The Modern Hero

 

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U.S. Army Lt. Col. Edgar and Maj. Arntson salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the 2011 Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C. Oct. 9, 2011 (Staff Sgt. Wade). 

What being a true heroic soldier has not changed much today from the times of the Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Many of the values that we cherish today in the United States Army have roots back to what was valued by many of our ancestors. According to the US Army website, a soldier holds these seven values: “Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage” (“Living”).

Many of these values I would say reflect the Anglo-Norman definition of what makes a heroic knight. Values like loyalty, respect, honor, duty, and integrity tie back into the chivalric code along side emulating basic Christian values. Coincidentally, these five values could make up a pentangle like Gawain’s for a more modern period (Sir Gawain 217). The Anglo-Normans put a heavy emphasis upon integrity and honor because their actions no longer determined their social status, but their beliefs did.

Other values like duty and personal courage mirror what “The Wanderer” teaches us about what makes a heroic soldier to the Anglo-Saxons. I am reminded of the line “Not reluctant to fight” when comparing these two sources that date nearly one-thousand years apart (“The Wanderer 120). Heroes like Beowulf would not have been as successful if they did not posses the courage to tackle any beast or challenge that came their way. This is still an important attribute that we hold today. We would scoff at a soldier who retreats from a fight due to only their cowardice.

Many of these values remain the same because they were perhaps developed through evolution to further the species (Smirnov et al. 928). Characteristics like selfless service help to protect our kin and strangers alike by risking one’s own life for the greater good of everyone else’s (Smirnov et al. 927). I believe that this is the main characteristic of a good heroic soldier that will never change throughout time. I believe this because for an action to truly stand out above any other on a battlefield, it must come from a place of pure selflessness. It is difficult to put aside one’s own safety, it maybe even the hardest thing to do. This is why it is the most spectacular, and it is what makes heroes stand out above the rest from before the Anglo-Saxons until now.

Works Cited

Staff Sgt. Wade, Teddy. “U.S. Army Lt. Col. Edgar and Maj. Arntson salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the 2011 Army Ten Miler in Washington, D.C. Oct. 9, 2011.” Army Ten-Miler Salute, 9 Oct. 2011.

“Living the Army Values.” Go Army, www.goarmy.com/soldier-life/being-a-soldier/living-the-army-values.html, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00599.x.

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.

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Heroism and Chivalry

Along with physical and spiritual strength, another key element to what made a heroic soldier to the Anglo-Normans was chivalry. Chivalry has three main components that many people tend to look over. These rules are first a knight must be loyal to God, second to his lord, and third to women. In today’s view of chivalry, the last code of conduct towards women is typically the most popular connotation. Although it was third on the list of values, it still plays an extremely large role in heroic literature of the time. One of the best examples of this comes from Marie de France’s lai, “Lanval.”

In this lai, or poem, Lanval, one of King Arthur’s knights, takes up a relationship with a fairy queen who says that he must keep their relationship a secret as long as he wishes her to come to him. Lanval, being loyal to his lover, keeps his word until Queen

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Image of Lanval and his lover (“Lanval”). 

Guinevere tries to seduce him (de France 179). After refusing the queen, Lanval breaks his oath and reveals his secret lover and insults the queen in doing so. Lanval is not only loyal to his lover because that is his duty as a knight, but he is loyal to her because she offers him wealth, much like a lord would do. In this way, the fairy queen becomes the way in which Lanval progresses the social ladder (Finke and Shichtman 489). Because of this, Lanval is now following all three codes of chivalry to become a heroic knight because the fairy queen is now acting as his lord (or god) and lover.

 

However, Lanval does betray his oath to his love/lord. This makes readers question in Lanval is the true hero at all in this story. It is, in fact, the fairy queen who rides into the court before Lanval is executed and saves the day (de France 184). With this fact, it could be assumed that the fairy queen is the true hero of the story with today’s view of what makes a hero, but she does not show any feats of physical or spiritual strength nor any chivalry in her mannerisms, not to mention the fact that she is not even a knight at court. Therefore, she would not have been the hero that Lanval would have been to the Anglo-Normans. Lanval proves his heroic knighthood by remaining chaste, a Christian value, to his lover and by showing loyalty to the chivalric code.

 

Works Cited

de France, Marie. “Lanval.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 171-185.

Finke, Laurie A., and Martin B. Shichtman. “Magical Mistress Tour: Patronage, Intellectual Property, and the Dissemination of Wealth in the ‘Lais’ of Marie De France.” Signs, vol. 25, no. 2, 2000, pp. 479–503. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3175563.

“Lanval.” Marias Common Place Book. www.sites.google.com/site/mariascommonplacebook/home/lanval, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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The Anglo-Norman Hero

Many of the Arthurian tales are based upon the knight of the round table loyally serving their king and overcoming their moral tests. Both of these things are analogous to devout Christian behavior which was vital to the Anglo-Norman society. Having the characteristics of the strong and action-oriented Anglo-Saxon, along with being a devout and loyal Christian and subject made for the most heroic soldier. All of these characteristics can be found within the poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, henceforth referred to as Gawain.

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An image of Gawain facing the Green Knight (Nicholas). 

Gawain’s devoutness to his king can be seen in lines 342-365 when Gawain offers to fight the knight in place of Arthur because Gawain has a lower social standing and would not be as missed if he dies (Gawain 211). Gawain knows that the only way that he can rise in social standing is to be a hero of his time and faithfully serve his king (i.e. his God) through risking his life for the betterment of his people. This act pragmatically makes Gawain a hero to the Arthurian and therefore Anglo-Norman court (Walker 123).

After taking up the quest to find the Green Knight, Gawain puts on his armor and this is when the poet offers us the definition of a great soldier which was previously stated in my last blog post. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield has many Christian connotations and meanings. In fact, the meaning behind the pentangle was so important for setting up Gawain as a hero that the poet, “interrupt[s] his narrative with a forty-three-line [] description, carefully, almost pedantically, expounding the symbolism of the pentangle” (Tracy 32). The Christian morals are further expounded on by Gawain’s moral test of remaining chaste with Bertilak’s wife (Gawain 229).

            However, the Gawain poet also incorporates elements of Anglo-Saxon heroism to help the social transition into the new culture of the Anglo-Normans. The poet does this by comparing the pentangle to the more well-known Celtic knots (Tracy 33). By inviting this pagan symbol, and by having Gawain complete great feats of strength, the poet effectively combines both the Saxon and Norman definitions of heroism to create a universal hero to interweave both cultures.

Works Cited

Nicholas, Lisa. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Medieval Epic Poetry, www. medievalepic.blogspot.com/2012/09/sir-gawain-and-green-knight_20.html, 20 Sept. 2012, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Tracy, Larissa. “A Knight of God or the Goddess?: Rethinking Religious Syncretism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana, vol. 17, no. 3, 2007, pp. 31–55. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27870844.

Walker, Greg. “The Green Knight’s Challenge: Heroism and Courtliness in Fitt I of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 32, no. 2, 1997, pp. 111–128. JSTOR, JSTOR,www.jstor.org/stable/25096003.

 

 

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The Anglo-Norman Definition of Heroism

The Anglo-Saxon definition of heroism: someone who lets their actions speak and who shows courage in order to one day become king, all changes when the Normans invade England. The Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, that comes from the Anglo-Norman time period, now tells us that a good knight/hero is someone who

Was deemed flawless in his five senses; and secondly his five fingers were never at fault; and thirdly his faith was founded in the five wounds Christ received on the cross, as the creed recalls. And fourthly, if that soldier struggled in skirmish one thought pulled him through above all other things: the fortitude he found in the five joys which Mary had conceived in her son, our Savior. For precisely that reason the princely rider had the shape of her image inside his shield, so by catching her eye his courage would not crack. The fifth set of five which I heard the knight followed included friendship and fraternity with fellow men, purity and politeness that impressed at all times, and pity, which surpassed all pointedness (640-654).med_gallery_22_15334

All of these virtues are represented in the pentangle said to be on Gawain’s shield. This new-found sense of spiritualism in the definition of heroism of the Anglo-Normans can be traced to the feudal systems which the Normans brought with them. In the Feudal system, there is no mobility like there was in a meritocracy. Therefore, actions weren’t quite as important anymore. Instead of fighters and warriors, the upper class was composed of nobility and members of the church (Greenblatt 5). More emphasis was placed on spirituality and true soldiers had to show that not only were they physically strong, but that their faith was strong as well. This plays into the idea of divine right. If men were to be obedient to their King (who was chosen by God) then they must be obedient to God as well. This change in the governing system affected the ways in which people could gain fame and power. This newfound increase in religion can be seen primarily through all of the Arthurian tales, and especially in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (Tracy 31).

 

Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 3-26.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Tracy, Larissa. “A Knight of God or the Goddess?: Rethinking Religious Syncretism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana, vol. 17, no. 3, 2007, pp. 31–55. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27870844.

“Early English Literature.” www.chaucernow.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/symbolism-of-gawains-pentangle/, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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The Anglo-Saxon Hero

It is hard to explain why someone would risk their life for the hope (not the surety) that something good will come from it. Soldiers from the beginning of time have done this very thing. One way to explain this heroism is that it evolved as human nature from some form of kin altruism. This is evident in the familial terms that have been used in warfare throughout time, “band of brothers” or “fatherland” (Smirnov et al.). This theory is also evident in the epic poem Beowulf.

The reason that this kin altruism is so evident in Beowulf is because kin was the center of society in the Anglo-Saxon time period. Familial relationships made the base for civilizations and are how the word kingdom got its origins, the familial kingdoms listed in Beowulf are shown here (Wiglaf). Beowulf_geography_namesHowever, I would disagree that kin altruism is the main driving force for Beowulf’s heroism. Beowulf is the great warrior that he is because he was seeking to become the next king of his people. Which eventually he did achieve, “This he laid on Beowulf’s lap and then rewarded him with land as well, seven thousand hides; and a hall and a throne” (Beowulf 89). In the Anglo-Saxon society, the king was not based on blood-line, but on merit. Whoever fought the hardest and showed their worth became the next king. This is precisely why Beowulf completes his heroic feats. This reasoning behind his heroism also fits with the Anglo-Saxon definition of what a hero is that is found in the poem “The Wanderer.”

Anglo-Saxons heroes were more defined by their physical actions and mannerisms. “The Wanderer” quotes that a true hero must be “Not reluctant to fight nor too reckless, not too timid nor too glad, not too greedy, and never eager to commit until he can be sure” (lines 65-69). These are all behaviors that are meant to not offend others and thereby keep the men who adhered to them alive. We can see these same characteristics in Beowulf’s story by the way that the poet describes Beowulf just before he is awarded the kingdom, “Thus Beowulf bore himself with valor; he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honor and took no advantage” (89). By describing Beowulf in this way right before he becomes king, the poet reinforces the idea that Beowulf fit the Anglo-Saxon definition of heroism and therefore was deserving of the kingdom.

Interestingly, there are some parts of Beowulf that allude to the Anglo-Norman definition of heroism, which includes more spirituality. I will discuss more about the Anglo-Norman definition in the following blog posts. But, the Beowulf poet, who is believed to be a priest or monk who wrote down the story after hearing it performed by a schope (bard) in a meade hall, includes some elements of Christianity that are not included in the Anglo-Saxon hero definition. The Beowulf poet shows that worldly things do not last and that only spiritual strength will endure. For example, Beowulf’s sword, according to H. L. Rogers, “In other literature, a hero may do great deeds with a sword; in Beowulf the only sword with which the hero does a great deed melts away in his hand afterwards” (340). This new idea of Christianity and spirituality leads us into the Anglo-Norman idea of a good heroic soldier.

 

Works Cited

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.

Beowulf. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 42-118.

Rogers, H. L. “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 6, no. 24, 1955, pp. 339–355. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/511305.

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00599.x.

Wiglaf. Beowulf Geography. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beowulf_geography_names.png Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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Defining Heroism

What truly defines a good hero and soldier has changed throughout time. Yet, we can track these changes and determine how a culture valued heroism through the literature that remains today. For my final project, I will be examining Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman literature to find evidence of what they found to be the most important characteristics of a soldier that made him a true hero.

According to Oleg Smirnov, Holly Arrow, Douglas Kennett, and John Orbell, heroism can be defined as, “risking one’s life fighting for the group” (927). This definition is very broad and can be used to describe every soldier who goes into battle. If every soldier is a hero, then why do some soldiers rise above the others in tales and legends passed down from generation to generation? What is the definition of that kind of hero? According to the Anglo-Saxons, it is someone who will let their actions speak louder than their words.

We can see this definition of heroism by examining the poem, “The Wanderer.” 385px-Wanderer-Exeter-Book-first-page-Bernard-MuirThe definition given here can be directly attributed to what makes a good soldier because the poem was originally used as a rallying device to get soldiers ready to go into battle. This poem has been preserved in the Exeter Book, the largest surviving container of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which dates back to 975. A picture of the poem from this book is given to the right (Muir). Although the book dates back to 975, the poem of “The Wanderer” may be much older (Greenblatt 119). According to this poem, a true hero has these characteristics,

A wise man must be patient,

not too hot of heart     nor hasty of speech,

not reluctant to fight   nor too reckless,

not too timid nor too glad,      not too greedy,

and never eager to commit    until he can be sure (“The Wanderer” 120).

Because of this definition, we can examine what the Anglo-Saxons valued in their rulers and in their soldiers. Using this definition, I will examine the most iconic piece of literature from this time period, Beowulf, to determine if Beowulf is truly the most heroic soldier from his time period.

 

Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 118-119.

Muir, Bernard. “Facsimile of the first page of the Wanderer in Old English from the codex of the Exeter Book.” The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poems, 2006.

Smirnov, Oleg, et al. “Ancestral War and the Evolutionary Origins of ‘Heroism.’” The Journal of Politics, vol. 69, no. 4, 2007, pp. 927–940. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00599.x.

“The Wanderer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 119-121.

 

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Specific Treatments in Military Medicine

The main bread and butter of military field medicine was woolen bandages.  Every medicus ordinarie would have been equipped with a stash of them.  There is a section of Trajan’s Column that depicts the actions of a medicus ordinarie.  After a battle, there are wounded soldiers being aided by other soldiers (indicated by the same uniform style).  One has a wound on his thigh that is being treated and bandaged, and another has a shoulder wound. (Richmond, 13-15)

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The Reliefs of Trajan’s Column by Conrad Cichorius. Plate number XXXI: Major Battle against the Dacians (Scene XL)

A common procedure was to apply honey to the woolen bandage before using it on a wound.  Modern science has proven that raw honey is well suited to wound healing, as it inhibits bacterial growth and provides an immune boost, aiding the body’s own healing mechanisms. (Molan, 141) Wool itself is a superior choice for bandages because it wicks moisture away from the skin, also promoting a healthier healing environment for wounds sustained in battle.

Eye problems were a common complaint noted in ancient records.  It would seem likely that the complaint causing most of the trouble stemmed from conjunctivitis, or pink eye.  Highly contagious and debilitating to a soldier’s fighting abilities, it was an illness taken seriously by military medici.  (Allason-Jones, 137)  Eye salves of various types would have been used to treat the condition.

Another issue faced by the army was the spread of feces-borne diseases like dysentery as well as parasites.  Even with sanitation, the close quarters and high density population would have been a favorable breeding ground for such issues. (Allason-Jones, 138-139)

Caches of medical tools have been found, dating back to the Roman Empire.  Most of the tools are forceps or other surgical tools for the removal of weapon remnants or foreign objects.  There are also catheters and bladder sounds, rectal speculums, cautery tools, and cupping vessels.

Though not as common in the Roman army, sometimes a wounded soldier was in need of amputation.  Opium, henbane and white mandrake were the strongest medicines available for anesthetic purposes, and would have been employed on such occasions along with copious amounts of alcohol.  Tools used for the procedure were scalpels, bone saws, and tile cautery tools.  I was able to find a picture of a bronze prosthetic leg, but could find no supporting information to describe how widespread their use was during this period of time.

M0012307 Roman artificial leg of bronze.

Roman artificial Bronze leg

In conclusion, the Roman army’s medical corps was impressive for its day.  It was orderly, just like the military itself, and effective.  In fact, modern militaries have similar systems in place to facilitate the care of soldiers during battle.  Warfare today may look very different, but there are some things that the Romans were ahead of their time about.  Military medicine happened to be one of them.

 

 

 

Sources:

“Medicine in Ancient Rome.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 15, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_in_ancient_Rome

Allason-Jones, Lindsay. “Health Care in the Roman North.” Britannia 30 (1999): 133-46. doi:10.2307/526676.

Molan, Peter and Tanya Rhodes. “Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing.” Wounds: A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice 27, no. 6 (2015): 141.

Richmond, I. A. “Trajan’s Army on Trajan’s Column.” Papers of the British School at Rome 13 (1935): 1-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40310440.

Wesselingh, Robb. “From Milites Medici to Army Medics – A Two Thousand Year Tradition of Military Medicine.” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health 16, no. 4 (2018):1-5. https://jmvh.org/article/692/

Conrad Cichorius: “Die Reliefs der Traianssäule”, Erster Tafelband: “Die Reliefs des Ersten Dakischen Krieges”, Tafeln 1-57, Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin 1896

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