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Kings and Captains

Kings and Captains: Variations on a Heroic Theme

Charles Moorman
Copyright Date: 1971
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Kings and Captains
    Book Description:

    Charles Moorman reexamines several major works of the western heroic tradition:The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, The Nibelungenlied,the Norse sagas, and the Arthurian cycle. Disregarding the usual limited definitions which have controlled the study of heroic literature, he draws together these disparate works by proposing a theme common to them all: the opposition of two major figures whom he names king and captain.

    The figure of the king arises from the community with its need for responsible government, while the captain, derived from myth, is a highly individualistic, irresponsible heroic figure. The tension which Moorman sees between them is used as a means of reinterpreting the works under study. Though widely separated in time and cultural milieu,The Illiad, andThe Song of Roland, for example, can be compared by interpreting both the Agamemnon-Achilles and the Oliver-Roland relationships as conflicts between king and captain. These essays will prove illuminating for layman and scholar alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6377-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Chapter One The Iliad
    (pp. 1-29)

    It is revealing to listen to the comments of undergraduates who come to theIliadwithout awe and without prior knowledge of its content and tradition except perhaps for a vague notion that it is in some way heroic. For their first impression is not at all what one would expect, the usual mixture of respect and boredom with which students begin an assigned “classic,” but instead a shocked amusement followed by a mounting interest in the narrative. Perversely enough, too, such students are not in the least put off by the details of battle, for which most critics seem...

  6. Chapter Two The Odyssey
    (pp. 30-56)

    TheOdysseybegins, as does theIliad,with a general statement of theme and a plea, probably traditional, for assistance from the Muse :

    The hero of the tale which I beg the Muse to help me tell is that resourceful man who roamed the wide world after he had sacked the holy citadel of Troy. He saw the cities of many peoples and he learnt their ways. He suffered many hardships on the high seas in his struggles to preserve his life and bring his comrades home. But he failed to save those comrades, in spite of all his...

  7. Chapter Three Beowulf
    (pp. 57-86)

    Both theIliadand theOdyssey,it will be observed, stand near the end of an oral tradition of literature. The extent to which the subject matter of this oral tradition preserved the actual history and usages of Mycenaean times cannot be definitely assessed; there was almost certainly a Trojan War involving a unified Achaean expeditionary force, and the description of certain pieces of equipment, notably Meriones’ boar’s-teeth helmet and Nestor’s goblet, seem Mycenaean in origin. On the other hand, the Trojan War was almost certainly not fought over an abducted queen, and a number of details, the practice of...

  8. Chapter Four The Song of Roland
    (pp. 87-108)

    One would think that since the historical incident which underlies theSong of Rolandis comparatively well documented the problem of tracing the development of the story from history to epic would be a far easier task than in those poems, theIliadand theOdyssey,for example, where the exact circumstances of their historical antecedents have been forever lost. Yet such is not the case. Largely through the debates of scholars, the problem of the means of transmission of the Roland legend has come to obscure the relationship between the poem and its sources to such an extent that...

  9. Chapter Five The Nibelungenlied
    (pp. 109-131)

    In discussing theSong of RolandI carefully avoided one avenue of investigation followed in the preceding chapters—the relation of mythical hero and historical king. For while theSong of Rolandfollows closely the pattern of the Homeric epics in its tight, meaningful structure, in its use of history as modified by oral tradition, and in its contrasting of heroic and corporate values, its hero, unlike Achilles, Odysseus, and Beowulf, is a creature of history rather than myth. We know at least that he existed, fought at Roncevaux, and so distinguished himself as to be singled out in dispatches....

  10. Chapter Six The Icelandic Sagas
    (pp. 132-147)

    TheNibelungenliedreveals one more variation of the heroic theme in that it fully exploits the mood of total despair apparent only as a contingency in the other poems we have examined. It is thus most likeBeowulfand least like theOdyssey,though the thread of disillusionment with the heroic code runs through all heroic poetry. For the heroic poet is, above everything else, a strong realist even though he works with the materials of romance. As we have seen, he is an inheritor of the past, and as he looks back along the mazes of myth and history,...

  11. Chapter Seven The Arthur Legend
    (pp. 148-172)

    It is a pity that there exists no single literary document from the Arthurian tradition to match the other works we have examined. For while we have a plenitude of chronicles and romances dealing with the great British hero and his court, there is no one poem or history, with the possible exception of theHistoria Regum Britanniaeof Geoffrey of Monmouth, which stands at the end of the oral and the beginning of the written tradition and which brings together, as does theIliad,all the themes and motifs of the oral tradition to balance and judge them in...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 173-184)
  13. Index
    (pp. 185-191)