Dr. Carol Bernard
English 2322.350 Brit. Lit.
23 June 2008
Heroism in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Over time the names of those considered to be “heroes” may have changed, but the qualities that compile a hero remain relatively unchanged. In the late eighth century and the early fifteenth century heroes tended to be strong, loyal, and brave men that were willing to protect what they hold dear. Today’s society can still relate to this ideal description of a hero, male or female. While both Beowulf and Sir Gawain posses heroic qualities, Beowulf is the stronger and better hero of the two. Early on in the poem we learn that Beowulf has already preformed many feats that demonstrate his unusual strength and courage. The poet, in fact describes Beowulf as “the mightiest man on earth” (line197). In a swimming contest with an acquaintance named Breca, Beowulf demonstrates his endurance by finishing the five day race and killing several sea monsters along the way. Beowulf’s honesty is also put to the test when the swimmers encounter a storm and Beowulf chooses to stay beside Breca, the weaker swimmer, instead of abandoning him and winning the race. Despite the fact that the storm eventually drove them apart, Beowulf showed that he cared about the safety of the other swimmer enough to forfeit a victory. Beowulf also posses a strong sense of loyalty and reputation. When he learns that King Hrothgar is being tormented by the monster Grendel, he sails across the ocean with fourteen of his best men in order to aid Hrothgar, stating “I can show the wise Hrothgar a way/ to defeat his enemy and find respite” (lines 279-280). Aside from looking to build his reputation, which was very important in those days, Beowulf decided to help Hrothgar because he had at one point sheltered Beowulf’s father in a time of war. Beowulf feels as though he owes Hrothgar his loyalty as payment. While in Hrothgar’s court, Unfreth insults...