The stories of Beowulf and Achilles have many parallels, including the character’s traits. Beowulf and Achilles are both leading characters with an intense plot that circles around them, displaying their heroic traits and themes that they show throughout the two epics.
Even more than Achilles in The Iliad, the epic Beowulf centers and focuses almost solely on Beowulf’s heroic traits. One of the first heroic traits shown through Beowulf is his generosity, faithfulness, and loyalty. Once he receives news of Grendel’s aggression on the Danes, even though he has no personal connection to them, he immediately volunteers to go help the Danes. Even though the mission is life threatening, Beowulf shows that he is loyal to not only to himself, but to others.
Once he arrives in the land of the Danes, Beowulf starts to show his warrior traits. He is intelligent once Grendel comes. Although he has to let one man be sacrificed to Grendel, it is for good purpose so he finds a strategy. His strength, toughness, and great warrior attributes are helped by his intelligence to overcome Grendel. His strength and great warrior status are just improved through each battle. He wins against Grendel, then also wins against Grendel’s mother, and also wins against the dragon, although he dies. He is superior to other warriors. Many tried to face Grendel, but for twelve long years, none prevailed.
Each match that Beowulf faces, he faces without fear and straight on. Bravery and fearlessness are two characteristics he assumes. He is a natural leader. He takes fourteen men with him to fight Grendel, and thirteen to fight the dragon. He is clearly in charge and takes a superior status with them.
When visiting other lands, he is well respected and is also hospitable to them as they are to him. He returns gifts, such as Grendel’s head and arm. The treasures he does not keep for
himself, he collects those given to him as trophies, but always gives some to his king as to pay a tribute to him. Once in his old age, he is famous. Although he was famous before, his fame reached all the lands with tales of his great triumph over different beasts. And it only increases once he fights the dragon. As king in his old age, he is just and fair to his people. Ruling for fifty years with a great reign shows the people respect and love him as king. Over his years he has achieved glory, but is still honorable. His noble lineage never went to his head and neither did his great glory.
His last heroic trait he demonstrates is his self sacrificing. It is known he does much for others, such as fighting beasts, but he sacrifices himself in killing the dragon. He sacrifices himself for his comrades, his kingdom, and his people. Everything he did was for others. His final act of dying in battle shows his great heroism.
Achilles, although not as selfless a hero as Beowulf for most of The Illiad, is a hero.
Achilles is of godly lineage, by being the son of the goddess Thetis. He by far the greatest warrior involved in the Trojan War. He is unstoppable on the battlefield, singlehandedly killing multitudes of men. His strength is unmatched by anyone else and is superior to any other warrior. When he returns to the war after watching from afar for so long, he easily turns the tide of the war in the Greek favor. His strength is shown through the spear he carries, which only he is strong enough to wield as it was made by a god. Even though his strength is greater than all others, he is still fearless in facing others head to head, even when a god is involved.
Achilles as well is a good friend. Although maybe not thinking when he let Patroclus go and fight in his place, he does the right thing after Patroclus is killed. He forgets all the other troubles and gives up his pride to go avenge his friend. He does not give up once he sets upon
this task. He follows it through to the finish and does not give up even when fate tells him he will die after it. His friendship overrides everything else in his mind.
Even though Beowulf and Achilles are alike in many ways, they do have their differences. While Beowulf has positive pride, Achilles has negative pride. Beowulf is proud of his accomplishments, but does not think highly of himself. Achilles thinks he is the best and is too proud for his own good. He endangers others in the war out of his pride. They lose many men and Patroclus because of his tragic flaw. They are both well known warriors, but Beowulf is justified in his killing while Achilles is not. Beowulf killed to protect and Achilles killed out of revenge and hatred. They are both superhuman too, with both being unnaturally strong. Beowulf is loyal to those friends and people while Achilles abandons his fellow warriors and friends and lets them fight their own war. Beowulf is heroic and admirable, while Achilles is unheroic in most of his actions and detestable.
Beowulf and Achilles both come from some sort of noble lineage. They both portray the theme that establishing identity is important. Ancestral heritage and individual reputation are key components. Heritage is important, for most refer to themselves and reference some type of family lineage at this time. But it is also important to discover who one’s self is.
In The Iliad, fate is central. It is a complicated theme, but fate and free will is present in every book in The Iliad. The gods intercede repeatedly and each person seems to know their fate before it happens. But at key points mortals also make important choices. Zeus and the other gods can change some fate, but even they seem to be subject to a higher fate.
A twenty-first century audience would find more meaning in The Iliad. The Iliad has a more complicated plot and much more character development. For in Beowulf, most characters are the same throughout the entire epic, while in The Iliad, many characters change, such as Achilles. The intense plot and fighting in The Iliad would also interest a more modern audience, while Beowulf’s journeys are interesting, they are also slightly repetitive. The characters in The Iliad are also more developed, having an easier sense of understanding. Although they are gods, many play key roles in the story and progress it to keep up the action.