Literary Heroes Essay

This essay has a total of 626 words and 4 pages.


Literary Heroes








Literary Heroes:
Beowulf and Odysseus

Reading through Beowulf I began to compare it to the last great epic I read, Homer’s The
Odyssey. While The Odyssey and Beowulf are each examples of both historic and modern
ideas of heroism, the acts of Beowulf’s hero seem to fit better within its context.

Beowulf exhibits many obvious heroic qualities, such as his strength and confidence in
battle. These along with more subtle diplomatic actions serve to define him as both a
great warrior and leader.

Beowulf shows both wit and patience in his swift retort after Unferth challenges his
skill. Later, after proving himself by dismembering Grendel, he accepts Unferth’s sword
to face Grendel’s mother. This offering can be seen as an act of apology or forfeit on
Unferth’s part and reveals another side of the hero: forgiveness. Beowulf did not deny
Unferth his repentance, nor did he ridicule him upon his conceit.

In contrast with Beowulf’s concrete depictions of good versus evil, The Odyssey focuses
more on the gray areas of punishment and revenge. A main theme throughout the poem is
vengeance, either by the gods or by man, and the unforgiving world of The Odyssey reflects
in its hero’s actions. Indeed upon Odysseus’ return to Ithaca he is almost bloodthirsty,
choosing not to reveal himself as king to drive away the suitors, but instead to bide time
in the guise of a beggar until he can slaughter all who’ve wronged him.

Beowulf’s wrath is swift and justified. He plays no games with his opponents. Beowulf
even shows respect to his foe and honorably faces them with no undue advantage.

A classic example of the honor usually associated with heroes lies in Beowulf’s decision
to use neither sword nor armor when facing the monster Grendel in Heorot. Beowulf instead
opted, in the name of fair play, to fight the monster on it’s own terms. Unsurprisingly
Beowulf conquered his foe in true idolic form, tearing Grendel’s arm from his torso with
only the strength of his grip and the power of his arms. This is what we cheer for in
such stories, this is the satisfying victory over evil by the true embodiment of good: the
hero.

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