What are some similarities/differences regarding heroism in Beowulf and Morte d'Arthur?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The epic poem entitled Beowulf, and Morte d'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory, are stories that are strongly guided by the sense of heroics in men who are not only brave, but have a keen sense of honor as well.

The story of Beowulf exemplifies the characteristics and values of the time-honored warrior of the Anglo-Saxon period. This is a very old story, and while the earliest copy is dated around 1000 A.D., it is believed to be much older. The version that exists today also shows a strong religious influence that would have been present only after religious clerics from Rome had traveled to Britain and the British Isles. Beowulf is a man who is self-sacrificing, who will not ask others to do what he is not willing to do himself, who shows unwavering loyalty to his "feudal lord," and conducts himself with bravery and morality in all he does.

Marlory's stories are based mostly on French tales that he translated to English, while providing the characters and setting with the aspects of English life.

Malory's sources, dating from 1225-1230, are largely a selection of courtly romances about Launcelot.

Malory chose to write in the form of "medieval romances" that emphasized love, magic and chivalry. Chivalry was at the center of medieval tales and is...

...usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honor and courtly love.

Morte d'Arthur ("death of Arthur)," is filled with Malory's tales surrounding Arthur and several of his knights. The parts that deal with Arthur include Arthur's conception, being fostered with Sir Ector, and Arthur's ability to pull the famous sword from the stone which presents Arthur as the next rightful king. The wizard Merlin is central to the Arthurian tales, and he is primarily responsible that Arthur comes to the throne. Arthur tries, as does Beowulf, to be a man of honor and wisdom. He also expects his own moral stance to be adopted by his knights as well. The code of the Round Table...

...demands that the knights be merciful, righteous in their battles, and honorable toward women.

The last two sections deal with Arthur's public acknowledgement of Lancelot's adulterous affair with Arthur's wife, Guinevere, ensuing battles, and Arthur's eventual death.

It is easy to see the similarities between Beowulf and King Arthur. Both men are honorable and wise heroes—strong and brave leaders of their armies. Beowulf fights the monsters Grendel, Grendel's dam (or mother), and the dragon. He does not turn away in fear, but puts himself in harm's way to protect others. King Arthur is also a valiant warrior. He is involved in many battles to advance to his throne, etc. However, there are differences between these stories as well.

Beowulf is honorable throughout the tale. He does not waver, and is eventually mortally wounded by the dragon. He lives and dies as an honorable man.

However, Arthur is plagued by some poor choices. Arthur sleeps with King Lot's wife, who is actually Arthur's sister—though he is not aware of this. She bears him a child, Mordred. Another deed that lacks honor is Arthur's order to kill "all highborn children born on May Day," in an attempt to kill Mordred, but he fails. The killing of innocent children is a horrific act for any man, but especially a king and hero like Arthur. It is clear that Beowulf would never have done the same. Beowulf is an honorable man; Arthur is brave, but not always honorable—an important aspect of being a hero.

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