Beowulf and The Aeneid present two great heroes with distinctive characteristics and stories. Beowulf, disbelieving about determinism, is a brutal and arrogant warrior who kills monsters for glory without any god’s help; Aeneas, on the other hand, is a person who, called by fate, defeats enemies with supernatural aid and shows responsibility for people.
Beowulf, being regarded as a pagan, possesses pride about his glorious past as well as violence toward foes. It is not difficult to see that Beowulf challenges what he deserves to be. “Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked.” (572-573) Beowulf makes this claim early in the poem when he describes his swimming contest. Though the narrator of Beowulf believes God determines everyone’s fate, Beowulf claims that if people’s fate has not been decided yet, they can succeed through sheer courageous behavior. This tenet becomes Beowulf’s path toward glory which could be illustrated by his fierce single combat against Grendel without any weapon. Actually, his courage is so strong that swords even weaken his abilities, as evidenced by Hrunting (1458) and Naegling (2680) that both render futility of battle. It is to his Scandinavian nature that Beowulf pursues for treasure as a symbol for his victory, since he realizes that death is inevitable. Therefore, any reward for him can be regarded as significant for his individual achievement. Even he perishes after fighting against the dragon, his reputation has been deeply established in his fellows’ mind.
By contrast, Aeneas is empathetic with his people and destined to accomplish many quests with the help of divinity. “I am Aeneas, duty-bound, and known / Above high air of heaven by my fame, Carrying with me in my ships our gods / Of hearth and home, saved from the enemy. I look for Italy to be my fatherland, And my descent is from all-highest Jove.” (1.519-524) This is how Aeneas introduces himself to the huntress he meets in the forest of Libya. They reveal how much his mission and responsibilities make up his identity. He perceives duty as more important than his own gain: when he falls in love with Dido, he is reminded of his goal and quickly decides to leave her but continues his journey toward the revival of his followers. Although his power is finite and limited, he is able to achieve great arms from gods that propel his triumph over his opponents. Through the war against Turnus, it can be deduced that he also has the will to ask for help from other groups of people if he is not able to handle some situations by himself. Even he wins, however, Aeneas may show sympathy for his enemies and spares them when they are powerless.
Though Beowulf and Aeneas differ in many perspectives, they share the courage and wit of completing their important goals. As Beowulf is able to defeat dreadful monsters without any other people’s help and grab his treasure for his glorious commemoration, Aeneas, being blessed with his additional strength, can also walk through the dangerous adventure and reach his fulfilling accomplishment. Both Beowulf and Aeneas are great figures during their time when certain ideologies play a large role in contemporary societies, regardless of how they overcome the many challenges place in front of them.
Summing up all the points about the two heroes’ deeds and character traits, Beowulf and Aeneas both in some way present people’s ideals about great men, but the brutal and boastful Beowulf can also be seen as an individual who pursues for his own lifelong glory, while the dutiful and fateful Aeneas is more like an idol who is able to conquer the quests for his folks.
“Beowulf.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Suzanne Akbari. Third ed. Vol.B. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2012, 112-182. Print.
“The Aeneid.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Robert Fagles. Third ed. Vol.A. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2012, 965-1072. Print.