Is there any instance of a hero who, after having killed his enemy, rues having had to do so?

I'm looking for a specific instance from epic literature (but willing to accept answers from outside that genre) of a warrior who doesn't rejoice over his defeated foe nor drag him around the city walls. Instead, he says something along the lines to his dead foe:

I admire your spirit and you were a fine warrior. It is a sad destiny that led you to find me on the battlefield. You could have prevailed against a lesser man, but of course I'm the greatest. I am sad for you and your family that such an otherwise fine warrior would be cursed to come across me.

Basically, I'm searching for an example of a warrior who is the best at what he does but has a certain tragic view of life that leads him to honor his foes, even though he defeated them fairly.

  • Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. I'm not entirely clear about what you are asking. Are you looking for a story that you once read and that you would like to be identified based on the description you have given? Or are you looking for a list of examples that fit the description? The former question is on topic here, the latter isn't.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 27, 2020 at 2:56
  • Thanks, and sorry for any confusion. My first question. I'm looking for works that would contain such a character.
    – user11711
    Dec 27, 2020 at 2:57
  • 1
    This seems to be a request for recommendations? Those are specifically off-topic for this site. Could you rephrase your question so that it asks whether such a work exists, rather than for examples of such works? That would be one way to get around the objection that the question solicits an open-ended list rather than asking a specific closed-ended question.
    – verbose
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:57
  • Thanks, and (hopefully) accomplished.
    – user11711
    Dec 27, 2020 at 4:12

2 Answers 2


In a famous episode from the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle-raid of Cooley, demigod Cú Chulainn - the most terrifying creature in Irish mythology - and his foster-brother Ferdiad find themselves on opposite sides.

Medb, queen of Connacht, launches the raid in order to steal a renowned stud bull, but Cú Chulainn has invoked the right of single combat at fords and is single-handedly defending Ulster from her army. Mebd knows Ferdiad is the only warrior capable of defeating Cú Chulainn, but Ferdiad doesn't want to fight his best friend.

Then did Medb despatch the druids and the poets of the camp, the lampoonists and hard-attackers, for Ferdiad, to the end that they might make three satires to stay him and three scoffing speeches against him, that they might raise three blisters on his face, Blame, Blemish and Disgrace, if he came not with them.

They set about goading him and plying him with alcohol to persuade him to fight, even offering him the Queen of western Erin. And eventually, reluctantly, he goes.

After three days of gruelling combat in a ford, using every weapon imaginable, Cú Chulainn is almost beaten. He signals to his charioteer, who floats the Gáe Bulg down the stream to him. Throwing a spear at Ferdiad's chest to distract him, Cú Chulainn catches the Gáe Bulg in the fork of his foot and lets fly from underneath into his best friend. Its barbs open, spreading throughout his body and killing him.

While the charioteer cuts and hacks the weapon free from the dead man's body (I can almost hear him whistling as he works!), Cú Chulainn laments:

Ah, Ferdiad, betrayed to death.
Our last meeting, oh, how sad!
Thou to die I to remain.
Ever sad our long farewell!


All was play, all was sport,
Till came Ferdiad to the ford!
Dear the shaft of gold
I smote on the ford.
Bull-chief of the tribes,
Braver he than all!

The whole episode is here.

[Cú Chulainn is similarly grief-stricken after killing his son Connla, but that is a story of the Sohrab and Rostam or Arjuna and Babruvahana type, in which the identity of the son is only revealed as he dies.]

Cú Chulainn
Gáe Bulg


"Oh, what have I done,
I killed the wabbit,
Poor little bunny,
Poor little wabbit"

Elmer Fudd
What's Opera Doc.

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