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.