Beowulf and Sir Gawain: The Epic hero
October 28, 2013 Beowulf and Sir Gawain: The Epic Hero In the epic poems Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf and Sir Gawain portray the five epic hero traits through their own individual journeys. Both heroes demonstrate courage and bravery, skilled with a weapon, strength, moral virtue, and wisdom in similar and contrasting ways. From slaying villains and dragons to using prior knowledge and insight for making proper decisions, they are two excellent illustrations of epic heroes.
The first characteristic of an ideal epic hero is courage and bravery and this is because it not only is hard to come by, but these heroes possess just the right amount. Although Beowulf and Sir Gawain are taking on two different tasks, they both have an ultimate goal of earning the honor of their kings and their countries. It is easy to be arrogant and have too much pride when you are trying to gain honor and respect, but Beowulf and Sir Gawain do what they do with dignity and deference. “He leaned/Forward: ‘Hear me,/ My lord.
Let this challenge be mine…” (Raffel 340-342) Although at one point, the seemingly inevitable loss of his life becomes too hard to bear, Sir Gawain hides his distress and takes a challenge – ultimately leading him toward defeat. Even with the littlest bit of doubt and the tiny undermining detail that he does not have much experience, he does not let anything get in his way and he willingly pulls through. Beowulf, on the other hand, does however have experience and yet again, he accepts his challenge as he always does. Beowulf got ready; donned his war-gear, indifferent to death, his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail would soon meet with the menace under water” (Heaney 1442). Beowulf and Sir Gawain bury their fear and accept the challenges bestowed upon them, no matter having had experience or not. The next most important trait of an ideal epic hero is strength. Strength also ties closely in with another trait of skilled with a weapon. Both Beowulf and Sir Gawain have their strengths and their weaknesses but both also exhibit ample knowledge of their skills when it comes to using a weapon like a sword or even hands.
Many often associate strength with ones physical ability, but what is often left behind is ones strength from within. In Sir Gawain’s case, he not only proves how strong he his when he boastfully beheads the Knight with one blow, his ability to resist being moved or broken by a force – that is his lack of prior experience – allows him the advantage to take on the knight and play the knight’s “game”. He didn’t know he had it in him, but “Axe/ In hand Gawain approached the green man…” (Raffel 374-375).
His strength in his heart and his head that he finds through the power of God leads him to not abandon his promise to himself and his King and his country – he doesn’t take the easy way out. On the contrary, while Sir Gawain uses the axe to “play a game” Beowulf is holding on to his life by a hair, using a sword to fend for his life. Beowulf is very competent when it comes to using weapons such as swords. Swords especially are Beowulf’s specialty. “And I shall fight, like that for as long as I live, as long as this sword shall last. A couple times, Beowulf’s sword fail to do damage, but that doesn’t stop him. His second weapon is the weapon of his hands. His hands are incredibly strong and “With the strength of 30 in the grip of each hand” (Heaney 380-381) he is able to defeat what lies ahead of him. It is considerable that Beowulf’s strength is portrayed physically while Sir Gawain’s is portrayed mentally or emotionally. In tough times, sometimes it can be easy to cast aside all your life lessons and morals and values, but Beowulf and Sir Gawain become to keep theirs close at all times.
Not judging of others and applying his good ethics to his circumstances, Sir Gawain is recognized as virtuous. He never displays any signs of arrogance or pride, only signs of selflessness and loyalty. Although he sins once, he comes to terms with his mistake, evidently allowing himself to admit his fault. “Oh Knight: I humbly confess/ My faults: bless me/ With the chance to atone. / I’ll try to sin less” (Raffel 2385-2388). He made a vow to his king and nothing would hold him back from that of which he promises.
He stands tall against his opponent – the Knight – dares to play his little game, and despite his minor folly of lying, he owns up, confesses, and carries on as he butchers the Knight. Likewise, Beowulf does not run from his problems and he stays true to his word. When finding out that a dear friend of his is in need of assistance, he runs to his side to protect him. When told he had to take on a monster he voluntarily sacrifices his life for his King and his country. When he goes nto combat, not knowing whether he will make it out alive or not, he insists on passing his gifts to his King and his dear friend. “If this combat kills me, take care of my young company, my comrades in arms. And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar, to send Hygelac the treasures I received” (Heaney 1480). Having analyzed these two characters’ moral virtue, it is clear that the two put the well being of others before themselves, yet demonstrate this contrarily. Beowulf fulfills his promise as does Sir Gawain in their different situations and in return they earn the honor they were seeking.
Both Beowulf and Sir Gawain use their wise minds to grasp the facts that their situations are quite troubling. The famous American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed. ” He says “the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted…” speaking of that little uncertainty of whether one can prove themselves worthy or not.
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the state of being wise (having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is right and what is wrong). However, their different circumstances lead them to making the proper decisions with the help of some wisdom. Initially Sir Gawain is too “wise” to stand up before the Green Knight, but to obtain that honor and “worthiness” of his King and his country, he takes him on with integrity and tenacity.
His insight and judgment allow him to make the decisions he ought to make eventually leading him to conquer anything he needs to conquer. If putting his life on the line will gain him the respect he earns for, that is what he will do. Being smart about his choices and going into the Green Knights “game” headstrong is the only way he will make it out alive. “And I am the slightest, the dullest of them all;/ My life the least, my death is no loss/ – My only worth is you, my royal/ Uncle, all my virtue is through you” (Raffel 354-357).
Sir Gawain is well aware of his condition and he accepts that he needs to take on this task, and in the end it will be a learning experience for him. Beowulf on the other hand, although he may know right from wrong, he takes on a few challenges that leave him susceptible to being overpowered. He takes on multiple monsters that could easily have the upper hand. Still, he takes on each monster with commitment and prudence, outsmarting all but one – the big dragon. It would be hard to survive unscathed near the hoard, to hold firm against the dragon in those flaming depths” (Heaney 2547-2549). Beowulf’s pride and prowess sustain him but not enough this last time. The dragon attacks three times and Beowulf knows it is his time to go. Sensing he is near death, Beowulf thinks back on his life and reminisces all that he has done and accomplished. His wisdom helped him for a long 70 years of enduring battles in the most outrageous states, but his time has come and he will not be making it this time.
On recounts of Sir Gawain and Beowulf’s journeys, their wisdom helps then through the toughest of situations however, not everyone makes it out alive. Beowulf and Sir Gawain possess the proper elements that make them to be the epitome of epic heroes. All for the honor or their Kings and through the power of God, they are called to adventure, they accept their rightful challenges, they break out of their comfort zones (some may larger than others), they conquer their fears, and they then claim the treasure they seek.
Sir Gawain sometimes doubts himself while Beowulf is fully confident however; they both do what needs to be done almost undeniably and inevitably. Even though Beowulf is arrogant at some times, he does not let his arrogance get in his way. Risking their lives and out of the goodness of their hearts, they kept their promises. As these selfless heroes give up their lives in the end, they do it for others, merely to make history.