We might all better appreciate the most stirring epic in the English language were it not for the tragic events of 1066 which led to the corruption of our language. Beowulf celebrated the heroic deeds of one of the greatest men of all time, the eponymous Geatish hero, who did not need a weapon to slay the monster Grendel. That brave warrior was reputed to have the strength of thirty men in his right hand.
Unlike some warriors, many with lesser accomplishments than he, Beowulf did not readily boast of his deeds. He only related the story of how he slew nine sea monsters to answer Unferth’s challenge that he lost a swimming competition to his friend Breca. Perhaps that challenge strengthened the hero’s resolve to defeat Grendel — which he did later that night.
Beowulf knew that he would be measured not by his words, but by his deeds. No wonder the harbor guard reminded him as much in welcoming him to Denmark: “Each sharp shield-warrior/shall understand the difference (between) words and deeds.” It wouldn’t be enough for Beowulf to tout his accomplishments as monster-slayer, he would have to slay the actual monster ravaging Hrothgar’s hall.
Now Obama’s supporters are beginning to grouse that there’s a huge gap between the Democrat’s rhetoric and his deeds. We see this in so many areas, but, notably in the Administration’s decision not to move forward on repealing the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) policy banning gays from serving openly in the nation’s armed forces.
Words will only get you so far. If Obama truly wishes to be a great leader, he needs to emulate one whose very actions defined courage and very manner defined leadership. The Beowulf-poet left it to someone other that his hero to say what that man knew in his heart; it is the doing which matters.
Years from now, people will only remember the president’s words if he ties them to actual accomplishments.