Dr. J. Abikzer
AP English Literature
16 November 2018
The Pride is the Window to the Soul
Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals.
-Fulton J. Sheen
While boasting is an acceptable form of self-assertion in the unstated social laws of society, not having the moral courage to back that up reveals your true character. Such is true in the case of Unferth and his actions within the story Beowulf. Through Unferth’s actions, such as contesting Beowulf’s stories with slandered versions of his own, he not only reveals himself as a foil to Beowulf, but also solidifies the idea of reputation and its impact as themes in the story’s canon.
When the Geats arrived at Heorot and started to feast with the Danes, Unferth was the one to speak out against Beowulf and his exploits. In an attempt to sully Beowulf’s name, Unferth recounts a swimming contest between Beowulf and a man named Breca in which Beowulf had lost: “Are you not the Beowulf who took on Breca/ in a swimming match on the open sea,/ ...and then [Breca] outswam you,/ came ashore the stronger contender (506-518).” To which Beowulf corrects him and tells the true story, in which Beowulf had actually fought 9 sea-beasts in total and had still won the swimming contest: “...The truth is,/ ...I was the strongest swimmer of all./ ...Time and time again, foul things attacked me,/ ...my sword had killed/ nine sea-monsters (532-575).” There’s a clear difference in story between the two. While Unferth completely discredits Beowulf in an attempt to make him seem like less of a powerful figure, Beowulf maintains his composure and disproves those statements with the true account of the swimming contest. This attempt at discrediting Beowulf creates clear contrasts between the two men: rather than bring himself up by making himself seem as great as Beowulf, Unferth chooses to try and tear him down, showing his lack of moral character and insecurities compared to Beowulf, who embodies the virtues of a righteous man.
Furthermore, it was explicitly stated that Unferth was, “...sick with envy (502),” and, “...could not… abide the fact/ that anyone else.../ might enjoy greater regard than he did (503-504),” showing his true intentions behind his actions. It’s clear to see that Unferth is quite bitter, perhaps even jealous, of the attention that Beowulf is receiving, so much so that he lashes out at Beowulf through slander. He jeered at Beowulf, claiming the reason why he even ente...