"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9)." This principal seems to be markedly evident as one closely examines the actions and thoughts behind the character of Sir Lancelot in The Knight of the Cart. When one encounters the adventures of Odysseus in The Odyssey, however, the values of a completely different and slightly opposing culture present themselves. In the medieval times of Sir Lancelot, an ideal man would tend to follow the teachings of the Bible and live a relatively mild-mannered life. On the other hand, in the culture of the Ancient Greeks, the "perfect" role-model for life would be Odysseus and his perspicacious adventures involving grandiose plots against him and his crew. The ideals exemplified by Lancelot and Odysseus greatly and eloquently reflect the morals and aspirations evident in the literature of their respective time periods. This idea is demonstrated when one examines the similarities between Lancelot and Odysseus, their differences, and the consequences of their actions on their lives.
Although Lancelot and Odysseus lived in completely different and somewhat opposing time periods, their heroic and "larger than life" personalities share some quite distinguishing characteristics. I say that their time periods were somewhat opposing because the views of the culture regarding the afterlife and any supernatural occurrence represent the conflict present between monotheism and polytheism. One mutual characteristic of Lancelot and Odysseus is their physical prowess present when they do battle against anyone opposing their divine quest. Odysseus tends to take a more militaristic and pitiless attitude toward this combat as shown during his battle with the suitors. Not only does Odysseus slay the entire lot of suitors, but he kills any servant or maid that has been unfaithful to him in his absence. Lancelot, on the other hand, pursues his ultimate goal with an undying diligence while trying, more often than not, to take pity on the individuals that he must combat. This is best demonstrated in The Knight of the Cart when Lancelot fights the knight that repeatedly taunts him about riding in the cart. Although he initially shows this knight mercy by giving him another chance to fight against him, this compassion is revoked as Lancelot wins for a second time and beheads the knight. Lancelot reveals, by this action, a desire to be just to all; he wants to be generous to the girl while showing compassion to the defeated knight. Another shared feature in the personalities of Lancelot and Odysseus is their interminable desire to follow through on their quest to which they have devoted a large portion of their lives. Even though, in the case of Odysseus, this quest is not one that is embarked upon voluntarily, he pursues it with a passion so rich and intense that it can hardly go unnoticed to the attentive reader. This is also the case with Lancelot and his continuous efforts at attaining the fleetlingly elusive love of Guinevere. This is illustrated at the numerous points in the story when Lancelot sacrifices himself or his own needs to satiate those of the queen. This passion shared by both Lancelot and Odysseus is a common thread between the two and represents at least one similarity between the viewpoints of the Greeks and the medieval Europeans.
The cultures of the medieval Europeans and the Greeks do, in fact, share many similarities; however as one probes deeper into the characters represented in their literature, it usually appears that the converse is true. Although both men represent the heroic ideal, this ideal is quite different to Greek society than it was in the twelfth-century Europe. For instance, the way that the hero views himself varies exceptionally between the two cultures. Odysseus commits the terrible sin of hubris on numerous occasions in The Odyssey. For instance, when Odysseus and his crew must pass the sirens to return to Ithaca, Odysseus insists that he be tied to the front of the boat with his ears plugged so he can accomplish the feat that no other man before him could do. The opposite is true for Lancelot as is evident at numerous points in the story. One example of Lancelot's selflessness is during the contest when Guinevere tells him to do his worst. Because of Lancelot's devotion to his love and her every word, he deliberately embarrasses himself in every event to prove his undying faithfulness. The issue of loyalty is another pronounced difference in the characters of Odysseus of Lancelot. To Odysseus, loyalty apparently did not mean faithfulness to his loving and persevering wife, Penelope. This is shown when Odysseus has sex with Calypso and Circe obviously for his own pleasure and in no way for the sake of his wife. On the other hand, Lancelot agrees to sleep with the girl who offers him lodging only after pleading with her not to make him sleep with her. He did this not because the girl was unattractive for he states, "Many men would have thanked her five hundred times for such an offer (219)." He agrees to this act only because he believes that he needs the lodging to rest himself so he can dutifully continue his quest for Guinevere. The cause of this difference between Lancelot and Odysseus apparently goes much deeper than the surface actions of the characters. This idea rests on the individual principals of the two men and how they see themselves in relation to others around them. Odysseus sees himself as better than other men while Lancelot tends to take a more humble attitude much like that of Christ. These attitudes, I believe, represent the viewpoints or ideals held by the general people during the time periods of these two men.
One effective mean of judging the actions of a person is by looking at the consequences or results of the actions after which that person has chosen to model his or her life. For both Lancelot and Odysseus, the actions they choose lead to their ultimate goal, but the effects along the way are quite different. In the case of Odysseus, his numerous trespasses against Poseidon cause a considerable amount of hardships against him and his crew. For instance, every time the ships of Odysseus approach Ithaca, Poseidon, either directly or indirectly, manages to reroute their course to a place much less desirable. Another aspect worth mentioning is the vicious cycle in which Odysseus seems to be caught at the end of the epic. The family of Antinous seeks revenge for his death and Zeus is the only one, in the end, who can stop this cycle. When the events that occur in the adventures of Lancelot are closely analyzed, however, there seems to appear a substantially happier existence. Lancelot is so overjoyed at one point in the story that he slices his hands on the iron bars attempting to reach Guinevere and does not even realize his own lacerations. He also, throughout his adventures, tries to the best of his ability to live a life like Christ. Even though some might argue that Christ would hardly kill another man, I believe that Lancelot, like every man since the dawn of time, has flaws that are inherent, due to the original sin of Adam and Eve, and does the best that he can to live up to the standards set by his role-model, Jesus Christ. In addition, Lancelot, at the end of the story, retains his dignity as an upstanding man that possesses all of the above described qualities. Although this can be said, to some extent, about Odysseus, he would not be judged by the standards we hold today to be an upstanding man of moral integrity. This is not to say that we should enforce the ideals and values that we hold as a culture down upon a civilization that did not live by the same values that we do today. It is only to state that the actions of these characters reflect the natural laws that are always present around us; therefore, the consequences or rewards of life reflect those actions.
The literature produced by both the medieval Europeans and the ancient Greeks provides an informative glance into the ethics and archetypical standards by which they lived. The literature in the time of Odysseus presents the heroic ideal as one of extreme physical prowess but seems to be relentless in his constant pursuit of those who wrong him or are in any way unjust to him and his family. When one looks at The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot appears to have this same brawn; however Lancelot generally restrains himself and at least tries to look compassionately at those with whom he must do combat. Although each of these time periods is quite different from the other in many ways, this is not to say that one culture has supremacy over the other or is any more valuable to the Western thought of today. Each civilization has donated much which governs the way we think today and should be regarded with the utmost respect as a truly great culture.
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