Medieval Chilvary Essay, Research Paper
Beowulf and the Odyssey: two popular old pieces of literature that are very closely related in some of their themes. In the following paragraphs I am going to attempt to explore each of the books themes, and then show where and how they link together.
Structurally, Beowulf is divided into three main parts, each one centering around Beowulf s confrontation with a certain monster: first Grendel, then Grendel s mother, then, fifty years later, the dragon. Each monster functions symbolically as a force of evil against him, which can be tested by the moral force of the heroic code of honor, that continues throughout the epic, represented by Beowulf, the hero who most perfectly remains to that code. The list of traits and behaviors, that include the code of honor, make up a large portion of the theme of Beowulf, as situation after situation, he is introduced to demonstrate proper and improper ways to behave. Beowulf himself emphasizes the importance of reputation and fame as part of the heroic code, continually boasting about his exploits, and describing fame as a wall against death. Another aspect of the code explored throughout the epic is the decency of revenge. When an ally is killed, it is more honorable to avenge his death than to mourn it. This is shown by Beowulf’s attack on Grendel’s mother following the murder of Aeschere.
The Odyssey depicts a magical, mystical world, in which Odysseus uses his sharp wits and bravery to overcome terrifying creatures and vengeful gods. The Odyssey picks up the story of Odysseus some time after the end of the Iliad, detailing his long and tiring ten-year journey home after the end of the Trojan War. The main themes of the Odyssey deal with the values and customs that were key to uniting a geographically and socially-fragmented ancient Greek world: hospitality to strangers, loyalty to friends, the maintenance of reputation, and the balance between pride and honor (emphasis on the pride and honor part).
During Odysseus’ journey, he encounters individuals from widely different backgrounds, from gods and kings all the way to dangerous monsters. In each case, the outcome of an episode is determined largely by the character’s loyalty to the moral code set forth the epic. The suitors and Polyphemus (the Cyclops) are struck down, with the help of Athena and Zeus, in part because they boldy violate the rules of hospitality . Eumaeus s (The loyal shepherd who helps Odysseus reclaim his throne after his return to Ithaca) amazing loyalty earns him an instrumental role in the effort to restore Odysseus to his rightful place as King of Ithaca.
In both books, an implied code is present that makes each society function correctly. In Beowulf, Beowulf seeks to follow a code of honor that metaphorically controls the way he behaves and even thinks. For example, in the previous example, I said that it is more honorable to avenge the death of an ally rather than to mourn it. This is an example of how this code can lock his emotions, therefore controlling the way he thinks. In Homer s Odyssey, a moral code is present that determines the outcome of encounters between people in Odysseus society. In the example of the Cyclops, Polyphemus didn t follow the moral code of hospitality and so he lost an eye (meaning the outcome was bad). Another part of the moral code is pride and honor, which more closely relates to Beowulf. Odysseus achieves his honor by fighting off monsters and suitors, and reclaiming his throne as king of Ithica.