The Heroic Ideal Essay, Research Paper
Heroic qualities have always been debatable but historians tend to agree that the qualities of a hero are a reflection of the values of the society. Augustus and Beowulf are two individuals revered as heroes during their own time. Both sustained their share of criticism but still managed to come out on top. Augustus was responsible for uniting Rome and creating a society that influenced every single society that followed. Beowulf?s success was in keeping the peace for the Geats with the surrounding kingdoms. Through comparing the ideals and values of Rome in the first century and Britain in the eighth, a definite parallel can be drawn connecting these values with how the people viewed the heroes of the time: Beowulf and Augustus.
Despite criticism that Augustus used bribery and intimidation to force his way into power, his successful leadership of Rome during the first century B.C. made him one of the greatest leaders of all time. Augustus was thought of as a powerful man and he always had the good of Rome in mind and never took his power for granted. Obviously, Augustus was proud of his leadership and even said as much in his Res Gestae Divi Augusti. His tone did not seem to be bragging, but merely stated the facts of his reign. Augustus?s first sentence reminds the Romans that he liberated the Republic at the tender age of nineteen ?on [his] own initiative and at [his] own expense? (WRW 56). A common theme he repeats in his statement is how much of his own money was invested in building the Roman empire. He repaired temples, gave gladiatorial shows, ?came to the assistance of the treasury? (WRW 56) and ?made up [the] tribute in grain and in money from [his] own grain stores and [his] own patrimony?whenever the provincial taxes fell short? (WRW 57). He also emphasized that he repaired Rome without inscribing his name on the buildings and he often gave shows in other people?s names to show that he was not motivated by glory. He also portrayed himself as a compassionate man because he ?spared all citizens who sought pardon? (WRW 56).
The Romans put forth their faith and support in Augustus and continually gave him bigger and better titles. After he ended the Roman civil wars, the senate voted him the name Augustus, which means ?exalted.? Augustus refused to name himself a dictator of Rome and called himself princeps civitatis, or ?First Citizen of the State.? He was eventually given full tribunician power along with the titles of prince, chief priest of the state, and emperor. The people believed he was there to restore the traditions of their Roman ancestors. The Romans even came to view him as a God.
Beowulf possessed the same loyalty to his homeland that Augustus did and always put the welfare of the Geats ahead of his own. He was described as a ?formidable champion? and having ?heroic bearing and appearance? (Beowulf 32) and ?vast strength? (Beowulf 36). It was also said that ?no other man?was a better fighter or more deserving of a kingdom? (Beowulf 47) than Beowulf. Beowulf was also similar to Augustus in his ability to tell people how great he was without bragging. Beowulf merely stated the facts and did not leave out the slightest detail about what great things he accomplished. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, declared that Beowulf ?[carried] all [his] great strength?with prudence and humility? (Beowulf 67). Not only did he embody all the great qualities of a strong fighter that can protect his countrymen, he was also said to be ?mature in understanding and wise in speech? (Beowulf 70). Beowulf?s downfall would have to have been his hubrus and greed. His whole point in attacking the worm was to obtain the treasure it had been guarding for ages. ?He did not fear to fight [the worm], nor did he rate the might and valour of the Worm highly? (Beowulf 82). Beowulf was too sure of his great strength and underestimated the fury of the Worm, therefore, the Worm ended up killing him. Although he died as a result of his pride and greed, he had the good intentions of obtaining the treasure for the good of his people.
Beowulf acknowledged that he was a great warrior and how extraordinary his accomplishments were. When he first addressed Hrothgar, king of the Danes, he said ?[his] countrymen urged [him] to visit?King Hrothgar because they knew of [his] vast strength? (Beowulf 36). Beowulf then goes on to say that he ?emerged from a fight in which [he] destroyed an entire family of giants?and now [he] mean[s] to deal single-handed with the monstrous Grendel? (Beowulf 36). Beowulf relied on the immense strength he was given by God to defeat his enemies and protect his kinsman. He was so confident in his strength that he fought Grendel without the aid of his weapons. He typically left his troops behind and fought his foes alone.
Although Augustus and Beowulf shared their quality of military superiority, there were vast differences in their other aspects that tell a great deal about their contrasting societies. Of course, military strength was extremely important because kingdoms were constantly feuding with one another, but the Germanic culture Beowulf was a part of lacked the order of Ancient Rome. Germanic culture was rather barbaric in the sense that it did not possess any written laws while Roman society encompassed intellect and order. Beowulf possessed many physical qualities and took his battles very personally. Augustus embraced military prowess along with being a political genius. One might say that Rome placed more emphasis on learning and intelligence than Germanic society. Perhaps Rome was just more evolved than Germanic society but either way, these qualities were emphasized in whom the people chose as their leaders.
Beowulf survived many battles and ?of all kings he was the gentlest and most gracious of men, the kindest to his people and the most desirous of renown? (Beowulf 101). Beowulf accomplishments include killing nine sea-monsters and freeing the Danes of Grendel?s wrath. He also killed Grendel?s mother when she declared vengeance against the Danes. When Heardred died, Beowulf became king and a Dragon started reeking havoc on Beowulf?s kingdom because some of the treasure it guarded was stolen. Although the battle with the worm cost him his life, he succeeded in killing it and obtaining the treasure for the express purpose of distributing it upon the Geats. He unfortunately failed in his purpose of dispensing the treasure upon the Geats since they viewed it as a travesty to their beloved leader if they held onto it since it was tainted with his blood. One of Beowulf?s major failures upon his death was his duty to protect the Geats. His pride and greed got the better of him and, with his death, brought war from the surrounding kingdoms out to settle a score with the Geats.
Germanic society was a very materialistic society that took pride in what kind of treasures one had acquired. Germanic society did not possess any written laws so giving out treasure to those deserving citizens was customary to obtain and sustain loyalty. Beowulf saw the worm?s treasure as wealth that could be distributed among the Geats to promote loyalty and prosperity in the kingdom. Unfortunately, his quest for the worm?s wealth resulted in exactly the opposite. Since his death resulted from the treasure, the Geats deemed the treasure tainted with the blood of their beloved leader so the treasure was banished upon the vessel carrying Beowulf?s body out to sea. With Beowulf?s death, the surrounding kingdoms would wage wars against the Geats to settle whatever fueds had been on hold since Beowulf came to power.
Compared to Germanic society, the Roman ideal was totally different. Soldiers were occasionally given land in exchange for their service but Roman society had more law and order so it was not as essential to their society. One aspect of Roman society that was similar for a while to Germanic society was during the period of constant civil war before Augustus gained power. The military was extremely unreliable and constantly defected to the other side. Augustus ended defection when he reorganized the military into a permanent, professional force and established bonuses and retirement benefits. These bonuses were similar to the ring-giving of Germanic society in that it kept the soldiers loyal to whoever was doing the giving. That was just one insignificant aspect of Roman society when most of their society was based upon tradition. Augustus continually promised to restore the traditions of their Roman ancestors when he was just using it as a ploy to gain support from the people. Ironically, very few people were left who could remember what Roman tradition was like before the fifty years of civil war so, for all the Romans knew, Augustus was restoring Roman tradition. Interestingly enough, Augustus created a Roman empire with a completely different government structure; a monarchy.
Augustus?s career is interesting to follow because of his remarkable rise to power and his successes along the way. He failed in restoring the Republic and traditions of Rome?s ancestors but succeeded in creating an empire that cultures have borrowed from for centuries. Augustus embraced both the political and military genius necessary to mold Rome into the strong society that it became. He succeeded in ending the civil wars that were ?purely the result of aristocratic ambition and rivalries? (MHB 155), which had been plaguing Rome for fifty years. These civil wars were a ?political and social outrage? (MHB 156) to the Romans so the people were eternally grateful to Augustus for putting an end to such a long period of political controversies and finally uniting the nation. He then proceeded to establish the military as a permanent and professional force that made the Roman?s military effectiveness incomparable to any enemy?s because of their experience, ability, valor, and length in the service. He was shrewd enough to avoid past problems with the army when he was reorganizing his troops by using wages, bonuses, and retirement benefits to keep their loyalty. When the army became extraordinarily large, Augustus created colonies that not only spread the Roman language and culture but also produced a mighty political, social and economic network of civilizations.
In addition to his brilliant military mind, Augustus was also known as a great politician. He preached to the people about restoring Roman traditions and how he would ?[refuse] to accept any office offered [him] which was contrary to the traditions of [his Roman] ancestors? (WRW 56). Augustus refused to become a dictator but ?attained supreme power by universal consent? (WRW 58), which assisted him in gaining the support of the people and prevented political uproar like Rome had experienced in the past. Augustus obviously failed in his declaration that he would restore Roman traditions because the government and empire he built was a monarchy, something Rome and the world had never seen before. He had tremendous success in the Roman empire he created because a monarchy was something Rome needed to avoid all the civil wars it had been plagued with under its previous form of government. A monarchy allowed one person, Augustus, to have supreme power where it was virtually impossible to try an upheaval. Until that time, several people in the Roman government had enough power to organize enough support to try to take over. Augustus?s main success in his Roman empire was leaving behind a legacy that every society since then has been influenced by.
Augustus and Beowulf embody several qualities of their respective societies. By looking at their accomplishments and how they were described, it is possible to interpret Roman culture and Germanic society and what they value.