Although they posses many similar heroic characteristics they also differ greatly. Beowulf is the earliest surviving epic poem written in a modern European language. It was written in Old English sometime before the tenth century A. D.
The poem describes the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. Beowulf is described as a perfect hero who fights for his people and vanquishes evil with his extraordinary abilities to bring peace and justice. Three of Beowulf’s traits that support this are his amazing physical strength, his ability to put his people’s welfare before his own, and the fact that he does not fear death. Beowulf is a hero in the eyes of his fellow men through his amazing physical strength and courage. He fought in numerous battles and returned victorious in all but his last. Beowulf was powerful enough to kill the monster Grendel, who had been terrorizing the Danes for twelve years, with his bare hands.
When the two squared off Beowulf grabbed Grendal’s arm and ripped it off at the shoulder. Beowulf then fought Grendel’s mother, an even deadlier monster who was seeking revenge against Beowulf for her son’s death. Beowulf was able to slay her by slashing her neck with a Giant’s sword that can only be lifted by a person as strong as Beowulf. When he chopped off her head, he carried it from the ocean with ease, but it took four men to lift the monster’s head and carry it back to Herot.
This strength is a key trait of Beowulf’s heroism. Another heroic value Beowulf possessed was his tendancy to put the welfare of others before his own. Beowulf was asked by the Danes to help rid them of an evil monster that was terrorizing their city. Beowulf obliged and traveled far to face an awesome force that he did not know he could defeat. He realized the dangers of his battles but feared nothing for his own life. Beowulf risked his own life to save the Danes from Grendal then once again when Grendal’s mother came for revenge.
Fifty years after slaying Grendal’s mother a fierce dragon began terrorizing Beowulf’s people. Beowulf was old and tired but he still set out to fight the dragon to protect his people. As an old man Beowulf soon realized he was no match for the dragon, but he didn’t run. With the help of one of his followers Beowulf fought hard and finally killed the dragon, losing his own life in the process. Even in death he wished for the safety of his people.
The most heroic of traits within Beowulf is that he was not afraid to die. He always explained his death wishes before going into battle and requested to have all his wealth and belongings distributed between his people. Beowulf was not afraid to die because he lived a heroic life and he felt it was his duty as a hero to defeat any evil or die trying. “When we crossed the sea, my comrades and I, I already knew that all my purpose was this: to win the good will of your people or die in battle, pressed in Grendel’s fierce grip. Let me live in greatness and courage, or here in this hall welcome my death! (22)” Beowulf knew that by battling evil monsters such as Grendal he would achieve immortality.
The stories of his unconquerable courage would be retold again and again, forever. In life or in death a hero is glorified for their actions. . His strength, his ability to put his people’s welfare before his own, and the fact that he does not fear death makes him revered by all, especially those of his time. These are prime examples that support the idea that Beowulf was an epic hero that served as an example to those of his time. The second text I will be using for this comparison is The Epic of Gilgamesh.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was one of the first pieces of literature known to man. The epic was found among ruins in Ninevah in the form of twelve large tablets, dating to 2,000 B. C. The epic is believed to be based on the Archaic Sumerian king Gilgamesh who ruled the city of Uruk around 2700 B. C. The main character in The Epic of Gilgamesh is a very powerful man who is two-thirds immortal and one-third man.
He too is thought to be a hero and possesses many of Beowulf’s heroic values, but he also possesses many differences. Like Beowulf, Gilgamesh possessed great physical strength unmatched by any man. He also had insurmountable courage. Gilgamesh fought numerous battles that were considered impossible to win. Gilgamesh first destroys an evil monster known as Humbaba. Humbaba is feared by all who enter his cedar forest.
Gilgamesh arrives and kills Humbaba with a sword given to him by the god Shamash. After killing Humbaba the goddess Ishtar sends The Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. After the bull killed many of the townspeople Gilgamesh grabbed it by its tail and stabbed it in the back of its head. On his final quest for everlasting life Gilgamesh is attacked by a pack of lions.
He takes an axe in one hand and a sword in the other and kills many of the lions, sending the rest fleeing in fear. Gilgamesh’s strength and courage is much like that of Beowulf. Gilgamesh did not put his people before him. He was an evil king.
“Gilgamesh sounds of tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a Shepard to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble” In this way Gilgamesh did not display the same heroic values as Beowulf. Even when Gilgamesh set out on his first adventure to kill Humbaba his people and councilors pleaded with Gilgamesh not to go.
But Gilgamesh was obsessed with becoming a hero. He set out to destroy Humbaba, his only ambition being to leave an enduring name. The one thing Gilgamesh feared was death. After his friend and companion, Enkidu, died Gigamesh became obsessed with death.
He wept for seven days and seven nights before starting a great journey to find everlasting life. He searchers for a man named Utnapishtim, who was given eternal life by the gods, to find out how he escaped death. In both cultures the heros possessed god-like strength and defeated many evil beings. Both were courageous and feared no man or creature. Anglo-saxon heros stick to a stricter code of ethics.Beowulf is the prime example of an epic hero, and he embodies the conduct that the Anglo-Saxons of that time admired and also used as a model of perfection