Essay, Research Paper: Three Roads To One Hero

Literature: Gilgamesh

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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.

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