Development of Characterization n Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and the Iliad

What makes a character in a story different from any other character? While reading epic novels about the Anglo-Saxon culture and epic heroes, a character’s characterization and his development of characterization set him apart from the other characters in the novel. There are multiple ways that characterization developed while using a different literary element present in Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Iliad.

In the book, Beowulf, the main character, Beowulf, was a noble Anglo-Saxon hero. When a monster, Grendel, goes to King Hrothgar’s party and kills Hrothgar’s men, Beowulf tries to find and kill the perpetrating monster behind the murder (Beers 22). When Beowulf saw what Grendel had done, he was ready to fight and die for the revenge of Hrothgar’s men. However, after the long, struggling fight, Beowulf defeated Grendel. Little did he know, Beowulf was going to have to face Grendel’s mother. She had come back for vengeance on Beowulf, for the murder of her son. During the fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s Mother, Beowulf used the same tactics he had used against Grendel. He soon finds out that Grendel’s Mother is not affected by his sword (Beers 26). Finding out the sword did not harm the beast showed that people could not use the same solution for all conflicts in life. The problematic encounter led to a characterization change because Beowulf had to think quickly for another solution to win the battle. He decided to fight Grendel’s Mom with his bare hands. That worked, but it was not very useful. Then, Beowulf saw a massive sword mounted on the wall (Beers 27). The sword blessed with the magic of the giants was too mighty for any human to hold. Beowulf, now enraged and ferocious, grabbed the sword from the wall and thrust it right into the monster’s neck. Due to the strike of the sword, the beast fell to the floor lifeless, and the sword became covered in the blood of the creature. This story slowly developed Beowulf’s character from a prepared warrior, to become a witty and ferocious fighter. This novel and the multiple instances of development explain how Beowulf was different from the monsters from his experiences.

In the epic novel, Gilgamesh, the main character, Gilgamesh, and his friend, Enkidu, help each other develop into a new role. Over the course of the story, Gilgamesh and Enkidu both set out on a journey to an enchanted forest to kill Humbaba, Guardian of the Cedar Forest. The development of the character, Gilgamesh, is achieved through the use of a foil character. Enkidu is the foil character to Gilgamesh, and he is known as Gilgamesh’s conscience and his guardian. During the novel, Enkidu led Gilgamesh from the town of Uruk to the Cedar Forest (Beers 49). This event showed that even though Gilgamesh was a half-god and in the royal family, he was accepting of someone leading him. When they arrived at the Cedar Forest, there was a massive gate that separated the two heroes from Humbaba. When Enkidu opened the gate, his hands became numb, and his face grew pale (Beers 49). Due to this result, Gilgamesh develops into the leader and protects Enkidu from danger. Soon, Gilgamesh and Enkidu were just a couple feet away from Humbaba. Gilgamesh grew very scared of the giant. When the giant smashed Enkidu to near death, Gilgamesh developed from a cautious explorer to a fearless warrior and began to attack Humbaba. Soon after the crushing, Gilgamesh was hovering over Humbaba with an ax and with one perfect arc, Gilgamesh slices the head of Humbaba clean off, and Humbaba dies. (Beers 53). The killing of Humbaba shows the developmental change in Gilgamesh from fear to fearless and barbaric behavior. This epic novel showed how another character could develop another character’s characterization just by being his foil.

In the novel, The Iliad, Achilles, and Hector both encounter developments in their characterization. Achilles is the mightiest warrior of the Greek warriors, and Hector is the commander of the Trojan army (Beers 57). Their mastery explains that Achilles and Hector are both very experienced in war, and they are the best warriors in their army. While Achilles was looking for Hector, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, told him that they both would kill Hector and bring pride back to their land. Achilles then rejoiced and followed the demands (Beers 59). The acceptance of Athena’s demands shows that Achilles is preparing to fight. Soon after, Athena caught up to Hector and disguised herself as Deiphobus, prince of Troy, and commanded that they go and kill Achilles. Hector rejoiced and agreed (Beers 59). This event was a developmental change in Hector because before this order he was always running from Achilles who was still running after Hector like a “hound in the mountains starts a fawn from its lair” (Beers 58). After the order, Hector became a confident fighter who thought he would have a god on his side. This confidence led him to his fate. This story explains that people should not jump into danger without some knowledge of the risks.

After analyzing the development of characterization in these three novels, it is clear that people can change from personal experiences and encounters. Even though we studied literature that authors produced thousands of years ago, many same literature elements found today appear in these works as well.