The role of the military has drastically changed from medieval times to modern times. Perhaps the most striking distinction between the two literary periods is the social rank of the military. Military officials were given a much higher status than the majority of professions in the medieval times. While soldiers in modern times often fight for personal reasons or out of obligation, soldiers of the medieval era fought out of loyalty to their leader or country. The traditions of the warring nobility, in the middle ages, heavily emphasized the points of chivalry, piousness, courage, and camaraderie. In looking at medieval literature, The Song of Roland, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf, seem to best convey the preceding points.
Chivalry is perhaps the second most important aspect of warring in the middle ages, second only to the Christian faith, but is one that most contrasts with modern times. Sir Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Great Knight is the paradigm of a chivalry in the middle ages. The following quote exhibits Sir Gawain's humble nature and selflessness:" each time the lord leaves the castle, his wife secretly visits Gawain's room and tries to seduce him.(he).
exchanges only innocent kisses with her When the host returns from his hunts and gives Gawain what he won that day, Gawain, true to his promises, gives the host in return the innocent kisses. (Sir Gawain)" It is apparent that within this context, Sir Gawain is the ultimate example of chivalry. Despite humility, Sir Gawain stays true to his word and risks sacrificing his pride. Unlike Sir Gawain, warring noblemen tended to fight in honor of a lady back home. But, more often, warring noblemen fought out of loyalty to the king. The epitome of chivalry, in this sense, is self sacrifice. One can see examples of chivalry, although to a lesser extent, within The Story of Roland. The ultimate loyalty to the king is seen in the following lines, spoken by Roland: "I would rather die than be overtaken by dishonor.