The Heroic Ideal Essay

This essay has a total of 1974 words and 8 pages.

The Heroic Ideal



Heroic qualities have always been debatable but historians tend to agree that the
qualities of a hero are a reflection of the values of the society. Augustus and Beowulf
are two individuals revered as heroes during their own time. Both sustained their share
of criticism but still managed to come out on top. Augustus was responsible for uniting
Rome and creating a society that influenced every single society that followed. Beowulf’s
success was in keeping the peace for the Geats with the surrounding kingdoms. Through
comparing the ideals and values of Rome in the first century and Britain in the eighth, a
definite parallel can be drawn connecting these values with how the people viewed the
heroes of the time: Beowulf and Augustus.

Despite criticism that Augustus used bribery and intimidation to force his way into power,
his successful leadership of Rome during the first century B.C. made him one of the
greatest leaders of all time. Augustus was thought of as a powerful man and he always had
the good of Rome in mind and never took his power for granted. Obviously, Augustus was
proud of his leadership and even said as much in his Res Gestae Divi Augusti. His tone
did not seem to be bragging, but merely stated the facts of his reign. Augustus’s first
sentence reminds the Romans that he liberated the Republic at the tender age of nineteen
“on [his] own initiative and at [his] own expense” (WRW 56). A common theme he repeats in
his statement is how much of his own money was invested in building the Roman empire. He
repaired temples, gave gladiatorial shows, “came to the assistance of the treasury” (WRW
56) and “made up [the] tribute in grain and in money from [his] own grain stores and [his]
own patrimony…whenever the provincial taxes fell short” (WRW 57). He also emphasized that
he repaired Rome without inscribing his name on the buildings and he often gave shows in
other people’s names to show that he was not motivated by glory. He also portrayed
himself as a compassionate man because he “spared all citizens who sought pardon” (WRW
56).

The Romans put forth their faith and support in Augustus and continually gave him bigger
and better titles. After he ended the Roman civil wars, the senate voted him the name
Augustus, which means “exalted.” Augustus refused to name himself a dictator of Rome and
called himself princeps civitatis, or “First Citizen of the State.” He was eventually
given full tribunician power along with the titles of prince, chief priest of the state,
and emperor. The people believed he was there to restore the traditions of their Roman
ancestors. The Romans even came to view him as a God.

Beowulf possessed the same loyalty to his homeland that Augustus did and always put the
welfare of the Geats ahead of his own. He was described as a “formidable champion” and
having “heroic bearing and appearance” (Beowulf 32) and “vast strength” (Beowulf 36). It
was also said that “no other man…was a better fighter or more deserving of a kingdom”
(Beowulf 47) than Beowulf. Beowulf was also similar to Augustus in his ability to tell
people how great he was without bragging. Beowulf merely stated the facts and did not
leave out the slightest detail about what great things he accomplished. Hrothgar, king of
the Danes, declared that Beowulf “[carried] all [his] great strength…with prudence and
humility” (Beowulf 67). Not only did he embody all the great qualities of a strong
fighter that can protect his countrymen, he was also said to be “mature in understanding
and wise in speech” (Beowulf 70). Beowulf’s downfall would have to have been his hubrus
and greed. His whole point in attacking the worm was to obtain the treasure it had been
guarding for ages. “He did not fear to fight [the worm], nor did he rate the might and
valour of the Worm highly” (Beowulf 82). Beowulf was too sure of his great strength and
underestimated the fury of the Worm, therefore, the Worm ended up killing him. Although
he died as a result of his pride and greed, he had the good intentions of obtaining the
treasure for the good of his people.

Beowulf acknowledged that he was a great warrior and how extraordinary his accomplishments
were. When he first addressed Hrothgar, king of the Danes, he said “[his] countrymen
urged [him] to visit…King Hrothgar because they knew of [his] vast strength” (Beowulf 36).
Beowulf then goes on to say that he “emerged from a fight in which [he] destroyed an
entire family of giants…and now [he] mean[s] to deal single-handed with the monstrous
Grendel” (Beowulf 36). Beowulf relied on the immense strength he was given by God to
defeat his enemies and protect his kinsman. He was so confident in his strength that he
fought Grendel without the aid of his weapons. He typically left his troops behind and
fought his foes alone.

Although Augustus and Beowulf shared their quality of military superiority, there were
vast differences in their other aspects that tell a great deal about their contrasting
societies. Of course, military strength was extremely important because kingdoms were
constantly feuding with one another, but the Germanic culture Beowulf was a part of lacked
the order of Ancient Rome. Germanic culture was rather barbaric in the sense that it did
not possess any written laws while Roman society encompassed intellect and order. Beowulf
possessed many physical qualities and took his battles very personally. Augustus embraced
military prowess along with being a political genius. One might say that Rome placed more
emphasis on learning and intelligence than Germanic society. Perhaps Rome was just more
evolved than Germanic society but either way, these qualities were emphasized in whom the
people chose as their leaders.

Beowulf survived many battles and “of all kings he was the gentlest and most gracious of
men, the kindest to his people and the most desirous of renown” (Beowulf 101). Beowulf
accomplishments include killing nine sea-monsters and freeing the Danes of Grendel’s
wrath. He also killed Grendel’s mother when she declared vengeance against the Danes.
When Heardred died, Beowulf became king and a Dragon started reeking havoc on Beowulf’s
kingdom because some of the treasure it guarded was stolen. Although the battle with the
worm cost him his life, he succeeded in killing it and obtaining the treasure for the
express purpose of distributing it upon the Geats. He unfortunately failed in his purpose
of dispensing the treasure upon the Geats since they viewed it as a travesty to their
beloved leader if they held onto it since it was tainted with his blood. One of Beowulf’s
Continues for 4 more pages >>




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