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Girbino 1 David Girbino Mrs.

Jindra AP Literature 10 October 2013

Question: Compare and contrast the thematic element of courage in the Odyssey and Beowulf. A Formative Analysis of Courage in The Odyssey and Beowulf The Odyssey and Beowulf present heroes as the wielders of courage in the face of death and despair. The Greek epic of Homer features Odysseus, the mighty king of Ithaca, who must brave a sea of monsters and the wrath of a god to return to his wife and his home. The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf follows the quest of Beowulf, hero-king of the Geats, as he travels to the land of the Danes to aid their king against the demon-beast Grendel. Courage is defined as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The epic poems Beowulf and The Odyssey exemplify the heros courage in the enemies the heroes face and the sacrifices they are forced to make in the face of adversary and conflict. The antagonists of The Odyssey and Beowulf both use fear and supernatural strength to bring out the courage from within the heroes. Throughout Odysseuss adventures he encounters many enemies whose imposing strength and power demand either courage or death. The Cyclops Polyphemus for instance is able to imprison Odysseus and his men, killing and eating them with impunity. This giant, whose heart Odysseus calls pitiless, no doubt strikes fear into the hearts of the men he intends to eat; Odysseus quickly recounts the sickening sight as Polyphemus smashes his soldiers against a rock. However, Odysseus is able to overcome his fear of this monster and concocts a scheme to blind him, so that the men can escape hidden amongst Polyphemuss sheep. Facing this enemy posed a significant threat to Odysseuss safety; his failure to act would result in a bloody fate, as the soldiers before him met. A similar terror is seen in the monster Grendel from Beowulf, whose insatiable bloodlust claims the lives

Girbino 2 of many of King Hrothgars thanes. Beowulf is compelled by his oath to the king and his honor to overcome his inhibitions. Grendel is the embodiment of evil, the progeny of Cain, and his supernatural strength is undoubtedly going to intimidate Beowulf. The thanes discuss the terror they feel while feasting in Heorot; not one of them believed they could overcome his tremendous strength. However, Beowulf remains courageous and fights Grendel despite his fear. The king of the Geats recalls that Grendel almost overwhelmed him in combat; only with great luck and quick focus was he able to escape death to slay the beast. However, Beowulf was still willing to face this beast without any weapons, relying only on the strength of his hands. This confidence shows an extremely strong sense of courage: Beowulf risks his life to face Grendel, knowing that even with his great strength, the beast could easily overwhelm him. Similarly, Odysseus and his men would have fallen to the appetite of Polyphemus if Odysseus hadnt accepted the possibility of his death in deciding to blind the Cyclops. In the face of deadly enemies, the heroes embrace courage despite the looming possibility of death should they fail. Despite the similarities between the antagonists of each poem, the courage they draw from the heroes is notably different. Beowulfs courage in fighting the demon Grendel rests in his incredible strength and warrior instincts. The Danes and Geats alike know that Beowulf has never lost in combat, due to his prowess and almost superhuman power. Even the doubting Dane Unferth, who challenges Beowulf by mentioning that the king had lost in a swimming match, knew of the heros acts of valor. The hero rallies his courage with his reputation and his great feats so that he can fight Grendel; if Beowulf wasnt confident in his strength, he would not be capable of facing the nightmarish face of the daemon of Heorot. In contrast, Odysseus draws his courage to face Polyphemus from his intelligence, wit and the support of his men. Odysseus is aware perhaps arrogantly so- of his incredibly sharp wit. When Odysseus arrives in disguise in the land of the Phaeacians, for instance, he is welcomed to a feast where he overhears songs being sung in praise of his duel with the warrior Achilles and his great victory in the Trojan War. It is this legendary wit served as a weapon for Odysseus when he faced Polyphemus; he called himself No Name to fool the other Cyclops when Polyphemus called for help, and gave the beast a

Girbino 3 great deal of wine before blinding him the sharpened log. Although Beowulf is surrounded by his allies as well, he does not draw on them for support and encouragement, but chooses to solely rely on the strength of his own hands. Thus the courage shown in the face of death by Odysseus and Beowulf is defined by the contrasting strengths of each hero. Another key facet of courage in the two epic poems is the idea that heroic courage demands sacrifice. Near the end of Beowulfs rule as king of the Geats, a treasure-hording dragon angered over a cup stolen by a servant to repay his master- appears in his land and begins to terrorize the Geatish People. Beowulf musters his thanes and goes to confront the dragon in his cave; however, when the thanes see the size and power of the dragon, they flee from the cave and abandon their king. Beowulf is with only one other man, called Wiglaf, to fight the beast. However, the elderly king is not shaken by his fear in the undertaking of a challenge that could not be within any mans power, if not [his] own. While Beowulf is fatally wounded in battle, he is still able to overcome and slay the dragon with Wiglafs help and proves his resolute courage through the loss of his life. Similarly, Odysseus sacrifices himself to save his men from the witch Circe after they are turned into pigs. The Hero of Troy is advised by the god Hermes to meet every demand of Circe, and Odysseus follows the gods advice, sleeping with the witch in exchange for the freedom of his men. While Odysseuss sacrifice is not as consequential as Beowulfs, each hero showed great courage by facing death and offering themselves as sacrifice to powers they knew could overwhelm them. Beowulf takes courage when he puts himself before the dragons fire, even when all of his men abandon him. He is still willing to lay down his life for them, just as Odysseus is willing to risk his life by submitting to the will of Circe. Both men were willing to sacrifice themselves despite the knowledge that their courage must bear a price, and that price could mean their lives or happiness. Despite the collective theme of self sacrifice throughout The Odyssey and Beowulf, there are juxtaposed notions of other sacrifices in the name of courage. When Odysseus finds himself trapped between the six headed monster Scylla and the massive whirlpool Charybidis, he must decide which of the perils he will face. He knows that sailing past Scylla will result in the loss of six of his men, while

Girbino 4 sailing through Charybidis would risk the lives of every man aboard the ship. Odysseus decides to sacrifice six of his mens lives to protect the rest, having the courage to accept the responsibility for the loss of their lives. In Beowulf, however, the King of the Geats refuses to allow any of his hearth-mates to risk their lives to fight against Grendel with him. When Beowulfs warriors are gathered around him by the Mire, they present him with swords and armor for his battle, but none of them follow him into the Mere. Beowulfs refusal to accept aid is another kind of courage; he values their lives above his own safety and is willing to forfeit his life for the protection of his friends. Odysseus does not share this sentiment, because despite the slight chance of his own death at the jaws of Scylla, Odysseus knew that he himself would be safer should he cross by Scylla instead of Charybidis. With the god Athena protecting him, there was little fatal danger that would likely befall Odysseus himself. While the wisdom behind either decision could be argued, the courage behind each heros decision is immutable and resolute. Beowulf and Odysseus both exemplify their courage by making sacrifices, despite the risks to themselves or the greater good of their causes. The epic poems The Odyssey and Beowulf both exemplify the heros trait of courage through their actions. When faced with death, fear and moral quandaries, Beowulf and Odysseus rise to the occasion in their own ways, making sacrifices and facing supernatural terrors with their courage as their sustenance. While Odysseus makes decisions based on his wit and intelligence, Beowulf combats adversary with his strength and prowess. Each man draws on his own strengths to bolster his courage. As a classic hero trait, courage is expressed through the epic poems in both similar and greatly contrasted ways.