Heroism In Beowulf and Gilgamesh

A hero is one who is not only strong, but one who uses his strength to uphold others. A hero is humble, brave and selfless. In the epic Beowulf, the tale demonstrates every characteristic fitting an Anglo-Saxon hero. Beowulf is honest, loyal, and courageous. He portrays these characteristics in the battle against Grendel, the battle with Grendel’s mother, and the fight against the dragon that inevitably ended his life.

In the Anglo- Saxon epic, Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh shows heroism when he defeats the monster Humbaba, the giant creature lived in the Cedar Forest who refused to allow anyone to pass through the forest. Another act of heroism is the voyage to the top of Mount Mashu. The last act of heroism is when Gilgamesh kills the bull of Heaven. Each of these Anglo-Saxon epics share similar characteristics showing very brave, and courageous acts of heroism.

Beowulf is described as having the strength of thirty men in only one of his arms, and when he arrives in “the land of the Danes”, a man sees Beowulf as strong and courageous and says, ‘I have never seen a mightier warrior on earth than is one of you, a man in battle-dress’ (Beowulf, 7). It is apparent that strength is a very important characteristic in an Anglo- Saxon hero. Beowulf tells Hrothgar and the Danes that he will kill Grendel without a sword for a fair fight. This shows his courage and honor. As seen in the text the author writes, ‘I have heard moreover that the monster scorns in his reckless way to use weapons; therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame

and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of the broad shield, the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand is how it will be, a life-and-death fight with the fiend.’ (433-440). Beowulf shows his strength by making the fight with Grendel a fair fight because he does not use weapons in battle. Gilgamesh showed heroism when he defeats the deadly monster Humbaba. This monstrous creature lived in the Cedar Forest and frightened anyone who entered his realm.

The people of the hometown of Gilgamesh encourage him to refrain from fighting Humbaba, so he will not die. Going against his friend’s and family’s wishes, he decides to plan a surprise attack on this large beast. This creature is stunned and eventually got beheaded by Gilgamesh. His skill and determination allows him to kill the monster and make his way back home. The epic states, “In order to protect the Cedar Forest Enlil assigned Humbaba as a terror to human beings— Humbaba’s roar is a Flood, his mouth is Fire, and his breath is Death! He can hear 100 leagues away any rustling? in his forest! Who would go down into his forest? Enlil assigned him as a terror to human beings, and whoever goes down into his forest paralysis? will strike!’ (2.200-206). This quote explains how Gilgamesh is not afraid to put his life before others, making him a fearless warrior.

Next, Beowulf plans to slay Grendel’s mother, but is attacked and pulled into her underwater lair on the way down to defeat her. He tries to hit her with his sword but he misses. Enraged by missing, Beowulf attacks her with his bare hands. The battle is a struggle for both Beowulf and Grendel’s mother, but Beowulf finds a sword and cuts off her head.

Beowulf tells Hrothgar, ‘It is better for a man to avenge his friend than to mourn too much.’ (1251-152). This quote shows how he is loyal and plans to avenge all of his friends who are wronged by these dreadful beings. Then, Gilgamesh shows his persistence, endurance and heroism by climbing Mount Mashu. This mountain is steep, treacherous and almost impossible for humans to climb. A scorpion guard guards the top of the mountain, but is astonished by his bravery and allows him to pass through the gates at the top of the mountain and wishes him well on his voyage. This makes Gilgamesh a hero because he is not afraid to face the unbeatable odds.

Finally Beowulf and the Geats leave to find the dragon’s lair. The Geats run away in fear, leaving only Beowulf and Wiglaf to slay the dragon. Beowulf endures a fatal wound from the dragon, but Wiglaf stabs the dragon’s stomach to reduce the flames from the dragons hellfire mouth. Regardless of the danger from trying to slay the dragon, Beowulf still persists and tries to slay the dragon.

Lastly, Gilgamesh uses his self control when the Queen of Heaven tries to manipulate him. Gilgamesh is disgusted by her attempts to seduce him. After she is rejected she becomes angry and sends a bull of heaven after Gilgamesh, but Gilgamesh killed the creature with a sword and ripped out the bulls heart. The poet writes, “I have nothing to give to her who lacks nothing at all. You are the door through which the cold gets in. You are the fire that goes out. You are the pitch that sticks to the hands of the one who carries the bucket. You are the house that falls down. You are the shoe that pinches the foot of the wearer. The ill-made wall that buckles when time has gone by. The leaky water skin soaking the water skin carrier.’ (30). This shows how Gigamesh can defeat some of the worst creatures and his integrity while he denies the goddess and refuses her persuasive methods.

All in all a hero is one who is strong, courageous, selfless and brave. In the epic Beowulf, the story creates an aspect of every characteristic of an Anglo-Saxon hero. Beowulf is honest, loyal, and courageous. He exploits these characteristics in the battle against Grendel, the battle with Grendel’s mother, and the fight against the dragon. Throughout Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh shows heroism when he defeats the monster Humbaba, the creature who lived in the Cedar Forest and refused to allow anyone to pass through.

Another act of heroism is the voyage to the top of Mount Mashu. The last act of heroism is when Gilgamesh kills the bull of Heaven. Both of the main characters show their strength and heroism throughout both epics by showing strength, worthiness, courage, and persistence.