[DFT] Fw: [ChivalryToday] Hero vs. Knight
seanan at elfsea.net
Tue Nov 30 16:25:30 PST 2004
The Hero vs. The Knight
By Scott Farrell
©2004, Shining Armor Enterprises
Many people are surprised when I ask them if they know the difference
between a hero and a knight. "Heroes are noble and self-sacrificing,
aren't they? Why would someone who's a hero not be a knight as well?"
Of course, it's something of a trick question. I'm not talking about a
hero in the common use of the term, as we might use it to describe a
firefighter or a rescue worker. Instead, I'm referring to the
characters of the literary "heroic tradition," such as Hector,
Odysseus, or perhaps the most famous ancient hero of all, Achilles.
The difference, of course, is that these characters follow the "heroic
code," a code of honor that is significantly different from the Code of
Chivalry. Consider if you will, the "heroic characteristics"
demonstrated by Achilles in "The Iliad," and contrast these behaviors
with the qualities we've come to admire in a character like King
Arthur, who personifies the "chivalric code."
At the outset of the famous Greek epic, we witness the greed of
Achilles and the wrath it brings on: He demands the reward of a
beautiful slave girl as a prize for his prowess in battle. This sense
of material compensation is inherent in the heroic tradition; Homeric
heroes expected loot in return for effective performance in combat. Can
you imagine King Arthur or one of his knights demanding gold in return
for rescuing a captive, or expecting a young maiden to be enslaved for
their own pleasure?
When Achilles is denied his prize, he withdraws his ferocious Myrmidons
from the battlefield, leaving his comrades vulnerable to the attacks of
the Trojans. This act of pride dooms many of the Greek warriors -
warriors who, presumably, have risked their lives to support Achilles
during the protracted fighting on the plains of Ilium. Can you picture
King Arthur breaking a pledge of alliance simply because of a minor
affront to his ego?
After turning his back on his countrymen, Achilles watches from the
safety of his ship as the Greeks are assailed and routed by Hector and
the Trojans. Without him, they are vulnerable, and Achilles considers
this his vengeance. Would Arthur or one of his knights have sought
revenge against another knight in a moment of distress or peril?
Finally, when the Greeks are shattered and demoralized, they send
messengers to beg Achilles to return to the battle, but the hero is
immovable. When asked to show mercy or forgiveness, he won't put aside
his own goals in support of a greater cause. Can you see one of
Arthur's knights refusing to participate in the quest for the Holy
Grail because they had "other plans"?
Although the "heroic flaws" of Achilles make "The Iliad" a rich and
intriguing piece of literature, we might not consider Achilles such a
hero if we were forced to interact with him in the office or the
classroom. Greed, pride, vengeance and immovability may have been
admirable virtues of the "heroic code," but as we explore the
applications of chivalry in the modern world, we find that
selflessness, commitment, respect and integrity are the qualities we
expect to find in a man or woman worthy of the title "a knight in
In this sense, there is a difference between a hero and a knight: A
hero like Achilles is a character of excess, while a knight like King
Arthur is a character of moderation. Achilles drives people apart;
Arthur brings people together. Achilles demands personal supremacy;
Arthur celebrates the accomplishments of others.
Exploring the contrast between Achilles and Arthur helps us to
understand how much our image of heroism has been shaped by the Code of
Chivalry. Today, we expect that every hero will be a knight in shining
armor as well.
*** Details in this article are taken from "Protect Your Achilles Heel"
by Wess Roberts, Ph.D., Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997, and the
lecture series "King Arthur and Chivalry" by Prof. Bonnie Wheeler, The
Teaching Company, 2000.
= = = = = = = = = =
What's New At the Chivalry Today website?
- A three-part article on "video game chivalry";
- Author Carol Pearson on Archetypes & Everyday Heroes;
- New quotes in "Chivalry in Other Words"
- Chivalry Today logo merchandise under $10 - a great idea for the
office holiday gift exchange.
= = = = = = = = = =
Readers are permitted and encouraged to share this article with others
as a way of furthering the understanding of the Code of Chivalry in the
modern world. Scott Farrell's seminars on chivalry and the knightly
virtues are available to businesses, schools and civic organizations
throughout the Southern California area; more information can be found
on our website. Please include all copyright statements and
attributions when forwarding Chivalry Today articles. Copyright 2004
Scott Farrell and Shining Armor Enterprises. Visit our website at
More information about the Dragonsfire-tor