Beowulf & the Tale Comparing Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

A hero's failure in the face of adversity is more common in the Japanese struggle, perhaps because the author had to make the narrative conform to history, at least in some of its elements. Also, rather than show how the good works of the hero support all good people, even people who are not immediate members of Beowulf's kingdom, "Heike" is a military struggle of 'us vs. them' although the narrator shows heroism on both sides, even while the authors clearly favor the older, aristocratic side of the Minamoto. Heroes show loyalty to their lords, they do not work to do great deeds for all of humanity like "Beowulf"

The Tale of Heike" does contain tales of heroes overcoming supernatural monsters, like "Beowulf." After taking his own life the dead prince is eulogized by his slaying of "the Nue, a supernatural flying creature who had been nightly harassing the emperor" (McKee, 2001). This action against a beast is not great primarily because it frees the land of a tyrannical creature, but because of the loyalty this shows Prince Mochitito feels towards the emperor. "The Tale of the Heike' is a one of a genre of gunki monogatari (military tales) and has played a significant role in shaping military ethics and values: personal loyalty to one's lord; negation of the self; self-sacrifice unto death; an austere and simple life; control of the appetites and emotions; an honorable death. Loyalty to one's lord superseded all other loyalties, even to one's family and children whose lives, in extreme situations, could be sacrificed to protect the life of one's lord" (Sensei, 2000).

This is not to deny the significance of collective obligations in "Beowulf." After all, while "the main theme of Beowulf is heroism," and the heroism of the central character, his heroism "involves far more than physical courage. It also means that the warrior must fulfill his obligations to the group of which he is a key member...There is a clear-cut network of social duties depicted in the poem. The king has an obligation to behave with generosity. He must reward his thanes with valuable gifts for their defense of the tribe and their success in battle," in exchange for their loyalty ("Beowulf," Novel Analysis).

Beowulf puts the concerns of the community over his own needs, true. But the focus of the tale is always on the individual Beowulf, not the community. And Beowulf ultimately gives his life for all humanity as a hero, rather than to a specific lord above his obligations to the wider human community. Thus, perhaps the most fundamental distinction between Beowulf and his idealized Japanese heroic counterparts is that the warriors of "Heike" do not wage their struggle merely for others in but for the figure of a lord. The lord is not merely a first among equals, a man who gives protection, rather the lives of the warriors come before the lord and to dishonor or show disloyalty to the lord is a fate worse than death. Their responsibility is to him, not to one another or to the land as a whole. The negation of the self shown by Beowulf is demonstrated by putting the lives of others before his own to make a better community. The negation of the self in "The Tale of Heike" is shown in unswerving devotion to a lord above all other things, and showing ruthlessness in battle towards the enemy that opposes the lord.

Works Cited

Beowulf." Novel Analysis. [17 Jul 2007]

McKee Dan. "Heike Monogatari - Tale of the Heike." Artlino. 2001. [17 Jul 2007]

Sensei. "Tale of the Heike." 2000. [17 Jul 2007]

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