Compare and contrast images of heroism in these two poems.

1417 Words6 Pages
Compare and contrast images of heroism in these two poems.

Heroism is a trait that we seem to have no problem identifying, yet

when asked to define what a hero is a myriad of answers emerge. This

phenomenon is not unique to today’s society; the definition of a hero

is something that is constantly under revision and debate. An example

of this can be seen in two older pieces of English literature: Beowulf,

written circa 750-900, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written

circa 1375-1400. These stories both have a main character that

possesses heroic qualities, many of which are very similar. Gawain’s

identity as a hero is not clearly demonstrated, but when compared with

Beowulf, who is demonstrated to be a hero, hiss merits earn him that

title as well.

Exactly what defines a heroic act, or a hero for that matter? Often

times we dismiss the question due to its complex nature. But when

confronted with an individual with heroic qualities we readily

identify them as a hero. So what set of traits makes up this

amorphous definition that we call hero? I would agree that the very

definition is one that is dependent upon the time and society in which

its context is being used. A person who shot someone to save the life

of another may be viewed as a hero under the scrutiny of one culture,

but in a different time or location the very opposite may be true.

Nevertheless, heroes exist and posses these ever changing heroic

qualities. Beowulf is clearly demonstrated to be a hero, and we can

observe the qualities he possesses to enable him to have that title.

While Sir Gawain’s heroic accomplishments are a little more debatable,

I would argue that he deserves the same title; he exudes qualities

which can be consider...

... middle of paper ...

...is days lamenting

his decision to use the girdle, so he isn’t ignorant of what he as

done. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing heroic about dying

without a cause, which is what would have been the case had the Green

Knight carried out his threat. I see no harm done in preparing

oneself for an encounter such as the one he went through. We often

laude heroes for their cunning in wisdom, so why should those same

traits in Gawain be looked upon negatively?

While there are many more facets to declaring someone a hero, these

are a few that both Beowulf and Gawain share. Beowulf demonstrates

that its namesake is a man who is supposed to be regarded as a hero.

This same intent is not made in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but

when the two are compared with each other, Sir Gawain is shown to be a

hero, not a simple coward that he may initially appear to be.
Open Document