We expect heroes to be someone who will go above and beyond the call of duty and to be the first to react at the face of danger. But a hero to one may be an enemy to another. Is there a way to differentiate these heroes so that there is a clear divide that qualifies a person to be a hero? In the following epics, Njal’s Saga and The Nibelugenlied, Gunnar and Siegfried respectively, are portrayed as protagonist characters who display acts of heroism to settle arguments. Because of their glorified heroic feats, they both become blind-sided, unaware that their acts subsequently level them to what one would consider an enemy. A hero is not supposed to be selfish in the least bit. These books fabricate these men as heroes, convincing readers that they use their superhuman abilities to protect society from violence; ultimately, they do this to protect their reputation and masculinity.
Gunnar and Siegfried have all the physical attributes that lead readers to believe that they have the insurmountable ability to use them to better society; such is the definition of a hero. Heroes are thought to be more extreme and braver than the average human being. They fight for what they see as wrong when no one else will. Heroes understand the sacrifices civilians make to overcome adversity and have experienced the hardships and fought through troubles, thus can relate to the less-fortunate of society. We expect a hero to protect people from harm while maintaining their character and are idolized for their bravery to fight for what they think is right. But does fighting for what is right make ones actions justifiable to correct that wrong or does it inflict more harm than good?
In Njal’s Saga, Gunnar Hamundarson, a handsome, strong, well-rounded man “.. was well mannered, firm in all ways, and even-tempered, a true friend but a discriminating friend” (Cook 35). On top of these fortunate traits, he owns a halberd. Whoever possesses it becomes invincible. Gunnar has always been admired by his community for his loyalty and strength. Adding this halberd to his repertoire adds even more respect than he already has. While Gunnar consistently depicts these traits and power, other heroes garner their strength through a rich inheritance and a multitude of unrivaled objects.
In The Nibelungenlied, Siegfried of the Netherlands was “..strong enough to bear arms expertly, and he possessed in abundance all the needful qualities” (Hatto 20). Not only does Siegfried have a chapter dedicated to describing his marvelous appearance, his royal parents shower him with praise and riches. He proves to his country that he reins more supreme than anyone else by making himself invincible. He builds a reputation by slaying a dragon and bathing in its blood for sturdy skin, killing two brothers for an invisibility cloak and treasures, and possessing a Balmung (a powerful sword), thereby gaining respect. Combined, these traits render him unbeatable.