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