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Compare and Contrast Beowulf and King Authur

In: English and Literature

Submitted By eliasattipoe
Words 1760
Pages 8
Marlene Zinnah
December 11, 2013
ENG 205
Prof: Tara Lesko

Heroes have been dominant characters who sacrifice themselves for others in order to teach a lesson. The major theme is the triumph of goodness over evil. Beowulf and King Arthur, the epic heroes of grand tales, stand out for all that is good, brave and proper, while the villains stand for evil. However during the course of the stories the two heroes die tragically in a triumphant battle over vice and evil the course of the tale. The characters only perish after the evil is vanquished and destroyed. Sir Thomas Mallory brings forth a courageous character King Arthur, utilizing weaponry and leadership, to enlighten the kingdom of the unique characteristics of a true hero While Beowulf depicts the Anglo-Saxon era to tell a story of one who fights to better society.
It is a known fact that heroes over time and overseas all heroes have something in common; which is true in the case of King Arthur and Beowulf. It is obvious that they are similar in the fact that they are both heroes, but what makes them an idol of their time and in their culture are poles apart. There are many things that are different about Beowulf and King Arthur, but the ones that stand out the most are what kind of hero they are and what actions they did to make them heroic. Both heroes possess qualities that others do not have, but it is what they do with those abilities that prompts someone to write a story about them and idolize them in time.
King Arthur and Beowulf are both heroes whose stories originated in the England area. They were written at different times, by a different era of people, but some of the core ethics are present in both stories. Both heroes were admired because they saved a whole group of people. King Arthur and Beowulf were also leaders, Beowulf was king of the Geats, and Arthur was the king of England. This is interesting because this means that they were both well-known even before they had stories written about them, and they both possess qualities that can be found in leaders. While Arthur is a romance hero and Beowulf is an epic hero, the use of a magical weapon is seen in both stories which is generally a characteristic in the romance stories. "Then he saw, hanging on the wall, a heavy sword, hammered by the giants, strong and blessed with their magic," (Beowulf 242-244). Arthur's magical weapon is Excalibur, which is pretty much well known to anyone that has heard of his story. I also felt that fate had a role in both of the stories. In Arthur's dream he had a premonition about what was going to happen to his people, "Below him, many fathoms deep, was a dark well, and in the water swam serpents, dragons, and wild beasts. Suddenly the scaffold tilted and Arthur was flung into the water, where all the creatures struggled towards and began tearing him from limb to limb." (Malory 194). The beasts and dragons were the two armies and when someone drew their sword Arthur, who was connected to his people was thrown in. The Anglo-Saxons believed that one could avoid fate as long as they did brave acts, but eventually it would catch up. Beowulf held it off for a long time but eventually accepted his fate in a very honorable way. The similarities between the two heroes are very general and hard to express upon. The differences are much more specific and even though they are differences relationships can still be drawn between each other.
King Arthur and Beowulf were both similar and different in a variety of ways. These men had different attributes about them that made them the same as each other but with that they also had characteristics that made them different from one another. The perspectives portrayed from the two characters do give off similarities and differences but there seem to be much more similarities amongst them then there are differences. King Arthur and Beowulf have a lot of things in common, but in different times and settings.
King Arthur was very much so a leader of the people, being the king gives him the responsibility of leading his country and his people. Beowulf was in the same situation but was only a prince to his people. He wasn’t much of a leader but someone who was envied by all the people. They followed him in a sense that they wanted to protect him as well as be recognized by him. “All of Beowulf’s Band had jumped from their beds, ancestral Swords raised and ready, determined to protect their prince if they could. Their courage was great but all wasted.” In the quote it is stated that they followed him directly without question, showing that they are devoted followers to him and as a leader because he began by grabbing his sword to fight and they went with him. King Arthur also has followers, he leads an army to a battle and all the men who are incorporated into his army follow him to wherever he takes them trusting him with their lives.
The stories themselves are what makes Beowulf and Arthur different. Beowulf was not an ordinary human, he had super human strength and fought monsters. Even though he was extraordinary, a story about him might not have been written if he did not fight Grendel. Beowulf first helped out the Danes by fighting and Killing Grendel, a monster that had been at war with Hrothgar for 12 years. This was the start of Beowulf's legacy and the people began to glorify him. "Then old and young rejoiced, turned back from that happy pilgrimage, mounted their hard-hooved Horses, High-spirited stallions, and rode them slightly toward Herot again, retelling Beowulf's bravery as they jogged along." (143-147). Killing Grendel lead to Beowulf killing Grendel's mother and the dragon. King Arthur was not an ordinary person but he had no special ability over anyone else. The reason his legacy was made into a story is because he was such a great leader, and how he came to be leader. It can be assumed that King Arthur was a great leader because he had so many loyal fighters with him at the last battle. As a distinct hero of the Medieval Period, King Arthur relied greatly upon his arms and retainers. "Take thou here Excalibur..." The King had an extraordinary sword which he brought forth and kept at his side at all times. He fought many battles and bore great trust into his prominent sword. "`Now give me my spear.' Then the King got his spear in his hands and ran towards Mordred." The mighty Arthur depended largely upon weapons as an alternative to hand-to-hand combat. "He behold that noble sword - That the pommel and the haft was all precious stones." The distinguished Excalibur was carried and shown with dignity. Immense care and respect was imposed into the weapons of the king. The noble King Arthur utilized the arms of his time, opposed to Beowulf's unarmed way of battle.
Described as the strongest man in the world, Beowulf voyages across seas slaying evil demons with nothing but his bare hands. "...Knew at once that nowhere on earth had he met a man whose hands where harder." In the confrontation of Grendel and Beowulf, our hero brings forth a force greater than the unmerciful dragon. Weaponless, Beowulf slays the dragon with his divine tools of god. "And was instantly seized himself, claws bent back as Beowulf leaned up on one arm." Beowulf was seen as a hero who conquered the evils with his sheer strength. "Strongest of the Geats - Greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in the world." Beowulf was a hero for who he was, a physically superior being. Additionally, he was adored by the Geats for his personality and mentality, along with his accomplishments of bettering society.
King Arthur and Beowulf differed in their beliefs and ways of battle. "I alone...... may purge all evil from this hall..." Alone and unarmed, Beowulf fights as a hero. Beowulf does not fight in a group or army. "The battle was over, Beowulf had been granted new glory." Unlike the noble King Arthur, Beowulf fights unaccompanied to improve society. "And when the host of both parties saw that sword raised, they blew beams, trumpets, and horns, and shunned grimly." The two sides, at the battlegrounds, where organized, united and lead under the control of King Arthur and Mordred. Orders proposed and given by the leaders governed the actions of the soldiers unlike Beowulf's solitary way of fighting.
King Arthur, a distinguished leader, relied greatly upon the use of arms. He led an army, of "men in mail", against other troops. Beowulf, fought to rescue a group of people and help the needy. Both heroes fight and exploit characteristics found in models to society. Bravery, strength, leadership, helping the underprivileged, are attributes seen in the "good guys" of today. These characters have adapted these methods and utilized them in the situation. Unlike King Arthur, Beowulf was said to have superhuman strength which is what allowed him to defeat Grendel in battle. “…and defeat, the tears torn out of Grendel’s Taut throat, hell’s captive caught in the arms of him who of all the men on earth was the strongest.” In the quote Beowulf is being referred to as the strongest man on earth, which could be considered superhuman strength. The two men were both very courageous in mostly ways of battle.
Though King Arthur was a romance hero and Beowulf was epic hero, their actions are worthy of being retold. That is what all heroes have in common. In conclusion Beowulf and King Arthur are similar in the fact that they have both accomplished a great deal and deserve to be remembered through stories, though what they did to deserve this the honor, was very different.


* SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Beowulf.” SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 1 Oct. 2013. * "Arthur, King." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2001. 29 Oct. 2013 <>. * James, Heather, Sarah Lawall, Lee Patterson, Patricia Meyer Spacks, and William G. Thalmann, eds. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1174-47. Print. * Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. Ware, Hertfordshire. England: Wordsworth Classics, 1996. Print.

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