Professor S. Gonzalez
Writing About Literature
November 30, 2021
Compare and Contrast Oedipus the King and Beowulf
Since time immemorial, individuals have been evaluating the concept of the ultimate hero in stories. Heroes are the epitome of wisdom and bravery. When facing danger, they need to be strong, fearless, and brave. Heroes are expected to exhibit bravery which is of high standards. Oedipus and Beowulf are characters that represent two different sets of heroes. Oedipus, though very influential, is a tragic hero with a tragic flaw. Therefore, as much as he plays a massive part in his downfall, he is not entirely responsible for his misfortunes. Oedipus eventually gets to learn from the mistakes that he makes. On the other hand, Beowulf possessed the characteristics of an epic hero who seeks to exhibit excellence and individualized praise through the performance of deeds deemed as heroic. Beowulf has a highly admirable character, is a great warrior, and earns a great reward of fortune and fame as a result of his loyalty to his master (Liuzza). Although both Oedipus and Beowulf are considered heroes, situations that earn them this status is very different. Thus, there are similarities and differences between the characters of Oedipus and Beowulf.
Beowulf and Oedipus are stories of two different periods but exhibit similar qualities despite having differentiated fates. Beowulf represents an Anglo-Saxon folk epic that was written during the eighteenth century (Liuzza). In contrast, Oedipus Rex is an ancient Greek tragedy written in 430 BC by the playwright Sophocles (Nwadike, pp 76-83). Despite being works of different periods, places, and literary forms, they have numerous similarities and differences in illustrating heroism and how the government is structured. For instance, the first similarity in the government is that the anguish touches both rulers that their people face. Beowulf mourns the death of his friends, companions, and subjects after Herot’s raid and Grendel’s slaughter of all people. Hrogther even sets aside twelve winters in which individuals are to grieve (Liuzza). When the citizens of Thebes point out their pain to their ruler King Oedipus, he highlights that as much as they are sick, they are not as sick as he is for his people and city.
Oedipus and Beowulf are highly similar since they were heroes that had different qualities. Both protagonists were considered aristocratic birth where Beowulf is a relative of Higlac, the king of Geats and Oedipus is the son of Polybus and Merope, the King and Queen of Corinth (Nwadike, pp 76-83). Oedipus was a tragic hero as a result of how his downfall occurred, whereas Beowulf was a triumphant hero who was renowned for glory and fame. In addition, both heroes are portrayed as putting an end to a time of misery by eliminating the perpetrators. Oedipus is able to conquer leadership by providing the correct answers to the riddle of Sphinx Tiresia’s challenges, whereas Unferth challenges Beowulf. Beowulf ends suffering prevalent in Herot by murdering a monster referred to as Grendel, whereas Oedipus makes the Sphinx kill herself. When the two heroes are challenged by other characters present in the story, they are both seen to boast arrogantly in accordance with their achievements. Beowulf utilizes his superhuman strength to prioritize others. He is seen to encounter antagonists that are terrifying, but he never shows any fear of death. He can thus be considered the ultimate hero that risks his life numerous times for the good of others. Oedipus, after killing his father and marrying his mother. This is thus an indication that he was firm-willed, self-confident, and intelligent. Ironically, Oedipus and Beowulf’s outstanding traits and tragic flaws bring about their downfall (Liuzza).
Oedipus was the King of Thebes, had a lot of power and social recognition. As a result of his excellent leadership skills, the people he ruled over had respect for him. However, he had one persistent flaw: his inability to control himself when he was angry. Oedipus exhibited a lack of self-control in numerous instances, such as the time he killed his father due to the disagreement on the most effective route in a road. He also portrayed anger when he bursts out and yells at Prophet Tiresias for highlighting the mistakes he had made. As a result, the downfall of Oedipus is partially attributed to his actions and attitude even though he did not deserve such an ending. Oedipus was seen to make choices that enabled him to familiarize himself and establish a close relationship with his parents. As a result of his actions to kill a man and to commit other offenses due to his inability to control his anger, Oedipus was considered destined to commit all these activities despite his efforts to hinder them (Moreno, pp 1092-1107). Through his actions, Oedipus was able to learn the lesson that fate is unchangeable. This fact can be evidenced by when Oedipus discovered his deeds through Tiresias. On the other hand, Beowulf represented a hero surrounded by glamour, fame, and fortune. He was a warrior that is renowned for having performed acts of heroism. In his lifetime, Beowulf manages to beat Brecca in a swimming race. He also manages to kill Grendel and his mother and fights a dragon. This, therefore, made Beowulf be viewed as an ideal hero. He has perfected the art of etiquette and possesses a comitatus towards his elders. Anderson metaphorically describes Beowulf as an individual that exhibits loyalty like that of a warrior towards his chieftain. This individual, therefore, sticks to the heroic code but deviates in one instance when he beheads Grendel and his mother to be able to achieve revenge for one of his warriors that was killed (Liuzza). Apart from this one instance, Beowulf tends to exhibit dignity and polish in his doings while ensuring to exhibit average, courageous, and grave values. His courage is more physical and less moral because of his superhuman capabilities, such as his inhuman strength and lung capacity. Due to his heroic acts towards Herot and King Hrothgar, Beowulf was gifted tremendous wealth, which he shared with the king of his home. After returning to his home, he was seen to live like a hero until the day of his downfall. The demise of this great hero resulted from his superabundance of velour, which made him overconfident, especially when he went out to battle with the dragon without adequately protecting himself (Liuzza).
The most differentiating factor between the two heroes is how they meet their downfall. After the heroic death of Beowulf, while fighting a dragon, the people of Geats mourn in sorrow and lament. However, in the case of Oedipus, after the disclosure of the truth about him, people tend to lose all the respect they once accorded him (Nwadike, pp 76-83). Therefore, after the death of Oedipus, his people forget his heroic acts and even wish that they never got to know him. Both Oedipus and Beowulf come from monarchical forms of government.
The most common threads that are common in Beowulf and Oedipus Rex are their heroism and their governments. These uniting factors are considered both similar and different through the two works, even though the works were writings for entirely different purposes. Beowulf was seen to be written to be recited by scops who are professional poets. The scops played the role of entertaining warriors and ensuring that they remained inspired every night before they went into battle. On the other hand, Oedipus Rex was written with the significant objective of educating the people of Greece. As a result, the people of Greece used Oedipus Rex and other tragedies to learn issues related to morality hence continuously reminded of the power that the gods possessed.
Liuzza, Roy. Beowulf. ARC, Amsterdam University Press, 2018.
Moreno Pestaña, José Luis. “Oedipus Rex as a philosophical and political strategy.” The Sociological Review 68.5 (2020): 1092-1107.
Nwadike, Chinedu. “Intertextuality and spirotextuality: Rethinking textual interconnections.” An International Peer-Reviewed Journal of Literature 47 (2018): 76-83.