How do the characters Hector, Achilles, and Beowulf in the Iliad and Beowulf represent and contrast their cultural values?

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In the epics of Homer and Beowulf, both secular and religious values are shown. Two of the biggest differences between them is that in Homer, there is less emphasis on individual responsibility, while in Beowulf it plays a greater role.

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Both these works are oral-derived epics, and in many ways their values are quite similar. As heroic epics, they have protagonists who combine intelligence with military prowess. Bravery and great deeds that will live in memory are both valued. Heroes are descended from noble families and are skilled in speaking as well as in fighting. A central value is loyalty to their tribes and a strong sense of hospitality as creating mutual obligations of friendship across generations. Beowulf helps Hrothgar because of a family debt.

Beowulf and Hector are in many ways more complete heroes than Achilles. Both are intelligent, morally good, brave, and wise. Both also act with piety, honoring the gods and promoting justice. They are seen as demonstrating a sense of the responsibility of leaders for their people.

Achilles is a more ambiguous character. He is overly proud and self-centered, willing to sacrifice honor and loyalty for his own ego at the start of the epic. Over the course of the epic, Achilles matures, eventually developing a sense of the need to sacrifice personal desires for community good and becoming a great hero, with a moral stature to match his physical prowess.

In both epics, religion plays a strong part in determining morality, with the gods or God seen as promoting justice. From a modern point of view, both societies are intensely patriarchal and hierarchical. In Homer, rape is only punished if it offends the gods.

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The Iliad and Beowulf both celebrate warriors and a warrior culture. Valor comes from performing heroic deeds on the battlefield, as does earthly immortality. Achilles, for example, is given the choice between a short life of heroic glory and a long life of domestic happiness, and he chooses the former. Beowulf, too, hopes to be remembered for his deeds of valor.

These are both masculine, patriarchal cultures, where male physical strength is valued and bonding among male warriors occurs. Warriors are expected to sacrifice themselves for the larger community. Hector, for example, would rather stay at home with his wife and young son than go to war but knows where his duty lies. Beowulf also comes to Heorot out of a sense of duty. Hrothgar believes it is because he once helped Beowulf's father, but we are led to believe it goes deeper than that: Beowulf feels obligated to protect civilization itself by protecting the mead hall.

A difference between Beowulf and the Iliad involves scope. Beowulf is concerned with the protection of the mead hall, which is posited as the center of civilization and all it represents—warmth, safety, food, companionship—is pitted against the grim marshes and moors of nature from whence monsters arise.

In the Iliad, men fight against other men, not monsters, and the civilization they are charged to protect is larger than the mead hall. As the shield of Achilles shows, the Greeks are fighting to protect an entire society that includes outdoor areas such as pastures and fields. In Beowulf, humankind is united in a struggle against the malevolent forces of nature that monsters represents.

Finally, women are more fully incorporated into the world described in the Iliad while they play almost no role at all in Beowulf. Gods and goddesses, too, play an ever-present, participatory role in the Iliad's drama.

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The cultural values in Beowulf and Homer’s Iliad have a lot of similarities. Therefore, Achilles, Hector, and Beowulf will share similar cultural values.

The Greek and Germanic code for warriors valued courage, hospitality, generosity, glory, and lineage. These values can be seen all over the place in the poems. For example, Hector is the son of Priam and this lineage matters intensely. So, he must defend the city of his fathers. Likewise, characters in Beowulf can barely speak about who they are without first referring to their lineage. The same point can be said about hospitality and xenia. In fact, the Trojan war was started because of a breech in xenia.

Arguably the most conspicuous similarity in the poems is the seeking for glory. Beowulf and Achilles both seek glory. In fact, Achilles chooses a life of glory even if it means an early death. And Beowulf cannot resist fighting the dragon for one last act of adventure and glory. Here is a quote from the Iliad.

Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies

When it comes to differences, there is one main difference—Christianity. Since Beowulf is written after the impact of Christianity, there are moral overtones of Christianity in Beowulf; there is an emphasis on right and wrong. There is something that we can call evil. Moreover, when there is victory, the heroes in Beowulf praise God and give him thanks.

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