Monday, March 14, 2011
What A Braggart!
When it comes to bravery, Beowulf makes the Top 10 list for all time. Who’s read Beowulf? This guy takes on a terrifying monster with his bare hands. He dives into an evil lake full of monsters, just one sword in his hands. He even goes after a dragon, all by himself. John McClane is a tough cookie, but I don’t see him intentionally taking of his armor to face a bad guy.
Beowulf was proud of himself for all that. And he wasn’t afraid to share it. More than once he boasted about his exploits, and spared no flattery for himself. Just listen to the guy.
“Time and again, foul things attacked me, / lurking and stalking, but I lashed out, / gave as good as I got with my sword. / My flesh was not for feasting on, / there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating / over their banquet at the bottom of the sea. / Instead, in the morning, mangled and sleeping / the sleep of the sword, they slopped and floated / like the oceans leavings.”
“I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon / wanted to cram me and many another / into this bag- but it was not to be / once I got to my feet in a blind fury. / It would take too long to tell how I repaid / the terror of the land for every life he took.”
“I marched ahead of him, always there / at the front of the line; and I shall always fight like that / for as long as I live, as long as this sword / shall last, which has stood me in good stead / late and soon, ever since I killed / Dayraven the Frank in front of the two armies.”
What a braggart. Seriously. I can pull up a couple other parts from Beowulf where he milks his adventures for all they’re worth. He boasts in front of envious rivals, foreign kings, and his own people. He holds nothing back when telling his stories. Modesty doesn’t seem to have been a big priority in the Geats’ kindergarten.
Can you imagine what would happen if someone bragged like that today? We’ve come a long way since the time of the Geats. Or at least the ideal of them in Beowulf.
I’m thinking of that captain who crash-landed his plane safely in the Hudson River. I bet he wouldn’t be half the hero he is today if he told the media, “The plane tossed and turned like a drunken bird, but I had a keen mind and firm hands, and I had no trouble keeping my people safe, as I made my perfect landing. Yeah, I’m just that awesome.”
He might have gotten the same rep that Charlie Sheen has right now, but he would have no respect in the long run. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
I find that curious, now that I think about it. How bad would it be, in the long run, to tell stories like that about ourselves? I hope you, the reader, can name at least one proud thing in your life. Not just any proud thing, mind you. I speak of the big ones. The ones that bring tears to your eyes. The ones that hurt, where you bled for something that was worth bleeding for, and you endured pain for something that was worth the pain, and you kept on moving for something that kept you going, even though you didn’t want to take another step.
And when you got whatever it was you were striving for, you felt it. You felt a surge of pride. I’ve felt it before. I made it through a 13-hour dance marathon. When it finally ended, my heart was on fire. I wanted to share my victory with everyone. I wound up feeling awkward about it later. Would Beowulf have felt awkward? I doubt that. I seriously wonder if bragging isn’t such a bad thing, in moderation.
Ponder me that. If you had just torn the arm off of a huge, man-eating fiend, and a crowd gathered around, waiting for you to say something… what would you say? What if you had the guts to yell, “I did it!” What if you threw out your chest, flexed your muscles, and told everyone how that foul Grendel never stood a chance against you?
St. Paul said to boast only that you serve the Lord; I know that. I could see this kind of bragging falling under that rule. If you did something difficult and noble for God, and you glow with triumph, couldn’t you vent it a little? What kind of a human always smiles quietly and lets someone else take the cake?
* = The translation I quoted is by Seamus Heaney. My English professor tells me it's not that great.