Term Paper: Warrior Hero: A Stranger

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[. . .] Beowulf eventually becomes the ruler of the Geats, and has "grown gray in the guardianship of the land" (Beowulf, line 2210,-page 120) when a thief takes a treasure from the hoard of a dragon and awakens its wrath. Thus, Beowulf has laid aside his role as warrior hero and aged, his power diminished, when the crisis comes. It is an act of man that causes the problem, the theft of the cup. Beowulf takes up his sword and returns to the role of warrior hero: "While I live, I shall always do battle, while this blade lasts that early and late has often served me." (Beowulf, lines 2499-2500,-page 130) However, as mentioned earlier, he has no assistance from the cowardly retainers, and is killed in the struggle. Beowulf has no son to succeed him and he passes his role on to Wiglaf, with his possessions: "He unclasped the golden collar from his neck...with the gold-plated helmet, harness and arm-ring; he bade the young spearman use them well: 'You are the last man left of our kindred, the house of Waymundings'." (Beowulf, lines 2809-2814,-page 140)

Because of the somewhat incomplete succession, Wiglaf sees trouble ahead from the Swedes.

If the warrior hero, in order to maintain his powers, must essentially remain apart from his land and from his people, then it can be seen that Othello's downfall is hastened when he takes Desdemona with him on the Turkish campaign. "The tyrant custom, most grave senators, Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war My thrice-driven bed of down," he says. (Othello, Act I, scene 3,-page 921) When Desdemona joins him in Cyprus, he confesses to an urge "to prattle out of fashion and [to] dote in mine own comforts." (Othello, Act II, scene 1, page 925) In this self-styled dotage, he becomes vulnerable to Iago's suggestions and succumbs to jealousy.

The three works, for all their similarities in the treatment of the warrior hero, are differentiated by the genre of the poem or play itself. The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice is a tragedy because the hero dies needlessly. His acts have redeemed his adoptive people, the Venetians, or at least, the gods have smiled on his campaign, drowning the Turkish fleet in a tempest. "News, friends; our wars are done, the Turks are drown'd," exults Othello. (Othello, Act II, scene 1, page 925) As the tragic events unfold, and Othello realizes his mistake, he says, as he prepares to take his own life, "I have done the state some service and they know 't...I pray you, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate." (Othello, Act V, scene 2,-page 948) Thus, his warrior hero's life ends on a minor key, with no boast to recognize the merits of his deeds before the end.

The Odyssey in an epic, and as such, ends on a triumphant note, although Odysseus has come to the end of his glorious exploits. The throne of Ithaca has been restored to him, and he has a son to carry on this line after he finally dies. Pallas Athena "established oaths for the future between both sides," (Odyssey, Book XXIV, line 547,-page 336) thus ushering in an era of peace. Odysseus's deeds will live on in the heroic tradition of story-telling, as the deeds of other past heroes are celebrated throughout The Odyssey. Thus we see the essential difference between the world of comedy and tragedy, and that of the epic. As long as the warrior hero in the epic manages not to disgrace himself, his heroic deeds ensure his immortality, and constitute the success of the adventure. The celebration of Odysseus' deeds on the return voyage to Ithaca is foreshadowed by the singing of his great deeds in the Trojan War. Even Zeus recognizes Odysseus's fame, "How could I at any time forget godlike Odysseus / Who stands out among mortals?" (Odyssey, Book I, lines 65-66,-page 5)

Beowulf is an epic of a different culture, and although there are many similarities between classical and Christian epics, there are also differences. We see similarities in the use of epithets to reinforce the separateness from the ordinary of the hero: Odysseus is "godlike"; Beowulf is "battle-reckless." The stories of other heroic conflicts are interwoven throughout the action of the epics to remind the audience of the context of the tale and to emphasize various aspects of heroism; for example, Beowulf's account of his fight with the sea-monsters during the contest with Breca foreshadows his fight under the mere. However, the early Christian context of the Beowulf epic somewhat changes the role of the hero. Odysseus's role is to keep on Athena's good side and through her offices ensure the continued success of Ithaca and of his heir in governing it. Beowulf, however, as a Christian and Christ-like hero, must battle evil forces and redeem his people by ultimately giving his life for them. His kingdom is not of this world ultimately; he leaves no heirs behind and war will continue to be waged. However, through his example, a model has been set for his people: "Sharers in the feast, at the fall of their lord: they said that he was of all the world's kings the gentlest of men and the most gracious, the kindest to his people." Enough of the barbarian bloodthirstiness still remains to these early Christians, that in the midst of this rather sacramental eulogy, they add, "the keenest for fame." (Beowulf, lines 3178-3182,-page 151)

Works Cited

Alexander, Michael, trans. Beowulf, Penguin Classics. New York: Viking Penguin, 1973.

Cook, Albert, trans. Homer: The Odyssey. New York: W.W. Norton and Company,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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