How would you describe a hero? Is it one who fights the inevitable and hard times in order to do good for the well-being of another person or is it a person whose contributions to society are able to help someone further down the line? A hero can be many different things in many different aspects of life. In old English poetry, the hero is usually more of a fictional character with strengths unknown to man. We see this in both "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". Beowulf is an ideal hero of the eighteenth century. In this time and culture, a hero would be defined as a person who is strong and courageous whereas six centuries later, a hero named Sir Gawain, is measured against a moral and Christian ideal of chivalry. While these heroes share some common characteristics, they differ in their encounters with women, the role that god plays in their quests, and their motives which drive them to fight.
There are some elements of heroism that are thought of as the universal characteristics of a hero and no matter what culture a hero emerges from, you can accurately assume that they fall somewhere in these guidelines. Even though Beowulf is viewed as an epic hero and Sir Gawain is viewed as a romantic hero, they share some common bonds. The one major thing is that they are extremely well known throughout the land. Beowulf's "fame has gone far and wide" and he is "known everywhere". Sir Gawain's "honor and courtesy are highest acclaimed by lords and by ladies, by all living men". Both heroes act in polite and humble manner towards others, and especially towards their king. Before addressing the people at Herot, Beowulf asks the lord and master if he would graciously allow him to greet him in person and report his errand. Sir Gawain too asks for permission before fighting the Green Knight. He displays great humility towards Arthur by saying, "I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest" and for that reason he should risk his own life instead of placing Arthur at risk.