The Knight’s Tale was written in the 1400s by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Illiad was written nearly 1400 years before the later work. Both of the works tell the tale of a hero on a journey that takes them to the far reaches of the earth. Even though the time periods in which these heroes journey is far removed from each other, one can still find similarities in the qualities that make them heroes that stood the test of time. This research will explore the qualities that make them into heroes, regardless of the time in which they lived. In this exploration, the author will attempt to uncover heroic traits that stand the test of time.
The world of the ancient Greeks and the medieval world of Chaucer were profoundly different in most cultural respects. Yet, there are still similarities that link the two worlds and the texts that they produced together. One of the main differences that one might notice is that in in the Illiad, the events surrounding the events that the hero must endure and all controlled by the Gods. In the Canterbury Tales, the divine is also important. The knight is on a religious pilgrimage.
Another similarity between these two heroes is that they both have a deep sense of social order. The social order in the Illiad is one where the Gods and humans communicate directly. The hero in The Illiad must find a way to cope with the situations that are thrust upon him by the Gods. The Knight must depend on his faith to bring him through the challenges that he must face.
Another heroic ideal that carries throughout both texts is that duty to country overrides any personal needs or wants. In The Illiad, these is a great sense of love of family, but one’s dedication to their country comes above their own family. This same sense of duty before personal interests is carried through The Knight’s Tale too. However, the knight will eventually be overpowered by the love of a woman. This brings the reader to one of the differences in the two heroes. In The Illiad, there is a sense of honor to a greater cause that that outweighs their need for self-preservation. In The Illiad, it is more honorable to die in battle defending one’s country than to run. In Chaucer’s world Christian teachings form provide structure and a model that can be used as a means to organize the thoughts and actions of the main character.
Both of these selections are similar in that the main character show bravery in battle. They both demonstrate honor, honesty, truthfulness, and faithfully administer their duties, risking life and limb for a higher purpose. These traits, along with service to the divine are timeless qualities in the heroes and connect these two pieces. The idealistic romantic endeavors of the knight seem to contrast with the ideal of putting God and country before personal needs.
One can find a clue to this conflict at the end of the Knight’s Tale when it is implied that behind every good governor is a faithful woman who will keep him from becoming ruthless and cruel. Line 307 of The Knight’s Tale reads, “love is a greeter lawe” (Chaucer, line 307). This alludes to the principle of courtly love that requires that a man must be willing to sacrifice everything for the love of a woman. This is a quality that is missing from the picture of heroism in The Illiad. In the Illiad, the hero fears judgment by their community above everything else. Homer did not make a distinction between personal and society’s morals, as was seen in the works by Chaucer.
By comparing the instances of heroism in The Knight’s Tale and The Illiad, one can form a picture of the classic hero. The classic hero does not fight for himself, but he fights for his community. They are honest and faithful in their conduct. Both heroes have a sense of a higher order, with God and country first. In Chaucer’s work, one finds that the love of a woman can override the course of the knight. He can forego his mission to pursue her love. This concept was not present in The Illiad and seems to have been added to the image of the ideal hero later. The constants in the image of a hero are honesty, faithfulness, truthfulness, and a willingness to sacrifice for God and country.
- Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. 1957. Web. 15 August 2015.
- Homer (Samuel Butler, trans). The Illiad. 800 B. C. E. Web. 15 August 2015.