Beowulf and Sir Garwin

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What Defines a Hero?
When envisioning the ideal hero in today’s world, most people might picture a solider overseas, a fireman, or even a parent, but when it comes to the historical works of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, people looked for a warrior serving his lord and a knight serving his king as their ideal hero. Beowulf is the only Old English epic available to us today and because of this fact, it holds a vast amount of insight when looking into the morals held by the societies of this time period. On the other hand Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is more of a romance and comedy about heroism. This work is set after Christianity has taken over most people, and when culture has shifted from predominately pagan to primarily Christian. Throughout each novel, both protagonists portray qualities ideal for their time period they live in but differ as Beowulf portrays strength, loyalty, and bravery while Sir Gawain radiates humility, chivalry, and devotion to God. Due to both characters portraying two ideal concepts of heroism in their own way; they could not be father from one another. On one hand you have a hero that displays characteristics of a warrior and on the other a hero who shows his own qualities of being a knight. The first characteristic of Beowulf, strength, is illustrated in the epic when he rips off the arm of Grendel, "The monster's whole body was in pain; a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split and the bone-lapping burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning” (50). This quote goes on to show that a man has the strength in him to use nothing but his hands to tear the monster apart. Time in and time out Beowulf shows off his strength through the epic whether he fights Grendel’s Mother or the Dragon. As for Sir Gawain, his time period called for other characteristics to portray heroism. Unlike Beowulf’s mighty strength, Sir Gawain showed humility to receive his knighthood. This sense of humility is brought out in the very beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and all the way throughout the end where Sir Gawain comes back wearing the green girdle around his arm. While he proved unsuccessful in the original task to yield to the Green Knight, he did no wrong in portraying a cowardly side. He wears the girdle as a mark of shame which pardons his fault and shows his humility for failing the task he set out to do. Sir Gawain’s reaction of having to wear the girdle is different than most would think. He responds by saying, “But your girdle, God love you! I gladly shall take And be pleased to possess, not for the pure gold, Nor the bright belt itself, not the beauteous pendants, Nor for wealth, nor worldly state, nor workmanship fine, But a sign of excess it shall seem oftentimes When I ride in renown and remember with shame The faults and the frailty of the flesh perverse How its tenderness entices the foul taint of sin.... (211). The quote goes on to show that indeed he did make it back to Camelot but he will always remember with shame and dignity. Whether it is strength or humility in each respective poem, both men showed an ideal characteristic of their time. Aside from the strength of Beowulf or the humility of Sir Gawain, both characters differ once again when it comes to loyalty for Beowulf and chivalry for Sir Gawain. Both these characteristics in a way resemble some of the same effects but due to them again being from different time periods, result in utter differences. Beowulf being the warrior like hero he is would not of gotten anywhere without his loyalty. In those times he had to be loyal to his lord and loyal to his company. An excellent example was when he is giving his speech before going off to slay Grendel’s Mother, "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” (64). His lead by example attitude went unmatched during this time period. He showed...
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