Essay, Research Paper: Beowulf And King Arthur

Literature: Beowulf

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Numerous stories about numerous heroes have been told and then retold. All of
these heroes do different things and all of them have a different set of
qualities which make them heroes. Due to the fact that there are only so many
heroic adventures and qualities, most are shared in part with at least one other
hero. Such is the case between the great hero, Beowulf, from the epic poem
Beowulf and King Arthur from the story of Morte d’Arthur. These great heroes
have strong similarities and a great deal of differences. Once their
similarities have been compared and then dismissed it is evident that Beowulf is
the greater hero of the two. True heroes do good things for good people. Such is
the case in Beowulf, Beowulf leaves his homeland to help the Danish people rid
themselves of the human eating monster, Grendel. This heroic quality is also
evident in Morte d'Arthur, as Arthur consciously rides into a battle in order to
rid his people of an evil knight who would not allow others to pass. Both heroes
are displaying their concern for others by risking themselves in battle for the
greater good. In the same aspect they are also striving for love and respect
from the people they protect. In order to obtain maximum respect per battle,
both Beowulf and Arthur enter into battle somewhat alone. Beowulf specifically
asks, “That [he], alone and with the help of [his] men, / May purge all evil
from [the] hall” (Beowulf, line 165-166). His request is granted by Hrothgar,
King of the Danes, so he and his man enter into the battle themselves and when
Grendel is defeated, the glory, love and respect belong solely to Beowulf and
his men. Arthur does the same, “he met with his man and his horse, and so
mounted up and dressed his shield and took his spear, and bade his chamberlain
tarry there till he came again” (Morte d’Arthur paragraph 20). Although
Arthur begins his journey alone he does meet up with Merlin, the court magician
and faithful companion, who accompanies him. Much like Beowulf, Arthur gains
great respect and praise from all men of worship by fighting alone, even though
it is not necessarily the smartest thing to do. The characteristic of being
fearless when faced with death is often a trait of heroes because it is
associated with courage and strength. King Arthur and Beowulf are not afraid to
die, thus showing their courage to their adversaries and peers. When Arthur is
faced with death he declares, “welcome be it when it cometh, but to yield me
unto thee as [cowardly] I had liefer die than to be so shamed.” (Morte
d’Arthur, paragraph 34). Simply put he would rather die than admit to defeat
and being cowardly. Beowulf feels much the same way about death. He illustrates
this by showing no fear for his own life but instead expressing concern for the
honor of King Higlac by asking that, “if death does take [him], send the
hammered / Mail of [his] armor to Higlac” (Beowulf, line 186-187). In sending
his King his armor it recommits himself to his country and lets his King be
reminded of his bravery every time he looks upon it. That is the extent to which
Beowulf and King Arthur are similar. Beowulf has way more confidence in his
fighting ability then Arthur has in his. This is evident in the fact that
Beowulf fights Grendel unarmed, he says “my hands / Alone shall fight for me,
struggle for life” (Beowulf, line 172-173). His reasoning behind this is that
Grendel’s, “scorn of men / Is so great that he needs no weapons and fears
none [so] / Nor will [he]” (Beowulf, line 167-169). By facing Grendel unarmed
to shows that he is brave and more importantly unafraid to be equal to Grendel.
Since Grendel is going to fight without the use of weapons, Beowulf creates
equality and therefore more respect upon himself by doing the same. Were as the
much less confident Arthur fights only with weapons and once his wounds were
amended his first thought was, “I have no sword” (Morte d’Arthur,
paragraph 41) followed by the task of finding him a sword. This demonstrates
Arthur’s weakness in his dependence of weapons and thus Beowulf’s greatness
in comparison. Beowulf is indeed the greater hero as the help he received from
his men was useless, not by fault of his men but by the simple fact that Grendel,
“had bewitched all men’s weapons, laid spells / That blunted every mortal
man’s blade” (Beowulf, line 322-323). Since Beowulf’s men could give him
no help due to Grendel’s spell, he had to defeat the monster by himself with
his bear hands. Arthur on the other hand lost his battle. First Arthur lost a
jousting match then lost on the ground when “the knight smote King Arthur’s
sword in two pieces” (Morte d’Arthur, paragraph 32). Merlin had to come to
his rescue at this point and by using his magic he put the knight to sleep for a
period of three hours. So to recap Beowulf defeated a monster with no aid from
his companions and Arthur could not even defeat a knight, he instead he had to
rely on the aid of magic from Merlin. Even thought both King Arthur and Beowulf
are great heroes, Beowulf emerges as the greater of the two. He does this
through his successful feats only, not through his heroic qualities. For when
comparing the heroic qualities of Arthur and Beowulf they come up pretty even.
Both demonstrate a great love for others as they both try to do good things for
commendable people. Their differences in heroism might be due to the fact that
Arthur is a young hero in comparison to Beowulf who is an experienced hero.
Either way they, like most heroes, have similarities and differences, this makes
them who they are, commendable and memorable fantasy characters.
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