Ancient Greece has always been associated with heroes and heroic deeds, especially when it comes to literature. Homer depicted numerous heroes in his timeless Iliad, and people still refer to this work as a set of stories of glory and heroism. However, it is also important to note that human society has been changing throughout centuries. Importantly, people’s values and perceptions have been changing alongside society. It is possible to trace this change while looking at Homer’s Iliad and Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale with a specific focus on heroes depicted in the two works. It is rather tempting to see the later work as a reflection of the ancient Greek story, but Chaucer’s work is rather a re-evaluation of the old story.
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In the first place, it is necessary to note that the two stories are set in Ancient Greece. This makes the two works quite similar, but, at the same time, very different as quite different topics are central to the stories. Importantly, for ancient Greeks, the glory was the most important in their fight. Thus, when Achilles is talking to his closest friend he stresses, “do not fight the Trojans further in my absence, or you will rob me of glory that should be mine” (Homer 161).
Clearly, Achilles is fighting to win glory, and he does not care much about love or even wealth and trophies. Therefore, one of the major characters and key heroes of the literary work focuses on reflecting glory on his name and his deeds. At the same time, Chaucer’s heroes care little about glory as they focus on other things. Arcita, one of the heroes, strives for victory only to glorify the name of the god of war. Arcita addresses Mars and exclaims, “And grant, tomorrow, I have victory. / Mine be the toil, and thine the whole glory!” (Chaucer 767). Of course, these heroes attitude towards glory sheds light on the way people saw glory at different periods.
It is also important to add that there is another reason for the battle in the two stories. This reason is love. Nonetheless, in Iliad, love is not put to the fore while in The Knight’s Tale, love seems to be central. In Iliad, one of the heroes contemplates, “Any man of common right feeling will love and cherish her who is his own” (Homer 155). It seems that it is not about love but about the property and the right to defend a man’s possessions. In Chaucer’s story, love is seen as the greatest meaning, and the reason to live or to die as Palamon exclaims, “To love my lady, whom I love and serve, / And shall while life my heart’s blood may preserve” (744). Remarkably, the one who truly loves wins his fair lady’s heart.
Thus, the very idea of love is re-evaluated in the times of knights. Even though the story is set in Ancient Greece, the hero focuses on love and serving his beloved rather than on fighting to retain his possessions. The change in values is apparent, and Chaucer’s heroes (even though one of them is not such a devout servant to his fairy lady) fight to win their beloved. It is also important to note that in Chaucer’s story, the format of the fight seems almost more important than its reason. In Iliad, there is a whole war with numerous battles and quite a few rules as there can be time for mourning and killing.
However, knights have to follow numerous rules and procedures to fight for their love, and the fairy lady’s father sets the rule, “… each with a hundred knights, / Armed for the lists, who stoutly for your rights / Will ready be to battle, to maintain / our claim to love” (Chaucer 757). Obviously, at the times of knights, warfare for the sake of love was seen as a ritual. It was something similar to an effective tool to win the woman’s heart. It bore some traces of ‘glamour’ valour.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that Chaucer’s knights are not a mere reflection of Homer’s heroes. Chaucer’s story cannot be regarded as a reflection either. The story written by Chaucer is a certain kind of re-evaluation of the idea of heroes. Ancient heroes fought for glory, and they were ready to fight to protect their belongings. Whereas, knights could fight for love (or victory) to win the woman they loved. Clearly, some values of human society changed considerably, and the change is entailed in the two stories. Heroism had different tinges in the times of Homer and Chaucer. For Homer’s heroes, glory and heroic deeds were the sense of their life. For Chaucer’s knights, heroic deeds were a part of the necessary ritual. More so, for knights, fighting and a chance to die was a part of courtship while it was a means to live, to glorify their names and protect their ways for ancient Greek heroes.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Knight’s Tale.” World Literature Through the Renaissance. Ed. Linda Silva and William Overton. Charles Town, WV: American Public University System, 2011. 738-780. Print.
Homer. “Iliad.” World Literature Through the Renaissance. Ed. Linda Silva and William Overton. Charles Town, WV: American Public University System, 2011. 127-194. Print.