Beowulf and The Iliad Comparison Essay
Finding the Model of the Epic Hero Whether written today or 3,000 years ago, some types of literature strive to provide examples of social ideals. This is particularly true of ancient epic poems such as Beowulf and the Iliad. Both texts provide clues as to what was considered the epic hero and reflect common belief systems. However, there are some significant differences between one culture and the other. By comparing epic heroes such as Beowulf and Hector, it is possible to understand what some of these differences might be.
Both epics reveal numerous similarities regarding their interpretations of the epic hero as displayed by their main characters, Beowulf and Hector. Such a code placed a great deal of value on things such as strength and honor in warriors and political fairness in leaders. Hector demonstrates his honor and strength when he dismisses his wife’s warning that he will be killed by Achilles and goes out to meet Patroclus in Achilles armor. Andromache says, “your valor will bring you to destruction; think on your infant son, and on my hapless self who ere long shall be your widow – for the Achaeans will set upon you in a body and kill you” (Book VI). Honor requires him to meet his enemy rather than hide behind walls. In facing the first of his three main challenges, Beowulf also demonstrates heroic bravery and honor: “I abjure utterly / the bearing of a sword or shielding yellow / board in this battle! With bare hands shall I / grapple with the fiend, fight to the death here” (434-441). Honor, bravery, and strength are all shown to be important characteristics of the epic hero throughout both poems.
There are some differences in how the code is observed between these two characters though. Beowulf arrives in Herot bragging about his heroic deeds, but he never shows weakness or fear in facing the real demons. “These men knew well the weight of my hands / Had they not seen me come home from fights / where I had bound five Giants – their blood was upon me / … Had I not crushed on the wave/sea serpents by night in a narrow struggle” (409s-425). While Beowulf’s reason for fighting is simply for adventure and fame, Hector gains heroic status because his reason for fighting is to defend his home and family. His refusal to listen to Andromache indicates that duty to home and family, while important, is not as important as upholding the honor of warriors. When he shows fear in facing the raging Achilles by running from Achilles rage, this heroic status is reduced even further. By forcing Achilles to chase him around the town, he makes himself something of a joke. However, he retains his heroic status because of the strength of his character and his proper dedication to honor despite his moment of weakness.
Both epics depict men who are larger than life in their fierce dedication to honor in battle, but each demonstrates their heroes as having very real human but different weaknesses that reveal differences in cultural values. Beowulf’s weakness is that he brags about his deeds, a behavior that would not have been accepted as easily in Hector Troy. Hector shows weakness in battle when he is about to face the demi-god Achilles, but he has more honorable reasons to fight.
Beowulf. Literature in Context: Classicism, Middle Ages and Renaissance. Gerald Wood et al. eds. Vol. 1. Boston: Pearson, 2003. 63-195. Print.
Homer. The Iliad. Place of publication of your copy: Publisher name, Date of publication. Print.