The legendary king Beowulf and the knight of the Round Table Sir Gawain are one of the most famous epic heroes in the world literature. Both of them are memorable for their great physical qualities, and the authors of eponymous poems praise their unsurpassed battle skills. However, while Beowulf seems a perfect embodiment of all qualities necessary for an epic hero, Sir Gawain is susceptible for common human vices. Compared to Sir Gawain, Beowulf is the greater epic hero due to his feats of strength, unmatched bravery, and display of ethics.
Beowulf and Gawain may be considered equals in physical power and the art of fight. However, Sir Gawain definitely lacks moral strength. He is “torn between his knightly edicts, his courtly obligations, and his mortal thoughts of self-preservation” (tmkallday/gawain, par 1/ ln 3). The events of the poem show that Gawain violates the chivalry code numerous times, demonstrating dishonesty and cowardice. He lies to Bertilak, breaking his promise to him, and shows fear while accepting The Green Knight’s blow. However, he is noble enough to accept his fault: “All faulty is my fare” (Gawain, ln 2386). In turn, Beowulf is always brave and never betrays his moral code. According to Roger B. Rollin, he is “overwhelmingly power-ful and overwhelmingly virtuous” (Rollin, pg 435). Beowulf is depicted as a celebrated hero and a wise king, who is able to sacrifice his own life in order to save his people. Thus, he is a better example of an epic hero, while Sir Gawain is noble and strong but morally challenged.
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