Numerous stories about numerous heroes have been told and retold. All of these heroes do different things and all of them have different sets of qualities which make them heroic. Due to the fact that there are only so many heroic adventures and qualities, most are shared in part with at least one other hero. Such is the case between the great hero, Beowulf, from the epic poem Beowulf, and King Arthur from the story of Morte Darthur. These great heroes have strong similarities and a great deal of differences. Once their similarities have been compared I find it evident that Beowulf is the greater hero of the two.
True heroes do good things for good people. Such is the case in the story of Beowulf. Beowulf leaves his homeland to help the Danish people rid themselves of the man eating monster, Grendel. This heroic quality is also evident in Morte Darthur, where Arthur consciously rides into a battle in order to rid his people of an evil knight who would not allow others to pass. Both heroes are displaying their concern for others by risking their own lives in battle for the greater good. In the same aspect they are also striving to gain the love and respect of the people they protect
In order to obtain maximum respect in each conflict, both Beowulf and Arthur enter into battle somewhat alone. Beowulf specifically asks, "That he, alone and with the help of his men, may purge all evil from the hall." His request is granted by Hrothgar, King of the Danes, so he and his man enter into the battle themselves so that when Grendel is defeated, the glory, love and respect belong solely to Beowulf and his men. Arthur does the same, "he met with his man and his horse, and so mounted up and dressed his shield and took his spear, and bade his chamberlain tarry there till he came again." Although Arthur begins his journey alone he does meet up with Merlin, the court magician and faithful companion, who accompanies him. Much like Beowulf, Arthur gains great respect and praise from his people by fighting alone, even though it is not necessarily the smartest thing to do.
The characteristic of being fearless when faced with death is often a trait of heroes because it is associated with courage and strength. King Arthur and Beowulf are not afraid to die, thus showing their courage to their adversaries and followers.
When Arthur is faced with death he declares, "welcome be it when it cometh, but to yield me unto thee as cowardly I had liefer die than to be so shamed." Simply put, he would rather die than admit to defeat and being cowardly.
Beowulf feels much the same way about death. He illustrates this by showing no fear for his own life but instead expressing concern for the honor of King Higlac by asking that, "if death does take him, send the hammered mail of his armor to Higlac." In sending his King his armor it recommits himself to his country and lets his King be reminded of his bravery every time he looks upon it.
That is the extent, from what I was able to interpret, of which Beowulf and King Arthur are similar. Beowulf has way more confidence in his fighting ability then Arthur has in his. This is evident in the fact that Beowulf fights Grendel unarmed and says "my hands alone shall fight for me, struggle for life."
His reasoning behind this is that Grendel is the "scorn of men" and "is so great that he needs no weapons and fears none so nor will he (Beowulf)." Facing Grendel unarmed shows that he is brave and, more importantly, unafraid to fight on an equal level with Grendel. Since Grendel is going to fight without the use of weapons, Beowulf creates equality and therefore earns himself even more respect by doing the same. The less confident King Arthur on the other hand fights only with weapons. Once his wounds were amended his first thought was, "I have no sword," followed by the task of finding him one. This demonstrates Arthur's relative weakness in his dependence on weapons when held in comparison to Beowulf's willingness to fight a creature greater than himself with nothing but his bare hands. It is this that I feel best illustrates Beowulf's greatness.
Beowulf is indeed the greater hero as the help he received from his men was minimal, not by fault of his men but by the fact that Grendel, "had bewitched all men's weapons, laid spells that blunted every mortal mans blade," Since Beowulf's men could give him no help due to Grendel's spell, he had to defeat the monster by himself, with his bare hands. Arthur on the other hand lost his battle. First Arthur lost a jousting match and then he lost on the ground when "the knight smote King Arthur's sword in two pieces." Merlin had to come to his rescue at this point and, by using his magic, he put the knight to sleep for a period of three hours.
So to recap, Beowulf defeated a monster with no aid from his companions and Arthur could not defeat a knight and instead had to rely on the aid of magic from Merlin. Even though both King Arthur and Beowulf are great heroes, I think that Beowulf emerges as the greater of the two. He does this through his successful feats, not through his heroic qualities. For when comparing the heroic qualities of Arthur and Beowulf they come up pretty even. Both demonstrate a great love for others as they both try to do good things for other people. Their differences in heroism might be due to the fact that Arthur is a young hero in comparison to Beowulf who is an experienced hero. Either way they, like most heroes, have similarities and differences which make them the characters that they are.