Three Roads To One Hero Throughout the two epics, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh, and the novel Grendel, we see certain heroic characteristics of the main characters. Although Beowulf, Grendel, and Gilgamesh all come to a heroic end, they differ in way in which they came to that end.
In Beowulf we read of a great warrior who cares about nothing but honor and his people. In Gilgamesh, we see a man who comes to a realization of his mortality, and then does all he can to overcome that “weakness.” Finally, in Grendel, we see a “monster” that was born in a cruel world, and comes to a cruel ending. Throughout the epic poem of Beowulf, we not only read of the heroism of Beowulf himself, but the guile of the antagonist, Grendel. By the fifth chapter, Beowulf is showing a characteristic that was vital to a Greek hero. He is boasting of his accomplishments. He tells of how he once fought a serpent in the open ocean.
This might not seem to heroic, but you must attempt to become an archeological reader to begin fully understanding why this is so heroic. During the fist century of this millenium, one of the many things that scared people, and continues to do so today, is the unknown. Beowulf braved the unknown on not only land, but also where man has never belonged. He braved the unknown in the ocean. Grendel throughout the poem is, however, shown in a different light. He is a monster.
He is a descendant of the first murderer, Cain. He kills simply for sport. He relishes in the blood of mankind. He is a monster who knows no bounds. In Grendel however, the point of view of the reader has changed. We now read from the point of view of the “monster.” We see how he has been born into a world where he understands next to nothing, and does not even have the comfort of a true mother.
He can talk to no one, save for a dragon that sees everything, past, present and future, and he is alone in a world of humans. There is no place of refuge where he can escape the world of hate that he lives in. He is something that is unknown to humans, and is therefore unwanted, frightful, and must be either eliminated or banished form view. Although in both of the epics, one an English and the other a Mesopotamian, we read of heroic qualities of one main character, and through that main character the ideals of that culture as a whole, in Grendel, we read of an outcast, who is killed simply because he is an enigma to the people.
This is where these three stories break down, in the way, not only in which they become “heroes,” but the way in which the author accomplishes this feat. In both Beowulf and Gilgamesh, we read of people who are highly esteemed, and emulate everything that those respective cultures hold dear. In Grendel, we see the cynicism of the twentieth century, and we read of all the ways in which our society and culture has become incongruent with that which we say we hold dear. In Gilgamesh, we read of a man who is stronger than all that are in the land, and his adventures to prove that to the world.
He is a symbol of everything that his country and culture regards as praiseworthy. Not only, though, is he a physically strong person, but he is also given the gift or blessing of being able to reason. He is a man of not only sound body, but also of a sound mind. In addition to knowing how great and powerful he himself is, Gilgamesh also knows when to stop (sometimes).
When he is fighting Enkidu, he discovers that his foe is his equal. Therefore, he does not become over-prideful, and deny that someone could be as great as he himself is, but he makes one of the best decisions that can be made by man. He makes his enemy his friend. The greatest interpretation of these three stories comes not only in seeing how well they are congruent, but also how they begin to differ when you begin to dig deeper.
Although both Beowulf and Gilgamesh agree upon the abstract things, such as honor, hope, pride, success, where they begin to differ is in the concrete details. Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are prideful, and form today’s perspective they may even seem over-prideful. Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are able to boast of their accomplishments, but like all the Greek heroes, they are able to support those boasts with action. The purposes of their boasting though, come form two different stimuli. Gilgamesh boasts that he is the best simply because he is somewhat of a narcissist.
Beowulf on the other hand not only boasts to gain praise for himself, but he also boasts to bring fame and power to his people, whom he holds in the highest regard. Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh go to fight off demons that are a disease to their culture. In The Epic Poem of Beowulf, Beowulf fights off not only Grendel, and Grendel’s mother, but also the Dragon that is Grendel’s only “friend.” Gilgamesh on the other hand fights of the guardian of the forest, Humbaba. When we begin to analyze the motivation for these two individuals though, is were we begin take two different roads. In Beowulf, we see the noble character who wants to do everything that he can to help his people.
In Gilgamesh though, we see a man who is afraid of what the people think, and is motivated by the pressures of society, and the pressure of upholding his own ego. Differences arise not only between the two epics though, but also obviously between Grendel and the Epic Poem of Beowulf. In the Poem of Beowulf, we read of a mighty man who gains praise and valor for his people by killing off those things that are a mystery to his people, and therefore hated. In Grendel, we read of an unfortunate creature that has the one thing that makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom, the ability to reason.
Grendel himself though is in an odd way even more credible and praiseworthy than mankind. This is derived form the fact that Grendel is alone. In a world of humans and animals, he finds himself belonging to neither one. He is alone, and yet is still able to find an identity, and see the world for what it is to him.
Although it may seem that Gilgamesh and Grendel may have little in common, they in fact have quite a bit in common. Both Grendel and Gilgamesh are alone in a world of friendship and commodore. Much like Mewto in Pokemon the First Movie, they are alone and have to find their own destiny. They are both above the normal comprehension of mankind.
Gilgamesh has superhuman characteristics that enable him to travel on the road to immortality, and actually reach his destination. However, his human flaws cause him to lose what he gave up so much to attain. Grendel is also able to do superhuman feats. Unlike Gilgamesh though, he is not able to travel the road to its end. His tragic flaw appears before he is able to reach his goal. However, what makes him a hero (possibly even a tragic hero) is that he is able to recognize his mistake.
He is able also not only able to see his own mistake, but he helps those who kills him in the end, advising us not to make the mistake that will lead to our death. This can be seen in the last lines of the book, “Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.” The essence or the purpose of literature has ling since been debated over. The purpose though, can be found in these three stories. All three main characters came to the same fate in the end, death.
When they came to the realization that they were mortal, they also were able to look back on their lives, and see what they had accomplished. In the end, Gilgamesh is disappointed in himself that he could not attain immortality, His aspirations were to glorify himself above all others. He did not try to serve himself by serving his people. Beowulf was able to meet his end with a glad heart, because he knew he had come to a glorious end. He also tried to gain glory for himself, but he attempted, and succeeded, to do this by serving his people. Grendel lived in this world by himself.
He was able to serve everyone that he cared for, which is sadly only himself. He was not only able to serve himself though, but he was also able to find a meaning to life. He found that to live a good life, you sometimes have to lose yourself to find yourself.