In an epic story that is set on the 10th century, Hrogthar is described as a great king and warrior who is well known throughout his kingdom. He is known as a result of conquering many battles hence protects his people from foreign invasion. In his kingdom, he is known as “fighter and protector of thy people” (Beowulf, pg 123).As a result of this, Hrogthar’s kingdom grows in wealth a situation that leads him to become even more famous. He is described as a noble man who "broke no oaths, dealt out rings, treasures at his table" (lines 80-81). and is greatly respected both in his kingdom and the surrounding kingdoms.
Gunther on the other hand is described by Nibelungenlied as a weak leader who has to be accompanied by Siegfried for fear of attack. This fear brings out the character of weakness and inability to self defense for Gunther. The inability of Gunther to defend himself creates a sharp contrast to Hrothgar who is able and ready to defend himself and his people. This clearly indicates that the first flaw that is possessed by Gunther is the inability to protect himself and his people.
With time, Hrothgar gets old and his once strong legacy and fame starts to diminish. The once known young king of valor and great strength is forgotten by the same people he led into endless conquers. This leads the people in his kingdom start questioning his ability to lead as well as protect them since Hrothgar becomes unwilling to lead them to war “for defense on our folks as well as to furnish help, Thou soughtest us hither”(Beowulf, Pg. 215). This introduces an interesting characteristic of Hrothgar who despite being a strong and powerful leader becomes indecisive as a result of old age. This shows that he starts doubting his ability to successfully defend his people hence his unwillingness.
It is evident that despite possessing different characteristics and personalities, both Hrothgar and Gunther share a similar characteristic of lacking self confidence. The inability of Gunther to defend himself as well as the people that surround him clearly shows that he doubts his ability of success both in battle and self defense. The unwillingness of Hrogthar to defend his people after old age shows that he lacks self confidence in his ability to successfully defend his people. His people are hence left at the mercy of the enemy.
Age can be described as perhaps the main differentiating factor between the two protagonists. While Gunther is a young person a fact that is attested by his recent marriage to Brunhild, Hrothgar is an old man who is weakened by his old age “Hrothgar has been umbled in his twelve years of anguish” (Beowulf 145). Hrothgar loses his fame with old age unlike his earlier days. Their similar characteristic of lacking self confidence may actually be attributed to age. Hrothgar is unable to defend himself as well as other people due to old age while for Gunther; it might be as a result of his youthful age and inexperience.
The two characters also have the flaw of using other individuals who they perceive most trustworthy for their personal security. At old age, Hrothgar appoints Beowulf who is described as being a nationalist Beowulf is described as a person who is ready to sacrifice his life for his people “My folks I desire to defend” (Beowulf, Pg 151). The motivation behind Beowulf’s willingness and sacrifice is the fame that is accompanied by valor in battle Hrothgar promises to grant Beowulf his wish should he emerge victorious in battle but Beowulf seems more interested in fame than material things.
In spite of the king’s expectation that Beowulf would demand for a lot of money for his services to the king, Beowulf loyally serves the king without asking for much. This hence gives the king a continued legacy without much spending to maintain the same. Gunther on the other hand covers his flow by accepting to marry off his sister to Siegfried in exchange for personal security “my sister I betroth to you foe…” This shows just what lengths Gunther is willing to go to guarantee his personal safety and security.
Another sharp contrast between Hrogthar and Gunther is that unlike Hrogthar who seems to exercise some control, Gunther is more vulnerable and lets himself be dictated by circumstances. Gunther is subjected to harassment by his wife Bruhild on the eve of their wedding. This occurs as a result of Bruhild having the impression that Gunther is unfaithful to her. Gunther has to even contend to his wife’s promiscuity as a result of him being defenseless.
Hrogthar on the other hand is in control of himself as well as other people in his kingdom. This control only diminishes at old age which results to his people questioning his capability to lead. The weakness of Hrogthar is as a result of old age but he seemed quite in control during earlier times. This is unlike Gunther who has a serious flaw of being unable to defend himself and is portrayed as not likely to be able to defend himself even in future.
Another striking characteristic between the two is regarding the way the two met their deaths. Hrothgar despite being previously being a renowned warrior and king becomes unwilling to die for honor. This shows that he loses his ever present warriors heart to protect and defend his people despite the outcome ‘twelve seasons this trouble lasts, and Hrothgar and his thanes are full of grief and helpless.’ This leads him to shying away from real challenges leaving his people vulnerable and defenseless. His hiding strips him off the warriors honor and shows he is undeserving of ever being referred to as a warrior.
Gunther on the other hand dies in a rather non-heroin manner when has his head chopped off and displayed publicly an aspect that further describes the characteristic and personality of Gunther. This clearly shows that heroes experience heroic deaths while cowards get non-heroic deaths. The inability of Gunther to protect himself is one of the factors that lead to his death.
Despite the two leaders making efforts to be good leaders, there seems to be serious flaws in their leadership styles as a result of their personality and characteristics. In his old age, Hrothgar becomes very dependent on advisors that he is almost unable to make decisions on his own. This exposes his overall weakness both as a king and as a leader as well as displaying his overreliance on personal help in decision making. Gunther's weakness comes as a result of being defenseless and somehow inexperienced which makes him to be dictated despite being essentially in power.
Killing Siegfried is displayed as the major weakness of Gunther. This is despite Siegfried devoting his entire life to Gunther “Gunther, thy friend slew in cold blood….” The fact that Siegfried sleeps with Gunther's wife is not reason enough for the murder since the two had resolved to solve the matter amicably. Gunther hence displays his character of not being trustworthy by the act of killing his long time friend and confidant. This is a clear indication that Gunther is a person with many flaws specifically lacking in own opinion and one who lets nature dictate his thinking and course of action.
Conclusively, the two characters are painted out as men of low self opinion and who to a greater extent rely on others to ensure their survival. Hrothgar is so much dependent on personal advisors in carrying out his administrative duties. Gunther on the other hand relies on Siegfried for his personal protection and safety. However, Hrothgar is painted as a once influential person and strong warrior who sink to a shadow of his former self as a result of old age. Gunther on the other hand is portrayed as a weak leader who is led by circumstances rather than self will and desire. Despite all the differences and similarities, the two leaders have their shortcomings in leadership directly linked to their personal attributes and characters.