To begin with, to be a hero is a complicated issue. What does it mean to be an outstanding hero throughout the everlasting epic works? In fact, this question needs special attention to the character of Beowulf in the traditional Anglo-Saxon epic literature. This figure has many things to do with both fame and gorgeous implementation of courage and power. On the other side, it is an edited interpretation of paganism and early Christianity in England. Thus, Beowulf is treated as the savior of his and neighboring lands and viewed as a traditional hero. To say more, a significant parallel is drawn in the paper to another narrative poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in order to prove the aforementioned thesis statement.
First of all, Beowulf is a great example of a perfect hero, who is the hope of people and knows no fear and anxiety before the main enemy, namely Grendel, then its mother and afterwards the dragon. The poem exemplifies the heroism of Beowulf throughout ages. It is stated that the main hero is as strong in his youth as in chair days, so to speak (Alexander 34). As the experts in early philology of English and English literature admit, Beowulf is a personification of powers of good as opposed to the terror coming up from powers of evil (Gwara 8). It goes without saying that the contributors to this kind of folklore were likely to do the best they could in order to implement and further represent the best qualities and traits of the main hero.
Besides, Beowulf is not just a poem about heroic deeds of the main hero, but an illustration of “epic qualities of inclusive scope, objective treatment, unity of ethos and significant action” (Alexander xxvii). That is the point that a special treatment of a hero is provided in accordance with the beliefs and religious motives being predominant throughout Anglo-Saxon land at the time. It is no surprise that Beowulf was created at the time when Christianity was constantly spreading over Europe. Thus, if one takes a glimpse at different episodes in this epic work, one will definitely outline some similarities with the path and words of Jesus Christ. This tradition kept Angles, Danes and Geats united in their strong faith:
I have suffered a thousand
Spites from Grendel: but God works ever
Miracle upon miracle, the Master of Heaven (Alexander 35).
Traditionally, ancient people living on the territory of contemporary England were likely to depict evil in the form of the dragon or a beast terrifying people as long as it was an imaginary figure of everything bad and of evil nature. Beowulf suffers much, but destructs the power of Grendel and makes the neighboring people free from anxiety and fear. Hence, there is no doubt in that Beowulf is a traditional hero full of the best qualities as there should be in an epic hero. One more characteristic feature of Beowulf, as the main hero, is that he follows his destination during his life, and he is strongly devoted to his mission on earth until he dies eventually.
Similarities of Sir Gawain with Beowulf
In this respect a significant point of view touches upon an inseparable heroism of this protagonist. First of all, he is dedicated to the King Arthur and is a member of the Round Table (Weston 12). Second, he helps poor people and prevents the rest of the population from the negative impact of the Green Knight. It is a figure deserving special respect, since he is traditionally described to be of formidable size and full of noble feelings and manners at his own.
One of the episodes describes a very noble statement by the main hero: “Liege lord of my life, leave from you I crave. Ye know well how the matter stands without more words to-morrow am I bound to set forth in search of the Green Knight” (Cited in Weston 12). The overall representation of Gawain’s attitudes toward his people and the king, first of all are incorporated in his courtesy, purity, brevity, and patriotic feelings. This hero cannot be described without the fame going hand in hand with him. Moreover, there is a connection to the classical tradition in describing Anglo-Saxon heroes and the set of attributes at their disposal.
To say more, Sir Gawain is protected by the higher powers. It is well described in the episode with an old woman and her admonition. There is a parallel with Beowulf who commits his heroic deeds under protection of God and his power embodied in the figure of the protagonist. It is quite clear that Angles and Saxons would never depict their epic heroes as needlessly reckless. It would have broken down the glory and the uniqueness of Anglo-Saxon ethos. Further still, the theme of tradition was highly emphasized among ancient people who kept a strict eye on the glorifying majesty epic heroes based on the examples of Beowulf and Sir Gawain.
Both heroes accept the challenge coming on the part of the ominous powers of the dragon and the Green Knight. Getting through a way of torment and endurance, these heroes are still popular with contemporary audience of readers. However, it is vital to focus more on the figure of Beowulf in his wandering towards challenging menace hanging over the people living at his site. Beowulf follows the ethical code of a noble warrior. It is stated that Germanic heroism prescribed to him is a secularization of Christian and pagan values: “The fundamental ethical code of the poem is unmistakably secular: it is the warrior code of the aristocracy, celebrating bravery, loyalty, and generosity, with the hero finding his only immortality in the long-lasting fame of great exploits carried out in this world” (Cited in Gwara 4).
We can either put these words to the representation of Sir Gawain and his ability to respect and share the qualities and milestones of morality as denoted for noble knights, aristocracy at large. Suchlike evaluation of a hero in the ancient Anglo-Saxon poems is definitely correct in terms of the basic traditions.
However, some critics of the epic works outline a bilateral characterization of the main hero in Beowulf. It is a sort of positive versus negative features one may point out of the text: “Each reflex characterizes the ambivalent personality of the Germanic “hero” represented by Beowulf: always glorious, fearless, and solitary on the other hand; potentially spiteful, vain, barbaric, even murderous, on the other” (Gwara 22). Thus, to reach out the equilibrium in judgments on Beowulf, one should look at the poem as an original embodiment of the transition from pagan to Christian traditions. The same might be underlined while examining Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
To conclude, it is no doubt now that the main hero in Beowulf is full of traditional shapes on his magnificent deeds and qualities as opposed to the powers of evil. Based on the example of Sir Gawain, one can also see that this tradition largely encompasses Anglo-Saxon narrative poems. This is why a reader should look at the epic hero in Beowulf as well as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as traditionally positive and full of divine support and majesty.