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Comparison Contrast Essay Beowulf Achilles

Beowulf and Achilles are excellent examples of the hero archetype. Both men exemplify traditional masculine virtues such as physical strength, courage and martial prowess, and both exhibit leadership and command respect among their peers. They are, in a word, superhuman. Nevertheless both characters possess flaws and weaknesses that make them incontestably human, and which lead to their eventual deaths.

The primary focal point for each character is their embodiment of a wide range of enviable masculine powers. Beowulf is so strong, even in old age, that his strokes break his sword in half. Achilles, with the exception of his heel, is invulnerable. Beowulf, in an almost boastful maneuver that can only serve to heighten his renown, declares;

I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of the broad shield,
the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand is how it will be-

He has no good reason to reject the use of weapons, and in fact it would give him a distinct advantage over Grendel. Yet, by discarding his weapons, he appears both superhuman (what man could conquer both his fear and the monster?) and sporting; he will fight and defeat the monster on its own terms. Consider a modern analogy; the contempt for which big game trophy hunters are often held, and how would we regard a man who dared to kill a lion with his hands? Achilles, likewise, is well-known by others, and though Homer makes little direct acclaim of his abilities, he allows characters who know of Achilles to make proud or fearful references to him, such as " lion-hearted Achilles, cleaver of the ranks of men." Reputation is as important as ability for a hero.

The two men differ in their weaknesses, and the way they are manipulated. Perhaps the greatest weakness they both have in common is ego. However, where Beowulf in many ways was able to conquer his ego, Achilles did not; in fact much of the action of the Iliad is born of Achilles' childlike brooding and refusing to fight, which brings the Achaeans "countless losses", his rage souring his wisdom and heroic responsibility. Achilles also committed what amounted to a grave and practically blasphemous indecency; dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy, whereas Beowulf, boastful as his deeds sometimes were, nevertheless did not disrespect his fallen foes. Finally, Beowulf's power is directed against three enemies, all of them inhuman monsters, whereas Achilles fights exclusively against other men, despite arguing with Agamemnon that the Trojans had done him no harm. We might state that Beowulf is the more humanistic hero, because his actions are always undertaken to protect his people, with glory for himself as an added bonus, and never an incentive for or against taking action, as with Achilles.

Best Answer:  Both were very oriented towards getting glory. Achilles' only reason for going to Troy is to enhance his own glory. Beowulf is not quite as direct about this, but the value of glory and fame in his society suggests that glory was very important for him as well. Beowulf is perhaps a little bit more selfless, in that he is also helping out a small kingdom. Achilles does not care much about the Greeks, as he wishes for them to do poorly just to beg him to come back. This wish of his results in the deaths of many Greeks, including his best friend Patroclus.

Both heroes have a final enemy, though Beowulf has two, and even three if you consider the dragon at the end. In Beowulf, the story centers around his upcoming battle with Grendel and then gives us the bonus of his battle with Grendel's mother. The dragon at the end almost seems like an afterthought, and gives Beowulf the glory of dying nobly.
Achilles's final enemy is Hector, whom he beats about as easily as Beowulf beats Grendel. The ease of their victories shows the authors of these works trying to demonstrate how vastly superior these men were. These days, we like difficult struggles to prove our heroes' worth. Back then, a hero had little trouble dispatching his enemies.
Having said this, Beowulf DOES struggle to kill Grendel's mother, but even here, his victory is assured.

Both men were not kings when they did the deeds they are most famous for. Achilles is a prince, since his father Peleus is still alive. I am sorry, but I do not know Beowulf's actual status when he fights Grendel, but he does not become a king until later in the story.

Beowulf does not have the companion that Achilles has (Patroclus). Nor does he have any of Achilles' anger. This is a very big difference between the two. As I said before, both men are fueled by pride and glory, but Achilles later becomes fueled by vengeance over the slaying of his friend Patroclus. This leads Achilles to fight his biggest enemy, Hector. Beowulf does not have the anger motivation.

Last thought, Achilles dies in a fairly poor way. He is shot in the heel by Paris. I believe he is killed this way because no mortal being can kill him in hand to hand combat. The poets needed to kill him though, to make his story more tragic. No hero wants to die this way. Beowulf, on the other hand, dies fighting a dragon, which is probably one of the coolest ways to die in his culture. Beowulf's death is definitely better than Achilles. You could argue that his character is too, as he is motivated by glory and the eagerness to help, and not glory and rage.


linguist2005 · 9 years ago

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