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Achilles and King Arthur, Essay Example

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Essay

The most important and defining qualities of the hero in ancient Greece were based in lineage and in the hero’s capacity to defeat his enemies. The hero Achilles, for example, is defined predominantly by his aptitude for revenge and his capacity for rage. One of the opening lines of the Iliad celebrates Achilles as a hero while simultaneously exalting his anger. The opening of the poem applauds “the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.” (Silva, 128). Achilles is viewed as a hero because of his powerful anger and commitment to vengeance. Achilles is also raised to the level of hero because of his place in the hierarchy of Greek society. He is called “godlike” throughout the story and this is meant to show that his fate and his war against Agamemnon carry cosmic significance. The reader of the story views Achilles as only partly mortal and it is his status as a “demigod” that makes him a hero in classical Greek culture.

By contrast, the character of King Arthur expresses the medieval European of a chivalric hero. Arthur is defined by his capacity for mercy rather than his capacity for vengeance. An example of this is his attitude toward Sir Launcelot during his encounter of arms against him. In this scene Arthur shows love and mercy for a knight who might otherwise be his foe: “When King Arthur […] looked upon Sir Launcelot, […] the tears burst out of his eyes, thinking on the great courtesy that was in Sir Launcelot, more than in any other man.” (Overton, 679). Arthur respects and even loves Launcelot because honor and truth are the qualities that best defined the hero in

the chivalric age. Another aspect of the chivalric hero that is embodied by King Arthur is that he rose from humble origins, rather than being a near demigod like Achilles. instead, Arthur was a bastard child who only became King through his inner-capacities as a man of honor, strength and truth. The main contrast between the ancient Greek concept of the hero and the medieval chivalric concept of the hero is the idea that internal qualities, rather than external conditions, are the fundamental qualities of a hero.

Comparing Form in Chaucer and “The Disobedient Daughter Who Married a Skull.”

Both The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and “The Disobedient Daughter Who Married a Skull” deal with the theme of marriage. The two works are both narratives but they are told in different forms. The Canterbury Tales are poems and “The Disobedient Daughter Who Married a Skull” is a folktale. The different forms bring a different perspective on the theme of marriage. This means that the form that each of the narratives takes is meaningful in itself. The fact that The Canterbury Tales are in the form of poetry, for example, brings a degree of sophistication and aesthetic harmony that is meant to enhance the deeper themes of marriage that Chaucer expresses.  States simplistically, the form of poetry brings about a more contemplative response from the the reader, while the folktale form encourages an immediate grasping of a moral lesson.

This fact is evident from the opening of  “The Disobedient Daughter Who Married a Skull” when the narrator remarks that the girl of the story “was very vain, and said she would only marry the best-looking man in the country, who would have to be young and strong, and capable of loving her properly.” (Overton, 562). The story goes onto show how Afiong’s vanity caused her to be trapped in the spirit world where she was in danger of being eaten. The moral of the story is that Afiong must learn to obey her parents and not let her vanity dictate her actions.  This places the folktale firmly in the realm of a moralistic story that reinforces cultural ideas for the Nigerian culture where the story originated.

By contrast, the theme of marriage in The Canterbury Tales is about the deeper implications of  what love and sex mean between a man and woman.  Chaucer alternates between a cynical vision of marriage which stresses a “war between the sexes” and an optimistic vision of marriage which stresses the way that a man and woman support each other through a merging of their personalities in life through love and devotion. Because Chaucer’s exploration of marriage is focused on a more sophisticated level of trying to understand sexuality adn human love, the form of poetry is much more suited to this examination than the form of a folktale.

Works Cited

Silva, Linda, Vol. ed. World Literature Anthology: Through the Renaissance Volume I APUS ePress 2011

Overton, William. Vol. ed. World Literature Anthology: Through the Renaissance Volume II APUS ePress 2011

Overton, William. Vol. ed. World Literature Anthology: Through the Renaissance Volume III APUS ePress 2011

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