King Arthur And Beowulf Numerous stories about numerous heroes have been told and then retold. All of these heroes do different things and all of them have a different set of qualities which make them heroes. Due to the fact that there are only so many heroic adventures and qualities, most are shared in part with at least one other hero. Such is the case between the great hero, Beowulf, from the epic poem Beowulf and King Arthur from the story of Morte dArthur. These great heroes have strong similarities and a great deal of differences. Once their similarities have been compared and then dismissed it is evident that Beowulf is the greater hero of the two.
True heroes do good things for good people. Such is the case in Beowulf, Beowulf leaves his homeland to help the Danish people rid themselves of the human eating monster, Grendel. This heroic quality is also evident in Morte d’Arthur, as Arthur consciously rides into a battle in order to rid his people of an evil knight who would not allow others to pass. Both heroes are displaying their concern for others by risking themselves in battle for the greater good. In the same aspect they are also striving for love and respect from the people they protect.
In order to obtain maximum respect per battle, both Beowulf and Arthur enter into battle somewhat alone. Beowulf specifically asks, “That [he], alone and with the help of [his] men, / May purge all evil from [the] hall” (Beowulf, line 165-166). His request is granted by Hrothgar, King of the Danes, so he and his man enter into the battle themselves and when Grendel is defeated, the glory, love and respect belong solely to Beowulf and his men. Arthur does the same, “he met with his man and his horse, and so mounted up and dressed his shield and took his spear, and bade his chamberlain tarry there till he came again” (Morte dArthur paragraph 20). Although Arthur begins his journey alone he does meet up with Merlin, the court magician and faithful companion, who accompanies him. Much like Beowulf, Arthur gains great respect and praise from all men of worship by fighting alone, even though it is not necessarily the smartest thing to do.
The characteristic of being fearless when faced with death is often a trait of heroes because it is associated with courage and strength. King Arthur and Beowulf are not afraid to die, thus showing their courage to their adversaries and peers. When Arthur is faced with death he declares, “welcome be it when it cometh, but to yield me unto thee as [cowardly] I had liefer die than to be so shamed.” (Morte dArthur, paragraph 34). Simply put he would rather die than admit to defeat and being cowardly. Beowulf feels much the same way about death.
He illustrates this by showing no fear for his own life but instead expressing concern for the honor of King Higlac by asking that, “if death does take [him], send the hammered / Mail of [his] armor to Higlac” (Beowulf, line 186-187). In sending his King his armor it recommits himself to his country and lets his King be reminded of his bravery every time he looks upon it. That is the extent to which Beowulf and King Arthur are similar. Beowulf has way more confidence in his fighting ability then Arthur has in his. This is evident in the fact that Beowulf fights Grendel unarmed, he says “my hands / Alone shall fight for me, struggle for life” (Beowulf, line 172-173).
His reasoning behind this is that Grendels, “scorn of men / Is so great that he needs no weapons and fears none [so] / Nor will [he]” (Beowulf, line 167-169). By facing Grendel unarmed to shows that he is brave and more importantly unafraid to be equal to Grendel. Since Grendel is going to fight without the use of weapons, Beowulf creates equality and therefore more respect upon himself by doing the same. Were as the much less confident Arthur fights only with weapons and once his wounds were amended his first thought was, “I have no sword” (Morte dArthur, paragraph 41) followed by the task of finding him a sword. This demonstrates Arthurs weakness in his dependence of weapons and thus Beowulfs greatness in comparison.
Beowulf is indeed the greater hero as the help he received from his men was useless, not by fault of his men but by the simple fact that Grendel, “had bewitched all mens weapons, laid spells / That blunted every mortal mans blade” (Beowulf, line 322-323). Since Beowulfs men could give him no help due to Grendels spell, he had to defeat the monster by himself with his bear hands. Arthur on the other hand lost his battle. First Arthur lost a jousting match then lost on the ground when “the knight smote King Arthurs sword in two pieces” (Morte dArthur, paragraph 32). Merlin had to come to his rescue at this point and by using his magic he put the knight to sleep for a period of three hours. So to recap Beowulf defeated a monster with no aid from his companions and Arthur could not even defeat a knight, he instead he had to rely on the aid of magic from Merlin.
Even thought both King Arthur and Beowulf are great heroes, Beowulf emerges as the greater of the two. He does this through his successful feats only, not through his heroic qualities. For when comparing the heroic qualities of Arthur and Beowulf they come up pretty even. Both demonstrate a great love for others as they both try to do good things for commendable people. Their differences in heroism might be due to the fact that Arthur is a young hero in comparison to Beowulf who is an experienced hero. Either way they, like most heroes, have similarities and differences, this makes them who they are, commendable and memorable fantasy characters.