Beowulf And Heracles

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The stories of great heroes and leaders have been around for a very long time. One of the oldest works of literature, Beowulf, was recited in the 8th to 11th century in Anglish- also known as ‘old English’. The epic poem was officially written down in 700 BC provided historical knowledge that reflects the early medieval Anglo-Saxon culture: pride, glory, and self achievement. Approximately 300 years later, Heracles by Euripides was performed. A tragedy telling the aftermath of Heracles twelve trials reflects the philosophy and culture of ancient Greece. Both heroes are examples of great warriors, forced through obstacles that utilize the philosophies of humanism and existentialism. Although not defined with the same ideologies, humanism and…show more content…
After all, existentialism depends on the actions, ambitions, and achievements of an individual. Can it be said then, that Heracles may be humanistic but also existential? Pondering the decision of death or life after being cursed to murder his family, Heracles finds that “Divinity’s impervious/ To human feeling” but this does not stop him from deciding to thwart the plans of the gods as he continues to “Defy divinity” (Heracles 192). The humanistic nature in Heracles is obvious with Heracles’ outright disobedience to the gods for their inhumane plans. This forces his way of thinking to become more secular and depend more on his experiences, needs, and desires. Rejecting the gods is also existential, because Heracles decides to defy the fate set for him and make his own. Although Theseus helps Heracles come to this conclusion by speaking the words of a humanist, existentialist Jean Paul Sartre would most likely claim it is Heracles who "must decide whether the voice is or is not that of an angel" and that “This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself , that he himself… must decide for himself”(3). Although Theseus’ influence on the decision Heracles makes, depends solely on how Heracles applies the advice to his situation, in the end it is Heracles who makes the…show more content…
The basis of humanism concerns itself with the needs, interests, and existence of a person. Beowulf is known as a great fearless warrior and eventually a king, but before this “no good was thought of him/ nor did the Geat-lord grant him renown/ make his treasure-gifts on mead-benches there-/ warriors believed that his worth was little/ no champion there” (Beowulf l. 2183-2188). As a child Beowulf was not thought worthwhile to invest any hope in, yet he proves his worth by bringing glory to the Geat clan. Beowulf rises from the this nobody to a grand champion, and according to Sartre, “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself” (2). Beowulf defining himself and his purpose is the main concept of existentialism, However, is it not humanistic idea to value Beowulf’s ability to exceed his capabilities- to be and exist as someone other than a nobody? Beowulf embodies the idea of humanism because as Sartre put it he “decided for himself...but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation or of some particular realisation, that man can realize himself as truly human” (Sartre 10). He is humanistic in that he has the capacity to be above expectations, thus enforcing the idea of humanism. He surpassed the expectations of being just a nobody, and then he exceeded

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