Numerous stories about numerous heroes have been told and then retold. All ofthese heroes do different things and all of them have a different set ofqualities which make them heroes. Due to the fact that there are only so manyheroic adventures and qualities, most are shared in part with at least one otherhero. Such is the case between the great hero, Beowulf, from the epic poemBeowulf and King Arthur from the story of Morte d’Arthur. These great heroeshave strong similarities and a great deal of differences.
Once theirsimilarities have been compared and then dismissed it is evident that Beowulf isthe greater hero of the two. True heroes do good things for good people. Such isthe case in Beowulf, Beowulf leaves his homeland to help the Danish people ridthemselves of the human eating monster, Grendel. This heroic quality is alsoevident in Morte d’Arthur, as Arthur consciously rides into a battle in order torid his people of an evil knight who would not allow others to pass.Order now
Both heroesare displaying their concern for others by risking themselves in battle for thegreater good. In the same aspect they are also striving for love and respectfrom the people they protect. In order to obtain maximum respect per battle,both Beowulf and Arthur enter into battle somewhat alone. Beowulf specificallyasks, “That , alone and with the help of men, / May purge all evilfrom 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 whenGrendel is defeated, the glory, love and respect belong solely to Beowulf andhis men.
Arthur does the same, “he met with his man and his horse, and somounted up and dressed his shield and took his spear, and bade his chamberlaintarry there till he came again” (Morte d’Arthur paragraph 20). AlthoughArthur begins his journey alone he does meet up with Merlin, the court magicianand faithful companion, who accompanies him. Much like Beowulf, Arthur gainsgreat respect and praise from all men of worship by fighting alone, even thoughit is not necessarily the smartest thing to do. The characteristic of beingfearless when faced with death is often a trait of heroes because it isassociated with courage and strength. King Arthur and Beowulf are not afraid todie, thus showing their courage to their adversaries and peers. When Arthur isfaced with death he declares, “welcome be it when it cometh, but to yield meunto thee as I had liefer die than to be so shamed.
” (Morted’Arthur, paragraph 34). Simply put he would rather die than admit to defeatand being cowardly. Beowulf feels much the same way about death. He illustratesthis by showing no fear for his own life but instead expressing concern for thehonor of King Higlac by asking that, “if death does take , send thehammered / Mail of armor to Higlac” (Beowulf, line 186-187).
In sendinghis King his armor it recommits himself to his country and lets his King bereminded of his bravery every time he looks upon it. That is the extent to whichBeowulf and King Arthur are similar. Beowulf has way more confidence in hisfighting ability then Arthur has in his. This is evident in the fact thatBeowulf fights Grendel unarmed, he says “my hands / Alone shall fight for me,struggle for life” (Beowulf, line 172-173). His reasoning behind this is thatGrendel’s, “scorn of men / Is so great that he needs no weapons and fearsnone / Nor will ” (Beowulf, line 167-169). By facing Grendel unarmedto 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 createsequality and therefore more respect upon himself by doing the same. Were as themuch less confident Arthur fights only with weapons and once his wounds wereamended his first thought was, “I have no sword” (Morte d’Arthur,paragraph 41) followed by the task of finding him a sword. This demonstratesArthur’s weakness in his dependence of weapons and thus Beowulf’s greatnessin comparison. Beowulf is indeed the greater hero as the help he received fromhis 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 mortalman’s blade” (Beowulf, line 322-323).
Since Beowulf’s men could give himno help due to Grendel’s spell, he had to defeat the monster by himself withhis bear hands. Arthur on the other hand lost his battle. First Arthur lost ajousting match then lost on the ground when “the knight smote King Arthur’ssword in two pieces” (Morte d’Arthur, paragraph 32). Merlin had to come tohis rescue at this point and by using his magic he put the knight to sleep for aperiod of three hours. So to recap Beowulf defeated a monster with no aid fromhis companions and Arthur could not even defeat a knight, he instead he had torely on the aid of magic from Merlin. Even thought both King Arthur and Beowulfare great heroes, Beowulf emerges as the greater of the two.
He does thisthrough his successful feats only, not through his heroic qualities. For whencomparing 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 forcommendable people. Their differences in heroism might be due to the fact thatArthur is a young hero in comparison to Beowulf who is an experienced hero.
Either way they, like most heroes, have similarities and differences, this makesthem who they are, commendable and memorable fantasy characters.