Code of Honour 'Beowulf' Essay

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The character Beowulf is like other ancient classical heroes we have covered so far like Achilles in the epic poem “Beowulf”. Not just because of their heroic qualities but for their unheroic qualities and problems. Beowulf in the epic story “Beowulf” is noble and is a man of his word, throughout the epic, he never backed down which exemplifies a true hero. Although Beowulf was a hero, he did have some problems the same way Achilles did. Beowulf in the epic “Beowulf” and Achilles in “The Iliad” both need honor and glory when it comes to defending their reputation.

Beowulf like Achilles cared deeply about their reputation which seems to be a central theme throughout the epics in ancient classical times. This shows up in Beowulf when Unferth attacks him verbally at the banquet saying that Beowulf lost in a seven-day swimming contest in the sea and lost. Unferth continues his slur against Beowulf by stating that if he loses a swimming match there is no way Beowulf can defeat Grendel. Unferth to Beowulf: “Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca in a swimming match on the open sea, risking the water just to prove that you could win? It was sheer vanity that made you venture out the main deep. And no matter who tried, friend or foe, to deflect the pair of you, neither would back down: the sea test obsessed you” (Beowulf, p. 35). This quote exemplifies Beowulf's need to keep his reputation intact because for a hero reputation is everything, reputation is the only key to immortality. Beowulf in response to Unferth stated “The deep boiled up and its wallowing sent the sea-brutes wild. My armor helped me to hold out; my hard-ringed chain-mail, hand forged and linked, a fine, close-fitting filigree of gold, kept me safe when some ocean creature pulled me to the bottom” (Beowulf, p. 39). In this quote, he explains that the race did not go fairly, via an ocean monster pulling him down. Once again this further exemplifies Beowulf’s need to keep his reputation intact because he could have easily laughed off the slurs being thrown at him by Unferth and just walked away.

Achilles shows how deeply he cares about his reputation when Patroclus in the “Iliad” asks Achilles if he can go into battle wearing his armor to demoralize the Trojans during the Trojan War. Achilles initially denies Patroclus’ request, but he ultimately agrees under the one condition that Patroclus will return after he pushes the Trojans back due to fear. Achilles was reluctant to send Patroclus into battle for two reasons, the first being that Achilles cared about Patroclus and his safety while the second being that Patroclus might diminish his reputation as a warrior. Achilles to Patroclus: “Hit them hard… Win me my honor, my glory, and my honor from all the Greeks, and, as their restitution, the girl Briseis, and many other gifts. But once you’ve driven the Trojans from the ships, you come back, no matter how much Hera’s thundering husband lets you win. Any success you have against the Trojans will be at the expense of my honor. And if you get so carried away with killing Trojans that you press on to Troy, one of the immortals may intervene” (Homer, p. 307). This quote shows both his care for Patroclus and his wanting to keep his reputation intact. Achilles is worried that Patroclus could tarnish his image the same way Beowulf is with Unferth in certain aspects.

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Beowulf, who is now a king once again shows how deeply he cares about his reputation, honor, and glory when he goes to fight the dragon later on in the epic. This pertains to his need for a good reputation because he insists on fighting the dragon alone when the dragon comes into town spewing fire. Beowulf’s large amount of pride in defense of his reputation contributed to his death and put his people in danger of invasion. Keep in mind this is old Beowulf and not the young one who slew Grendel and Grendel’s mom earlier in the epic. “Yet the prince of the rings was too proud to line up with a large army against the sky-plague. He had scant regard for the dragon as a threat, no dread at all of its courage or strength, for he had kept going often in the past, through perils and ordeals of every sort, after he had purged Hrothgar’s hall, triumphed in Heorot and beaten Grendel” (Beowulf, p. 159). Beowulf’s overwhelming pride in defense of his reputation clouds his judgment about making the right decision. Although his decision is courageous it is inappropriate for a king who has to make decisions for not just him but for his people. The poet foreshadows Beowulf’s overwhelming pride biting him in the end during King Hrothgar’s speech thanking Beowulf for defeating Grendel’s mother. “Do not give way to pride. For a brief while your strength is in bloom but it fades quickly, and soon there will follow illness or the sword to lay you low… Your piercing eye will dim and darken; and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away” (Beowulf, p. 121). King Hrothgar’s wise words of advice would turn out to be Beowulf’s fate in the epic.

Achilles in “The Iliad” once again shows how he cares deeply about honor and his reputation when Agamemnon takes his girl Briseis as repayment for Apollo taking away his Chryseis. “I’m coming to your hut and taking Briseis, your beautiful prize so that you will see just how much stronger I am than you, and the next person will wince at the thought of opposing me as an equal” (Homer, p. 6). Achilles sees this as very dishonorable because Briseis symbolizes Achilles' skill in battle, which is how he acquired her. Achilles desperately wanted to respond with violence, which he easily could’ve but Hera suppresses his rage. “Achilles’ chest was a rough knot of pain twisting around his heart: should he draw the sharp sword that hung his thigh, scatter the ranks and gut Agamemnon” (Homer, p. 7). This quote shows how much someone messing with his reputation and honor can get to him, almost the same as when Unferth questions Beowulf’s honor. To continue, After the heralds took Briseis Achilles went crying and praying to his mother to get help to get revenge on Agamemnon. Achilles, the hero must have taken the taking of Briseis as a deep stab into his reputation and honor if he went crying to his mother.

Beowulf at the beginning of the epic when he gets invited to meet Hrothgar states all the heroic things, he has done in the past to boast about his reputation. “They had seen me bolstered in the blood of enemies when I battled and bound five beasts, raided a troll-nest, and in the night sea slaughtered sea brutes. I have suffered extremes and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it upon themselves, I devasted them)” (Beowulf, p. 29). This exemplifies Beowulf’s need to up his reputation because he needs to gain the trust of Hrothgar to take on Grendel. If Beowulf wants to portray himself as a hero to Hrothgar, he must do this because reputation is the key to immortality in society and that is what every hero must have. The poet/author at the end of the epic tale once again hints at Beowulf’s lust for immortality through fame and reputation. The author in the last line states, “They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (Beowulf, p. 213).

To Conclude, the poet for “Beowulf” characterizes Beowulf as a strong and great warrior but also with major flaws. Homer does the same in “The Iliad” with Achilles, both authors show this by exemplifying their need for honor and glory in defense of their reputations. In Beowulf, the poet shows this when Beowulf takes on Unferth’s slurs, takes on the dragon alone later when Beowulf’s a king, and when Beowulf lists his accomplishments when first meeting King Hrothgar. We also see this in The Iliad when Achilles is reluctant to send Patroclus into battle dressed like him and when Agamemnon takes Achilles' prize, Briseis. Beowulf and Achilles while both being great heroes, some of their characteristics cause lapses of judgment which affect not only them but the people around them too. 

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