Beowulf is a story about a man named Beowulf who desired fame and fortune in life. The Iliad had a character named Achilles who is similar to Beowulf because he also desired glory. But they are two completely different stories written at different times and different places by different people. Both stories have unique qualities such as dragons in one and multi-gods in the other and that is what makes fictitious stories like these classics. Since achieving fame is a goal of these two characters, and since these are great works of literature, people can relate to wanting to be famous in life. So this essay is about Beowulf and Achilles and what they went through to be famous and also what they went through to keep their fame.
The Iliad, written by Homer, is about a few weeks of a ten-year war between the Trojans and the Acheans. Achilles is one of the main characters of The Iliad and he is a great man. All he wants is blood. His friend Patroclus was killed and he fights to avenge his friend and earn glory in the process. He would not have achieved glory if his friend hadn’t died though because Achilles knew that when he fought he would die. His friend’s death is what led Achilles to the fame and glory he received even though he couldn’t really enjoy it since Achilles died in the war. Achilles’ key to fame was not only in killing hordes of Trojans but also killing one of their beloved icons – Hector. “…Brilliant Achilles drove his spear and the point went stabbing clean through the tender neck…”. He killed Hector as revenge for Hector killing Patroclus. Hector was the first Trojan icon to go down in The Iliad although the next ones went down later on in the war, perhaps not in The Iliad but in the Aenid. Aeneas speaks of the war in Aenid and he describes how Hector’s father, Priam, met his death.
After Hector’s death, Achilles would drag the body every morning around his army base three times to show the accomplishment he had made in the war. The gods didn’t really agree with him though because they kept healing Hector’s body (not back to life though). “…All his wounds sealed shut, wherever they struck… and many drove their bronze blades through his body”. Eventually, Priam (with help of gods) got Achilles to sell Hector’s body back for a bunch of priceless goods. “Give (Hector) back to me, now, no more delay – I must see my son with my own eyes”. Being begged by a king increases his fame just because a king doesn’t usually do that, especially in this case. Priam gets the body and buries it and that’s the end of The Iliad.
Whereas in Beowulf, written by an anonymous poet, is about a man who is very strong. He travels to a distant land to kill a couple monsters and earn glory for himself. The quest begins when Beowulf heads to the Danish castle. He is a Geat by the way. His king is Higlac and Beowulf asked him if he could travel the seas to earn glory for himself by helping out the Danish and their king, Hrothgar. When Beowulf finally got to Hrothgar, Hrothgar was glad to see him; he seemed to have a lot of faith in Beowulf. “Our Holy Father has sent him as a sign of His grace, a mark of His favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror” . The monster, Grendel, had already killed around 30 good men and what would be another man to him (the king doubts), even though the man was the strongest in the world? Oh, by the way, Unferth (who sat at Hrothgar’s feet) questioned and disliked Beowulf claiming he was not as strong as he makes himself out to be. After Beowulf proved him wrong, he went on his way to earn his fame.
That night, Hrothgar left the hall and when the monster came, it was a title fight (with one exception) – Beowulf verses Grendel! (The exception being that one unlucky Geat was in the way; you know, the one guy that dies in every story). Not only did he best Grendel, but he did it without a sword or armor. Unfortunately Grendel did escape, minus a whole arm (the Danish wanted him dead but they weren’t too mad). The next night, the loser’s mother decided to come up and cause trouble (Revenge). She ends up killing one of Hrothgar’s closest advisors. Having heard this, Beowulf jumped back on the ‘fame train’ and headed for the monster’s lair – a lake of pure evil located a few miles from Hrothgar’s Hall. The partially famous guy sank to the bottom of the lake (which took hours) and he had an even better battle with Grendel’s mother.
After slaying the mother, he found Grendel laying in a corner of the lair and, using a magical sword he found in the lair, sliced Grendel’s head clean off so he could claim all the glory and have proof of how heroic and great he was. The sword, after slicing through the pure evil, was somehow melted away so all that was left was the hilt, which he gave to Hrothgar as part of the battle set (head and hilt). That was how Beowulf attained his glory. After many years as king of the Geats he faced another crisis – a dragon had awakened and started to destroy and kill people and buildings. Beowulf, being old now, figured that he had to slay the dragon, otherwise others would have called him a bad ruler and he would have the kind of fame no one wants (he wanted to be the hero to the end). So he gathered up his troop and headed off bravely to the tower where the dragon slept.
This was where he proved that he was very brave and was a good person who was honorable. Those are the keys to being famous (in fairytale land anyway). While all his men (except one) fled his side, he bravely fought the dragon. He did not survive the battle against the dragon, however, but Beowulf did manage to slay him. And death in battle also attributes to the glory he earned and will leave him to be a very famous man throughout history (in the story. The man might have really existed). Sad to say though that both characters Achilles and Beowulf died in the end; however, we are all going to die someday and both of them died when it was important – in battle earning honor. Many of us in the real world will not get that kind of death and that is why people like to read and listen to these kinds of stories, so they can fantasize about being heroes and warriors in their own minds.
- The Norton Anthology, World Masterpieces, Vol 1. Beowulf: BEOWULF, translated by Burton Raffel. Copyright 1963 by Burton Raffel.