Beowulf and Arthur: What makes a hero?
Beowulf & King Arthur: What makes a hero? In a time where warriors were sensationalized for prowess of their swordsmanship and fearless attitude among the battlefield, King Arthur and Beowulf have similar traits assigned to their characters. Although there are many particulars that separate the story of Arthur to Beowulf, the characteristics that stand out the most deal with the kind of hero they were to their time and the actions they made to become so heroic. To start, Beowulf and Arthur are both stories originating from the same region of land which was Western Europe particularly English territory.
Although they were written in different times, the same values existed in both tales. Both protagonists were admired for being a savior to an entire group of people. They also possessed and undeniable knack for leadership and bravery. Beowulf was King of the Geats, Arthur was King of England. They both have obvious qualities which are found in a great king and a great leader. The only difference is the story of Arthur has a more romantic tone to it while Beowulf is truly an epic tale filled with conflict amongst different monsters terrorizing a kingdom. What also enhances these two heroes’ talents is an extraordinary weapon.
Arthur’s famous weapon was Excalibur which is almost synonymous with the hero himself. After he pulls the sword out of the stone as a timid young boy, he slowly evolves into this brave king under the mentorship of Merlyn. As for Beowulf, “A rare and ancient sword name Hrunting. The iron-blade with its ill-boding patterns had been tempered in blood. It had never failed the hand of anyone in battle. ” (Heaney, 101) Although not as prevalent as Arthur’s Excalibur, Hrunting was the name of Beowulf’s sword given to him by Unferth which he uses to decapitate Grendel’s corpse as well as kill Grendel’s mother.
The fact that there is significance enough that their swords have names and a back story tied with it shows how the warrior mentality was so admired during both Arthur and Beowulf’s time. Another important trope in Beowulf and King Arthur was the role fate has in their lives. Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur dreams about the fate of his people. “Below him, many fathoms deep, was a dark well, and in the water swam serpents, dragons and wild beasts. Suddenly the scaffold tilted and Arthur was flung into the water, where all the creatures struggled towards and began tearing him from limb to limb. ” (Malory, 194)
These monsters Arthur dreams about signify the two armies and whoever stuck first, Arthur was called upon to fight back. In Beowulf, it was slightly different because they had the idea that fate could be avoided as long as they acted boldly against it. However, fate would still catch up to Beowulf as he accepted it honorably. As noted the story of these two heroes have plenty of parallels. Nonetheless, there are plenty of specific differences that can be dissected looking more closely. A big comparison between Arthur and Beowulf one could is the contrasting ideals present in the different stories.
During the time Arthur was written there was a code of unwritten ethics called chivalry which was the lifestyle an honorable person was expected to live by. This gave Le Morte d’Arthur a romantic tone to it because of the era the book was written. Beowulf is the definition of an epic poem which relied heavily on conflict between Beowulf and the trio of monsters he sought to defeat. The difference between the two is the realism. Although both are obviously fictional, Beowulf’s tale is exaggerated more than Arthur’s.
Beowulf was a superhuman with the strength of twenty men and fought dragons and obscure creatures such as Grendel and his mother. Without those evil monsters, there would be no story of Beowulf and quite honestly nothing that would give Beowulf any sort of legacy. Beowulf also feeds off the mantra that there’s nothing he fears and nothing that will conquer him, “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. ” (Heaney, 39) Beowulf new of his superhuman powers and got his confidence from it.
King Arthur, although not an average guy in his own right did not have any particular power that made him superior outside of Excalibur. King Arthur was just a great story about how a man can evolve into an outstanding leader of men after starting off as a young shy boy. We have heard of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table with other trusted warriors like Lancelot and Sir Kay. But those trusted Knights wouldn’t mean much without the guidance and leadership of King Arthur. Although the story of Arthur was told in a different era which embraced romanticism, it is easy to compare him with the epic hero Beowulf.
They are both great examples of heroes who used their talents to fight for the greater good. Both are infallible and accomplished so many things throughout their lives which have made their stories outlive others of that time. Although their actions might have been different, they are both known as honorable heroes. Works Cited Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. Print. Malory, Thomas, Heinrich Oskar Sommer, and Andrew Lang. Le Morte Darthur. London: D. Nutt, 1891. Print.