According the greater good of others”. The

February 8, 2019 English Literature

According to Guardian News and Media, a hero is defined as, “someone who gives of himself, often putting his own life at great risk, for the greater good of others”. The idea of a hero is seen in the Anglo-Saxon poem, “Beowulf”, and Middle English Literature, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Both Beowulf and Sir Gawain demonstrate heroic qualities, but it is Beowulf that is more qualified as a hero. Beowulf fights to save his town, while Sir Gawain is fighting for his own personal honor and reputation. Beowulf confidently volunteers to defeat the dangerous beast, uses no weapons in his fight, and eventually dies in honor of his town. Sir Gawain steps up to challenge the Green Knight, but at the time of the fight, is defeated by his own sin.
Beowulf takes action against Grendel and Grendel’s mother, eventually dying to save his town, Danes. From the very beginning of the poem, Beowulf reveals his beliefs on being a courageous person. While talking about the swimming contest with Breca, Beowulf says, “Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked” (572-573). He is saying that if one’s fate has not been determined, they can still succeed through their courage. Beowulf believed in being fearless and brave. In Beowulf’s biggest endeavor, he kills the demon Grendel. Beowulf fearlessly offered to take down this beast, after he saw the havoc he was causing for the town. He shows his heroism when he volunteers to fight and risk his life for other people. Grendel’s attacks occur every night, while he viciously tears apart the humans before feeding on them. Beowulf was well aware of how dangerous Grendel was, and still volunteers to take him down, while confident that he will kill him. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, there is a similar pattern. Sir Gawain also volunteers to take on the challenge The Green Knight has proposed. Although both Sir Gawain and Beowulf show immense bravery, Sir Gawain was not the first to volunteer. King Arthur was the first to step up to the Green Knight. Sir Gawain also took on this challenge for himself. He put his life at risk when fighting the Green Knight, but it was not for the greater good of others.
Since Grendel didn’t have any weapons, Beowulf thought it was only fair to fight hand-hand combat. This shows that not only does Beowulf show extreme bravery in taking down this beast with no weapons, but he also believes in a fair fight. This bravery is shown when he says, “unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares” (684-685). Beowulf doesn’t care that he is fighting an almighty beast who has already killed many people. He believes that his force is strong enough to take him down unarmed. Sir Gawain prepared for his fight with the Green Knight, by being pampered by a man and woman in a castle he found on his way to the Green Chapel. Sir Gawain failed to fight the Green Knight, because of his dishonesty about taking the girdle. Sir Gawain was prepared to win the fight, but realized that he had been set up. By accepting the girdle and not exchanging it with Bertilak, Sir Gawain becomes “flawed and false” (2382) as he says, “I have totally failed” (2383). The actions that Sir Gawain took to fight the Green Night were not heroic. He was dishonest, and proved that he was only participating for the looks of himself.
Beowulf had support from everyone. People looked up to him, and respected his accomplishments. He was a hero for the people, Hrothgar announces, “Beowulf, my friend, your fame has gone far and wide, you are known everywhere” (1703-1705). The attention Beowulf is given after his battle with Grendel and Grendel’s mother shows the people of Danes’ gratitude. Eventually, Beowulf dies fighting for his people, which does not go unnoticed. At his extravagant funeral, the people, “extolled his heroic nature and exploits and gave thanks for his greatness” (3173-3174). Upon Sir Gawain’s return, many people were anxious to hear about his adventure, and shocked to see that he was still alive. Sir Gawain expressed his disappointment in himself, and spoke of his sins in embarrassment. Although the people of Camelot showed their support for Sir Gawain by wearing the girdle, they didn’t benefit from him in any way. The people of Camelot did not need anything from Sir Gawain, therefore his acts were not heroic. He was not praised when he returned, rather he spoke of his sins while everyone listened.
Although both Beowulf and Sir Gawain exhibited the heroic quality: bravery, it is Beowulf who is considered more of a hero. Some people may argue that since Sir Gawain was able to stand up to and recognize his own failure, he is a true hero. The Guardian News and Media states that a hero is defined as, “someone who gives of himself, often putting his own life at great risk, for the greater good of others”. Sir Gawain shows that he embarked on his endeavor for his own reputation and honor, which is not heroic. Beowulf has all of the qualities of a great hero. He was confident and brave, fought fairly and honorably and was glorified by the people of Danes.


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