Tony Soprano and Beowulf, Final Draft

Humanity can be measured on broad spectrum of physical and emotional attributes that belong to the individual. Whether we like it or not, we are judged on these attributes the moment we are born, because society is like a gear, that needs people to constantly keep it running. The same is for most of the animals on earth. Thus, the need for a social dominance hierarchy. A being who is able bodied enough to complete all the milestones that can come with bettering their habitat and beings that they are responsible for, is what makes or breaks the Animal. When a being is of good physical attributes, if they attract members of the same species, or if they can overpower another being physically, many like to toss around the term “alpha” when they are being described. We can see this is the consensus of the term here…

“What are alphas and betas, after all? In the animal kingdom, alphas are aggressive, socially dominant males who fight and take all the best food and have sex with all the females and prevent the other males from having any sex at all and generally exhibit few interests in life except reproducing and, well, reproducing — a worthy goal but one that, from the point of view of a spouse or even an electorate, can get old pretty fast.”

Mundy, Liza. “Alpha-Beta Role Call.” The Washington Post, Wmag, 4:1, 1999, p. 1.

In today’s consumerist world, we use the phrase alpha to attract a certain type of image related fantasies that a human being is of higher rank, on a scale that we are all born into. For example, a human male may be a certain desirable high social stature, that accumulates wealth and has power on our earth, that gives him the ability to have many mates, and do certain things that most people cannot do. This may be due to inherited wealth, or a million-dollar idea, or just being savvy in business. Wealth is where us as humans differ from the animal kingdom, and I will go into that later. But as we can see in many ancient, and modern stories, the term alpha is a broad spectrum, and the most realistic aspects of this term can be detrimental to a society in the long run.         

In the epic titled Beowulf, we get introduced to the main character that the story is named after. In Medieval times, humanity was obviously in a crude state technologically, and people were still hunter and gathers to an extent. I believe humans in this universe that the story is based in obviously have more in common with animals than we do today, but they were on cusp of becoming more advanced. In this story the character Beowulf is portrayed as a hero, a hero that protects and fights for the rights of other humans in his own world. An alpha male. The symbolism of his name has the familiarity to the animal of a wolf, which is a pack animal that has an elder “alpha” member that is respected among the ranks of other wolfs, usually due to age. Humans in this world have their lives threatened by extreme beings that are fantasy oriented, and thus being extraordinary for a normal person to try and defeat. (Grendel, his mother and the Dragon). The story calls for a hero, that hero being Beowulf. He is the only person in this point in time that is brave enough, and able bodied enough to protect the people from these crazy threats. After Beowulf saves his hall from Grendel and his mother, he is then paraded around, in a true alpha male stature, he is the fearless hero who is now ruler of the kingdom for many years, it is his job as alpha male to keep his kingdom out of harm’s way. But then when the almost godlike dragon comes to town, he does not pick his battles, like most. (If I were the ruler of a kingdom and saw a dragon, its everyman for themselves). But being that this is a world of mythological beasts, and if we remember that Beowulf is the only person that is brave enough to take on these beasts, this clears up why he stays and fights the beast, even in his old age. He does kill the dragon, but it cost him his life in the end. This is an alpha in his own time period. He is not interested in money, or the goodwill of his people, he is only interested in being the bravest and best warrior in his world. Emotions play a large role in how humans view other humans, and in this poem, emotions make many of the hierarchical decisions of the people involved

I have illustrated that the up/down movement of Beowulf illustrates the hierarchical structure of the narrative where the stronger dominate the weaker. However, this structural pattern emphasizes other hierarchies within the text. As I have said earlier, the monsters are driven to leave their place in the hierarchy by what we consider human motives-jealousy, revenge, and anger. These can all be the same as in they represent emotions.

The Hierarchical Structure of Beowulf – University of South Carolina. 

    Now to shake things up a little bit. Let’s take a look at a more modern adaptation of an alpha male, In the HBO series “The Sopranos” the main protagonist Tony Soprano is the boss of a crime syndicate. Physically he is a large man of stature, big enough to hurt others, He is the leader of many other vicious criminals, and it is his job to keep order among the ranks. To compare this to Beowulf, when there is an issue among their people, Tony Soprano and Beowulf are the human beings in charge of keeping control, and they are at the top of the hierarchy because of their ability to problem solve. Their influence over people that ultimately gets the job done, the difference is we are comparing a fantasy story that was written centuries ago, to a modern fiction adaptation of the Italian mafia. But the characters share one thing, they are both alphas to an extent. The drama from 1999-2008 is in my opinion a much clearer approach of what being an alpha male entails, in a modern sense. In the plot, not only does Tony cheat on his spouse with many, many women. He also gets most of his influence through violence, theft and murder. He makes millions of dollars through these means, which in consequence makes the lives of fellow citizens harder, ruins his family and separates many people from being alive. In many cases throughout the series, he is quoted as being an alpha, a dangerous but powerful human, that is on the top of the social chain. Even his therapist mentions it, by describing him as a “Big strong alpha male”. Tony Is viewed almost as a king, and he can be compared to most royal structures we still see today.

“Among humans, that generally means wealth, prestige, and attractive sexual partners. Cultures like that of Austen’s England might seem particularly suitable for description according to this ethological model because patriarchy, a well-defined if mobile class system, and the optional but widespread legal practices of primogeniture and entailment among the landed classes combined to create a formal alpha status within families or social groups. Men privileged by the system could, like alpha wolves, engross resources (“eat”) and marry (“mate”) much more freely and advantageously than men with inferior family or social positions could.”

Mundy, Liza. “Alpha-Beta Role Call: [FINAL Edition].” The Washington Post, Dec 19, 1999, pp. WMAG, 4:1. ProQuest,

I bring up this certain show because there are people like this dark character that is Tony Soprano, that are alive today, but for the most part there are not people like Beowulf  who embodies every aspect of the brave hero, almost like a robot who’s only programming is the clear cut definition of alpha, with no real depth of what that actually means or the baggage that comes with that. Another important point to discuss, is that I am talking about our world today. There are no dragons, or monsters that are of threat to us, but what is a threat to us are some of these individuals that are on the top of this hierarchy scale that we as a species have set in place. We have these leaders (mostly men) that are in power, controlling most of what we say and do. Hitler, Donald Trump, Fidel Castro, and many others throughout history that have done extreme harm and divide from their positions of power, but in terms because these people are at the top, they are technically an alpha. It is a hard concept to try and conclude, because that is just the way humanity is.     

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