Ancient to Modern: The Transformation of Chivalry
During the medieval era, great adventures and accomplishments of unimaginable feats were told of mortal humans know as Knights. Knights were seen to be the elite, displaying their gentleman-like manners throughout every aspect, which they lived, from social events to acts of brutal combat against their adversaries. Every action of a Knight would be done with honor, courage, respect and courtesy. Knights who demonstrated these characteristics were seen as chivalrous. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines chivalry as, “The qualities of an ideal knight, courage, honor, gallantry and courtesy” Adding to this, I believe that chivalry must be displayed in every circumstance, which could be presented to this individual who claims to live and die by this sacred creed of pure honor. To this, the ideas and concepts of chivalry are viewed by most in modern society to be a deserted, ancient relic lost in the chaotic pace of modern time. However, I believe that chivalry is still practiced by many people today, whether they realize it or not. Academic professors show honor and selfless service when they sacrifice all the laurels of their profession to dedicate their lives to teaching the next generation, soldiers show courage when they fight to protect others, and athletes are respectful and courteous.
In the story Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, Sir Gawain is a knight of the Round Table under King Arthur, the ruler of Camelot. When the Green Knight challenges the knights of Camelot to a deadly game, none wish to accept, because they do not want to die. King Arthur feels obligated to take the challenge, seeing that no other knight has accepted, but Sir Gawain intervenes. Sir Gawain explains to King Arthur of the reason for his decision to sacrifice himself and save the noble king: “The loss of my life would be least of any; that I have you for uncle is my only praise; My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth” (PG 1467 line 356-358). Sir Gawain does honor to the court of Camelot when he decides to take the place of a needed leader in the deadly challenge. His honor here is in the fact that he realizes he is not as important as the king, and so Sir Gawain takes on the burden. Today, modern teachers and professors show the same honor when they forsake the higher-paying jobs that are offered to them in order to teach and instruct the leaders of tomorrow. They realize, like Sir Gawain, that the human race is more important than their own ambitions, and so they sacrifice all of the renown they could achieve to make the human race better in the future.
Courage is another key aspect of chivalry. Sir Gawain is courageous throughout the story, but especially when he has to meet his death from the Green Knight. Even though he knows he will be killed, he also knows that it is his destiny, and he will not try to escape. He says to the Green Knight as he readies himself to be killed, “For I shall stand to the stroke and stir not an inch, till your axe has hit home – on my honor I swear it” (PG 1507 lines 2286-2287). The courage to stand and die for what one believes in is what Gawain is showing here. This type of courage is important, even today. Recently in Afghanistan, a Navy Seal fell from a CH-46 Chinook transport helicopter, right into the hands of Osama bin Laden’s men. Even though the soldiers there knew that the area was crawling with the enemy, they still decided to go in and get the Navy Seal out. They knew that if they went in some of them might die, but they had the courage to stand up and be counted when they were needed. As a result, three Army Rangers died, but they recovered the Seal’s body. This proves that courage is not dead.
Sir Gawain shows courtesy and respect when he refuses to sleep with his host’s wife while he is out hunting. He respects his host’s household enough to tell his wife that he cannot sleep with her. However, he is courteous enough to let her down easy. He tells her “my gain is the greater, though I am not he of whom you have heard,” (PG 1485 lines 41-42). thereby saying that he would be very lucky indeed to have her, but he is not worthy. Gawain knows that it would ultimate disrespect to sleep with a man’s wife while living in his house, so he does not do it. But he also knows that disrespecting a woman’s charms is just as bad, so he is able to use his courtesy to tell the woman that even though she is beautiful, he still cannot sleep with her. From the battlefields of old, to the athletic fields of new, modern day chivalry can be connected to athletes. A chivalrous athlete while on the athletic field demonstrates courtesy and respect. A good athlete respects his opponents’ efforts, and plays fair. Good athletes are good winners, and even better losers. This does not only make for a well-rounded player but he can also be used as an excellent example of a leader.
Chivalry has always been in existence throughout time, and still exists today. Sir Gawain was honorable, courageous, respectful and courteous in all of his dealings with people. Even though people today say chivalry is dead, I say that it is still present in current society. Academic professors and teachers show their honor by training future generations. Soldiers show selfless courage every time they risk their lives. Athletes are respectful and courteous on the playing field. From the work place to the athletic field people of modern day people can be seen exhibiting acts of a chivalrous nature, showing that chivalry is alive and well.