Great Literary Epics of the Past
The Roman conquest of England in 43 AD, coinciding with the introduction of Christian values, the alphabet and writing utensils was the start of a new Era. Missionaries sent by the Roman Pope to England influenced the pagan values of the native Britanie, as exemplified in their literature. Anglo-Saxons, whom contributed the features of a literary Epic, were torn between pagan beliefs and Christian values as their predecessors had been. The first literary Epic, Beowulf, illustrates the struggle between these two ideologies, as well as contributes the sought after values of heroism. The Eaters of the Dead also demonstrates this struggle between cultures, playing off Beowulf in theme. Excalibur, the Arthurian Legend, depicts the final battle between Christian and pagan belief, Christianity winning out in the end. Epics such as these express their values through heroic acts and support William Shakespeare's quote; "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."
Beowulf, labeled the first indisputable masterpiece of the English language, follows the Quest of a Scandinavian warrior who embodies the perfect Hero. Beowulf's fearless nature and love for battle make him a sought after idol in accords to the values of an Anglo-Saxon. "Nowhere, they said, north or south between the two seas or under the tall sky on the broad earth was there anyone better to raise a shield or rule a kingdom."
The main character, and protagonist, Beowulf is first introduced in the novel by means of ancestral lineage. Born into greatness, Beowulf makes his reputation indisputable through action. With the King Hrothgar as witness, Beowulf declares his intentions to aid the Danes by way of slaying the awesome beast Grendel who has caused havoc among the lands. "Now I mean to be a match for Grendel, settle the outcome in single combat." As every great hero fulfils his boast, Beowulf did not fall short. Though the destruction of Grendel brought relief and rejoicings- a mother's wrath would cause it to fall short. Again, the mighty Beowulf takes on this mighty beast, descendant of Cain. As Hrothgar desperately states: "Now help depends again on you and you alone./ Seek it if you dare."
The mighty Beowulf also exemplifies his greatness through his wisdom. Knowing of politics, Beowulf interprets the grim consequences of a proposed marriage between the daughter of Hrothgar and the "gracious Ingled. Hence, Beowulf's wisdom and heroic reputation lead him to become ruler- turning down the offer for the first time, only to have it thrust upon him in a series of unfortunate events. For many years the kingdom remains peaceful under Beowulf's rule until yet another beast presents itself. In Beowulf's final battle he reconciles with the inevitability of foretold death and marches into battle with the same bravery he is praised for. "Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast for the last time: I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall peruse this fight for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only abandoned his earth-fort and face me in the open.'"
In the final moments of the valiant life of Beowulf he bids a noble warrior by the name of Wiglaf to ensure a portion of the hoard to his people. Though the hero knows of his fast approaching death he thinks not of himself, but of the people that so strongly idolized his bravery. The death of Beowulf washes the land with sorrow, for all knew of the greatness he was born into, the greatness thrust upon him, and the greatness of his actions.
Holding a similar plot line, The Eaters of the Dead, tells the epic of a man who achieves greatness not through birth or by force, but with experience. The main character, Ibn Fadlan, is an exile of his native land of Baghdad, forced on a journey as a representative of the Caliph. Upon his travels, Fadlan encounters Viking warriors en route to the barbaric...
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