Throughout human history, there have always been individuals who have epitomized the heroic ideal. It is not far-fetched to state that every generation since the Old Testament period has had an individual who has been exalted to that status. There are the heroes who actually lived like Jesus, Joan of Arc, and Saint Augustine of Hippo. Then there are the heroes who have been embedded into the annals of history through literature like the mighty Achilles, the chivalrous Sir Gawain and the renowned King Arthur. This list of people can even be further categorized to spiritual heroes and heroes whose exploits on the battlefield or through life threatening quests make them relevant. Saint Augustine and Sir Gawain can then be cited as two of the most prominent figures in Western literature that represent those two categories. However, the significant distance in time between their appearance (1,000 years) seems to beg the question: do human beings have preconceived notions of what makes an individual a hero? Do these notions continue on from generation to generation? Through careful comparison of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Saint Augustine's Confessions, this essay will seek an answer to these questions.
In order to see if the Confessions and the Green Knight show a pattern of continuity, then the qualities and traits of a standard, western civilization hero must first be identified. First and foremost a hero must be pious. He must submit to the will of a god and abide by his or her ways. Secondly, a hero must be willing to sacrifice, either in a religious sense to please the gods, or give up something that he possesses (time, a loved one, his own life, etc.). Thirdly, he or she must possess hamartia or a fatal flaw. It is through this fatal flaw that a true hero is made because he must rise above this in order to accomplish his goal. Good. Furthermore, by being imperfect, his mortality is even more highlighted.