Beowulf and Odysseus: a Comparison
Beowulf and Odysseus: A Comparison What is more important to the hero than his men? Both Beowulf of “Beowulf” and Odysseus of The Odyssey of Homer have the all important asset of men at their disposal, Men who follow them as leaders and accompany them on their travels. While Odysseus greatly values his men and treats them very loyally and emotionally, his men, in turn, give him the same loyalty and respect back. Beowulf is far more self-driven. While his men are mostly present throughout, they often take more of a spectator role due to the fact that Beowulf’s actions and decisions often don’t require the assistance of his men.
He has a very neutral personality when it comes to his men, and only really has passion for himself and his own glory. In response his men are not nearly as loyal of those of Odysseus, and often act as if they don’t have confidence in Beowulf’s abilities. Beowulf’s men were chosen by him to accompany him to the Danish shores where he would attempt to slay the monster Grendel. While it is true the men are his kin, he shows no emotional attachment right from the beginning. “Beowulf chose the mightiest men he could find, the bravest and best of the Geats” it seems he simply picked the strongest men who would go with him and just left.
He chose none based on loyalty, background, or friendship, but simply the strongest. This also says something about Beowulf’s character. He’s a man who values strength and power above all else, sometimes even to the point where it clouds common sense. Beowulf’s men were also completely overshadowed by Beowulf himself. The vast majority of the times his men are almost like an audience due to the fact that there is nothing they can do to help him battle the monsters he faces.
More often than not his men simply did not have the strength or ability to aide Beowulf in his battles, so superhuman was his power. “Their courage was great but all wasted: they could hack at Grendel from every side, trying to open a path for his evil soul but their points could not hurt him, the sharpest and hardest iron could not scratch his skin” the men couldn’t help Beowulf even when they truly tried, and Beowulf still overcame Grendel with relative ease so it is easy to miss the fact that the men were even there at all.
Beowulf’s men did not have the loyalty to stay with him to the very end. They didn’t have the courage, confidence, or desire to follow Beowulf to his final battle against the dragon. They thought Beowulf was a fool for going and believed that he, along with any who would accompany him, would perish. But Beowulf, confident in himself and himself alone, went anyway with no comrades to stand beside him save for Wiglaf. Though he was the king of his men still they did not come to aide him “a king, before, but now a beaten warrior.
None of his comrades came to him, helped him, his brave and noble followers; ran for their lives, fled deep in a wood”. In the end Beowulf had to stand alone for his glory, as he had all along. While Beowulf had a more estranged relationship with his men throughout, Odysseus was very loyal to his men and his men to him. While Odysseus, like Beowulf, put more value on himself than he perhaps should have, he acknowledged that he needed his men and that he would not make his journey if he had to go it alone the entire time. He had a compassion for his men that just wasn’t seen with Beowulf and his men.
While he doesn’t have complete faith in his men, he still values their lives and mourns their deaths much more than is seen with Beowulf’s men. When Odysseus’ fleet is wiped out by the Laestrygonians, his ship does manage to escape but all but his own ship and crew died. Here Odysseus is seen mourning the deaths of his comrades like Beowulf would not “We sailed away-sick and sad-set free at last but with our dear companions dead. ” Odysseus refers to the men as “dear companions” where as Beowulf more likely saw all his men as honorable warriors proud to see death of the battlefield like him.
We see a human side of Odysseus showing compassion and feelings for his men, where Beowulf doesn’t really show there types of emotions, or any emotions except a passion for battle. When Eurylochus returns and tells Odysseus of the fate of his men who ventured into Circe’s house, instead of fleeing as Eurylochus advises he goes in to rescue his men. While inside, though Circe tempts him with great feasts and tries to charm him, he keeps his men foremost in his mind “what man with justice in his mind would think of food and drink before he freed his comrades and could see them with his own eyes?
If indeed you would have me drink and eat, release my men: bring back my faithful friends”. He refers to his comrades as friends, and friends they seem, though with Beowulf is it is much more of a leader to an underling type of relationship. The men return all of this compassion and loyalty with matched or greater loyalty and affection for Odysseus. For when they are rescued they are tearful with joy and gratitude for his returning to save them. Their loyalty is unbroken by Eurylochus’ attempts to undermine Odysseus and cause his men to question him.
When Odysseus considers striking down Eurylochus they hold him back with assurances that they are loyal to him and will follow him wherever he may take them “If you-one sprung from Zeus-prefer it so he can stay here and watch the ship. We’ll go with you, lead us to Circe’s sacred house”. It’s defining moments like these that separate Odysseus’ men from Beowulf’s; where Beowulf’s men clearly did not have the courage, faith, and loyalty to follow Beowulf on his endeavors, Odysseus’ men do. Beowulf and Odysseus are alike in that they are epic heroes.
Their differences in characteristics and personality affect the way their men respond to them. Beowulf is out for glory and only for himself and thus his men abandon him in his hour of need. Odysseus cares about his men and goes out of his way to save them on more than one occasion. His men care about his fate as well and stand by him until their tragic demise. Both lead in different ways and the men returned their loyalty according to that leadership. Show the men the compassion and loyalty they deserve and they will return it to you, but lead your men for only yourself and in the end you will stand and fall alone.