The Anglo-Saxon version of Beowulf and Dante’s Inferno are both considered epic poems. Both pieces of literature were written in very different time periods that reflected the culture of their time, causing contrasts in their themes and the author’s purpose. Dante wrote Inferno in the fourteenth century as a response to political events happening in Florence. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem reflecting the medieval warring culture of Western Europe during Medieval times. The protagonists experience a journey in both stories. These two poems and these two journeys are very different from one another. Beowulf’s journey can be described as a challenging physical experience because he must travel from one country to another in order to help someone else.
Beowulf chooses to go to Hrothgar’s land for a very specific purpose—to expand on his personal glory and legacy. Within these two literary pieces, the heroes in these two works of literature share their love of God, but they don’t have much more in common with one another. Beowulf is a character who doesn’t change, and Dante’s character changes throughout his journey into Hell as he’s guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. Dante’s main purpose for this hero’s journey is his love for God, while all of Beowulf’s actions show his own personal needs and wants to be a glorified warrior. Another difference in the two stories is in the development of the main characters. Beowulf does not experience many character changes, but readers do see more sides to his character later in the story. He is a static type of character in the whole story. Beowulf remains a brave and headstrong warrior who always charges into a battle. Entering into a fight was very much for his own glory and the good of the people just as he says before he goes to fight the dragon. The motivations that pull him into each battle are the same. He is the same hero in his final battle as he was when he first arrived to save the Danes in Hrothgar’s land.
Beowulf is written as a hero created to be perfect in cultural ways important during Medieval times. Beowulf is shown to be a strong, brave, and proud hero. All of those were the important qualities desired in a warrior during Medieval times. Beowulf is a one-sided, but perfect hero, who is very different from Dante’s hero, who represented every common man. Beowulf is a static character type, and a perfect hero. His actions appear selfish and self-serving in his desire for glory. Beowulf, the great warrior, feels commitments and connections to his homeland and King Hrothgar, however his actions are purely selfish and are for his own benefit, not for his homeland or the king. This may be attributed to the cultural beliefs held in high regard during the Medieval times that Beowulf intends to portray. During these times, the culture practices believed it was priority to leave behind a glorious legacy of one’s self. Beowulf’s actions surround that purpose. His choices always strive to establish his greatness whether he is acting as a fair king, a man of God or a brave and skilled warrior. His need to show off is obvious when he chooses to fight Grendel without any weapons. He boasts, “So it won’t be a cutting edge I’ll wield to mow him down, easily as I might. He has no idea of the arts of war, of shield or sword-play, although he does possess a wild strength. No weapons, therefore, for either this night: unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares.”
As he tries to create his life legacy, he states, “I marched ahead of him, always there at the front of the line; and I shall fight like that for as long as I live.” Beowulf always fights in the most dangerous way he can because he believes that is how he can continue to gain God’s approval. He dies an old man unchanged in his beliefs and selfish desire to be remembered as the best warrior. This character flaw represents not only a static character technique in literature writing, but also a cultural trait held in high regard during medieval Europe. The main character in Dante’s Inferno goes on a journey to be with God, however Beowulf already sees himself as being in good standing with God and his approval. During his journey through hell, Dante changes and becomes a more tough and less sympathetic character as he argues and fights against the souls found in hell. Dante criticizes and threatens another by saying, “Either you name yourself, or no more of your hair will be left.” Dante demonstrates a lot of empathy in the beginning of his journey, but he becomes more hypocritical as he travels further through hell. His pity for the lost souls becomes lost when he condemns the sinners.
These actions make him part of the same sins he is condemning others for. These actions also show he is human and is not better than anyone else. He is a man who capable of sins just like everyone else. He becomes more frustrated as he travels through Hell, and he takes his anger out on the lost souls. The sinners have already been deemed sinners, and Dante pushes through to get to God. This demonstrates a difference between those who are paying for their sins in Hell and Dante, who is coming from a place of love for God. In conclusion, Beowulf represents a one-dimensional character, who symbolizes the idea held during Medieval times of someone who possesses the qualities needed in a great warrior. His flaws are shown through his actions in trying to gain glory by all others as a great warrior. This flaw is not a weakness in him, but is more a reflection of the Medieval culture that influenced the poet and his writing.
Dante created a more realistic character who symbolized norma men and their internal feelings and human struggles. He feels a lot of pity for the less fortunate people and he sympathizes for those considered to be sinners. He often cries about the difficulties they face in life, but he also is a hypocrite in some of the ways he treats those same sinners. Beowulf is a brave and strong hero who possesses a lot of selfish pride. Dante’s character is also brave, but is more sensitive and shows deep feelings for people he sees around him who are suffering in the inferno. Both Dante and the poet of Beowulf wrote lead characters that have strong positive emotions and character traits, as well as dark and selfish traits.