Since ancient times, heroic motives have been often depicted and represented in poems. It is a never-ending topic that brings up eternal questions of loyalty, dedication and moral. It is interesting how we find the reflection of love in most of the heroic poems. It may be the love to the land or country, maybe the love to the woman, as well.
In both, “The Knight’s Tale” and The Iliad we find heroic ideas that certainly have something in common. Speaking of the first story it is important to say, that Theseus is the first hero shown, demonstrating his readiness to fight for people and later showing his grace to keep the enemy’s soldiers alive. However, later on both of these soldiers, named Palamon and Arcite, fall in love with the same woman. Thus, the battle between two brothers begins. At the same time, the war between Achaeans and Trojans started and continued for many reasons, however, it was the war over beautiful Elena in the first place.
Main characters of both poems are described as great warriors, which is typical to Homer’s and Chaucer’s style. They are brave and mighty, but they are shown with their flaws, as well. These heroes are self-centered and egoistic. Palamon and Arcite both are knights, and they took their oaths, which does not seem to bother them when they fell in love with the same woman. This throws them in a situation where there is no right or wrong. They are fighting for the right to be with the woman they love.
In The Iliad heroic motives are depicted in more self-interested ways. The main hero of the poem is Achilles- half human- half-god. He is described as fearless but egocentric warrior. He shows dedication to people that love him and who he loves, nevertheless, he can be cruel and cold blooded with his fellow soldiers and his commander. Achilles is confident in his ability to win the battle and to destroy his opponents. Once Patroclus died Achilles grieved and demanded revenge and he was more than angry, as he felt that Patroclus death was his fault. He was full of rage, and that was the main reason he decided to participate in the battle. His feelings after he killed Hector are well described in this passage:
" This way and that did he turn as he yearned after the might and manfulness of Patroclus; he thought of all they had done together, and all they had gone through both on the field of battle and on the waves of the weary sea.” (Homer, 182)
This is his main heroism in the story. When the other characters in the Iliad wanted to fight to get glory and recognition, he fought for revenge.
It is important to mention that gods played important parts in both stories. The Knight’s Tale, however, is less filled with gods’ battles than the Iliad. All of the heroes described had gods to help them and fight with them. Hence, patronizing gods had the last word in both stories. However, they were not driven with the goals of heroic appearances; it is more that they were fulfilling their own needs and following their own goals.
Homer has his own style, and he followed it throughout the whole story of The Iliad. A man that isn’t fighting is coward and the man that is at the war is a hero- this is how I felt the mood of the story. The Iliad is depicting war, and in this particular poem, he who is at the war is the real hero, even though his real interest may be in the glory, not in the heroic deed itself.
On the contrary, we see that Theseus is a wonderful example of a real hero. The one who is ready to fight not for the sake of it, or for the glory, but because it comes from his heart and within his soul:
It seemed to him his heart must surely break,
Seeing them there so miserable of state,
Who had been proud and happy but so late.
And in his arms he took them tenderly,
Giving them comfort understandingly:
And swore his oath, that as he was true knight,
He would put forth so thoroughly his might
Against the tyrant Creon as to wreak
Vengeance so great that all of Greece should speak. (Chaucer, 740)
The other example of heroism in “The Knight’s Tale” comes to mind easily. After two brothers have fought, and Arcite won the heart of Emily, Fate takes Arcite’s life to eternity, and he gracefully gives up his one true love and Palamon marries her. This was a gesture of the loving brother.
All in all, I want to say that these two stories definitely have something in common; however, I can say the same about every poem, which depicts heroism. Ancient poems have a lot in common, they show gods as characters that play important parts in the plot of the story, and they often describe battles and heroes. Those heroes can be portrayed as knights or warriors, it doesn’t really matter, but they do bring the same moral to the story. The Iliad by Homer is a story about heroism as the reflection of pure self-centered goals that could be reached in the process of war. The Knight’s Tale by Chaucer, shows a different perspective of heroism, in milder ways, describing the story of two knights fighting for woman’s heart.
Homer, The Iliad: Pages 127-194http://ebooks.apus.edu.ezproxy2.apus.edu/LITR201/APUSePress_2011_Vol1.pdfGeoffrey Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale: Pages 738-780http://ebooks.apus.edu.ezproxy2.apus.edu/LITR201/APUSePress_2011_Vol3.pdf