Beowulf and Achilles are excellent examples of the hero archetype. Both men exemplify traditional masculine virtues such as physical strength, courage and martial prowess, and both exhibit leadership and command respect among their peers. They are, in a word, superhuman. Nevertheless both characters possess flaws and weaknesses that make them incontestably human, and which lead to their eventual deaths.
The primary focal point for each character is their embodiment of a wide range of enviable masculine powers. Beowulf is so strong, even in old age, that his strokes break his sword in half. Achilles, with the exception of his heel, is invulnerable. Beowulf, in an almost boastful maneuver that can only serve to heighten his renown, declares;
I hereby renounce sword and the shelter of the broad shield,
the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand is how it will be-
He has no good reason to reject the use of weapons, and in fact it would give him a distinct advantage over Grendel. Yet, by discarding his weapons, he appears both superhuman (what man could conquer both his fear and the monster?) and sporting; he will fight and defeat the monster on its own terms. Consider a modern analogy; the contempt for which big game trophy hunters are often held, and how would we regard a man who dared to kill a lion with his hands? Achilles, likewise, is well-known by others, and though Homer makes little direct acclaim of his abilities, he allows characters who know of Achilles to make proud or fearful references to him, such as " lion-hearted Achilles, cleaver of the ranks of men." Reputation is as important as ability for a hero.
The two men differ in their weaknesses, and the way they are manipulated. Perhaps the greatest weakness they both have in common is ego. However, where Beowulf in many ways was able to conquer his ego, Achilles did not; in fact much of the action of the Iliad is born of Achilles' childlike brooding and refusing to fight, which brings the Achaeans "countless losses", his rage souring his wisdom and heroic responsibility. Achilles also committed what amounted to a grave and practically blasphemous indecency; dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy, whereas Beowulf, boastful as his deeds sometimes were, nevertheless did not disrespect his fallen foes. Finally, Beowulf's power is directed against three enemies, all of them inhuman monsters, whereas Achilles fights exclusively against other men, despite arguing with Agamemnon that the Trojans had done him no harm. We might state that Beowulf is the more humanistic hero, because his actions are always undertaken to protect his people, with glory for himself as an added bonus, and never an incentive for or against taking action, as with Achilles.
Achilles and Hector as Contrasting Heroes in The Iliad
Achilles and Hector are both great warriors for their armies. Achilles commands the Greek army, while Hector commands the Trojan army. Both of them have pride and glory and they want everybody to respect them. They are both heroes of their respective sides. However, even with all these similar characteristics, they actually differ more than they are alike. In this paper, I will contrast the differences of Achilles and Hector by their honor, values, and family life.
Hector has a family, while Achilles does not. Hector is probably viewed more sympathetic to readers because of the fact that he has a family and fighting against the odd. Also, The Iliad ended with Hector’s funeral and the grief of the Trojans. Hector seems to put war aside when it comes to his family and devote his attention and love to his family. As for Achilles, his only family is his mother, Thetis, and his only close friend is Patroclus. Achilles only goes to his mother to whine about a situation not going well for him. Later on Hector killed his close friend Patroclus, and Achilles seeks revenge on Hector.
Hector is also viewed as more of the honorable one. Hector knows his role as the defender of Troy. Although of his devotion and love to his family, he could not abide by his wife’s wish for him to stay and not go to war. When Hector faced up to Achilles with his last dying breath, he wanted an honorable burial from his people. However, Achilles refused this request and rather torture Hector’s dead body on his chariot which is a display of disrespect and dishonor. Later on, the Gods intervened and persuaded Achilles to return the body to Priam. Achilles in some situations, due to his rage, refused to fight with the other greek armies and wanted them to fall back. Achilles seems to be more independent and want things to go his way.