When envisioning the ideal hero, a person might picture a selfless individual, one who shows bravery in the face of defeat and is willing to beat the overwhelming odds. Often times, a hero is an everyday person who with one selfless act proves them a strong individual. Heroes are not born a hero, it is in the times you least expect it that heroes are made. Heroism is not congenital, rather something that is demonstrated.
Yet, the definition of a hero is constantly changing; as society evolves, here is a great deal of variation in the importance of the morals and values within the culture. We have studied multiple heroes this semester thus far, yet two classic poems, Beowulf and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” include similar heroes who went above what they were called to do, and embraced the challenge that lay before them. Although our definition of a hero has changed, we don’t necessarily have to fght a green monster, it is obvious why these two men were highly praised.
The idea of a hero has been transformed through time, in the Old and Middle English periods, hen people received their information from the storytellers; heroes came as entertainment for the people to enjoy. During the Old English era, the people were overcome by the epic poem Beowulf, in which the Old English heroic ideals were displayed by the warrior Beowulf in his battles with various monsters that threatened citizens in several countries, noting that none of them were his own.
The people of the Middle English period idolized the chivalrous figure of Sir Gawain in stories such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Each story shows the type of ideal hero that the time period recognized. However, as time has passed from Old to the Middle English eras brought certain changes in the belief of what a true hero encompasses. Even through time, Beowulf and Sir Gawain stories have developed and grown. Their heroic adventures have captured an audience who enjoys seeing a “normal” human endure non human events, and in the end, becoming the hero that no one expected.
Through their bravery and strength, Beowulf and the Green Knight represent the heroes who overcame insurmountable odds to win the loyalty of the people in their respective countries in fourteenth-century England. A quest is a Journey that a hero takes that is often dangerous and endures elements that no normal human can endure. We are first introduced to Beowulf’s heroics when he hears of the trouble that his uncle is under. The inspirational Beowulf sets out for the land of Denmark with fourteen of his bravest men.
Denmark is ruled by the great King Hrothgar; however for twelve winters Herot, the castle in which the king lived, had been cursed with a demon from deep down in the darkness. In the night it came through the hall of Herot and killed the warriors while they slept. The monster’s name is Grendel, “the onster of evil” (3, 6) and he had left the weaker individuals and taken the lives of some of the strongest men. It was then that Beowulf was called to help, “Heard in his home: of heroes then living/ He was stoutest and strongest, sturdy and noble. He the ocean” (4, 8-12). Beowulf is preparing a group of finest individuals who will help him to conquer Grendel and help his uncle out. This quote shows how Beowulf is already displaying heroic characteristics such as strength and nobility. To be called to such an event is admiring in itself but what Beowulf goes on to do proves much ore difficult. Beowulf had an ultimate goal in his voyage to his uncle. He had to not only slay Grendel but restore happiness to a country that seemed to have lost all hope.
When Grendel returned to the country in hopes of finding more warriors to slay, he instead came face to face with Beowulf, who bore no weapons because he did not want an advantage over the monster. Beowulf was not a large human being and his strength was no greater than the other men who fought with him. His perseverance was what made Beowulf unique. After a gruesome battle, Beowulf was ble to tear the arm of Grendel off his body and forcing him out of the country, back to the marshes to die. What makes this battle so unique is two main points.
Most people are heroes for their country and their people, Beowulf wasn’t part of this country and besides his uncle had very little ties to Denmark. His ability to fght the monster when everyone around him had ultimately failed also makes this battle unique. Beowulf took the monster single handily for most of the fght yet we are given lines that prove that Beowulf never gave up. Unfortunately, Beowulfs days of fghting were not over. Grendel’s mother became so outraged when she heard of her son’s death that she immediately took to Beowulf to kill him.
In another heroic battle, one that Beowulf questioned if he would make it, Beowulf hit his lowest point. In the midst of the fght, “Gazed on the sea-deeps, that the surging wave-currents/ Were mightily mingled, the mere-flood was gory:/Of the good one the gray-haired together held converse, ‘The hoary of head, that they hoped not to see again/The atheling ever, that exulting in victory/ He’d return there to visit the distinguished folk-ruler: ‘Then many concluded the mere-wolf had killed im. ” (24, 35-41). It was at this point, where the reader feels that there isn’t a way the character can make it out alive after all.
To the people, Beowulf was the last hope of survival in the kingdom. With any monster alive, no one was safe. Once again, Beowulf fought back and defeated the mother, even after they all believed that the blood they saw seeping up had to be Beowulf, he emerged victoriously. After that fight, Beowulf returned home to become king. A country that didn’t need his help saw his abilities and awarded him with the highest honor. Beowulf’s days offghting were ot over and after a number of years he found himself in the midst of turmoil.
Through each battle though Beowulf succeeded and only gave us more reason to call him a hero. Beowulf’s biggest downfall was letting the idea of being a hero get to his head. He was able to accomplish something that seems to anyone else, non human like characteristics. Beowulf’s bravery and poise in time of battle proved himself not only a hero in his time period but one that has developed and continued through the ages. We don’t read about monsters coming into castles today, but yet as we continue o read Beowulf, we are still inclined to consider him the hero.
Another poem that embodies another type of hero is Sir Gawain in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” who unlike Beowulf was not called upon to country to help out but instead in a brief moment choose his life to save others. While enjoying a meal with King Arthur, a head off. Without thinking, Sir Gawain volunteered himself and took an axe to the knight’s head. With surprise, the knight bent down and picked up his head. As everyone was in awe, the knight informed Sir Gawain that in a year’s time he must come and find the knight to finish his quest. Like Beowulf, he followed the knight’s orders and went on with the quest in due time.
When the time came for Sir Gawain to accompany the knight in his castle they agreed to exchange their days worth of earnings. On the first day, the Green Knight came home from a day of hunting to trade a deer for a kiss that Gawain had admitted and believed had come from the wife of the knight. On the second day, Gawain was awarded a wild boar head on a stick for two kisses from the knight’s wife. Finally, on the third day Gawain was given a fox pelt in exchange for three kisses and a green elt with magical powers; however, Gawain disobeyed the rules and did not inform the knight that he was given the belt that held the magical powers.
Gawain reason behind keeping the belt was because he believed he would soon be beheaded by the knight. The day came that the knight and Sir Gawain were going to fght. Much to his surprise, the knight only nicked his neck, causing no serious issue. Sir Gawain believed that it was the belt that saved his life until the knight informed him that it was not the belt, but that this deal was arranged far in advance and that the belt roved to not assist at all. In shame, Sir Gawain returned home embarrassed that he had lied about the belt.
He didn’t want to return to his country knowing that he had let not only King Arthur down, but the men that looked up to him. What Sir Gawain wasn’t expecting was that the country truly was pleased with his heroics. It didn’t matter whether he beat the monster or not, Sir Gawain was a hero to them for going on the quest in the first place. In his honor, they wore the belts around with pride, to show to him that they appreciated all that he did for their country. A hero can be idely defined. It doesn’t always take the killing of a beast to become a hero.
Sometimes the mere fact that you stand up for a country proves heroic enough. Beowulf and Sir Gawain each respectively became heroes in the minds of others. Their stories is what generations have read and come to admire their bravely. Although both stories can be looked at as very different, in the bigger picture, they both represent the theme of heroics. Sometimes it is better to look at the bigger picture in the story. It isn’t who you beat, but what you endure to get there, that is what being a hero truly becomes.