tonight was a new beginning.”

Angélil, 73, continues to battle throat cancer, and is living at the couple’s Las Vegas home.

“I didn’t want to be here at first, I don’t need it. Don’t get me wrong. I love singing for people, but I have priorities,” the singer, 47, told USA Today earlier this week. “But my biggest job is to tell my husband, we’re fine. I’ll take care of our kids. You’ll watch us from another spot.”

In May, she opened up to reporters at the Billboard Music Awards about her return to the stage.

“The reason we did not come back before was because I wasn’t emotionally ready to come back,” she said. “My husband and my family needed me. They still do.”