Development Of Characterization In Beowulf, Gilgamesh, And The Iliad

What makes one character in a novel different than any other? Characters’ characterization and their development are what set them apart from the others in a novel. You can develop characterization in many ways, depending on whether you are using the same literary element as Gilgamesh, Beowulf, or The Iliad.

Beowulf (the main character) was an Anglo-Saxon noble hero. Beowulf attempts to kill Grendel, the monster who attacked King Hrothgar and killed Hrothgars men (Beers 22). After seeing what Grendel did, Beowulf was determined to take revenge on Hrothgar’s men. But, Beowulf won the fight against Grendel. Beowulf didn’t realize that Grendel was his mother. She was returning to take revenge on Beowulf for her son’s murder. Beowulf used similar tactics against Grendel during the fight between Grendel’s Mother and Beowulf. His sword does not affect Grendel’s Mother (Beers 26). It was obvious that people cannot use the same solution to every conflict. Beowulf was forced to change his characterization after the incident. Grendel’s mom was the first thing he tried to defeat. This worked, but wasn’t very practical. Beowulf then saw the massive sword mounted to the wall. The giant’s magic sword was too powerful for anyone to hold. Beowulf became furious and violent and grabbed the sword from the wall. He then thrust it into the neck of the monster. The sword’s striking struck caused the beast to collapse and become lifeless. This story helped to develop Beowulf from a skilled warrior to a clever and determined fighter. The multiple instances of development and this novel explain why Beowulf was so different from other monsters he encountered. Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s main character, and Enkidu his friend help each others develop into new roles. Gilgamesh is joined by Enkidu on a quest to find Humbaba, the Guardian of Cedar Forest, to end their journey. A foil character is used to help develop Gilgamesh. Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s foil figure, is Gilgamesh’s consciousness and guardian. Enkidu was the one who led Gilgamesh (Beers 49) from Uruk to Cedar Forest. This showed that Gilgamesh, who was half-god and a member of the royal family was open to having someone lead him. The Cedar Forest was separated from Humbaba by a huge gate when they arrived. Enkidu felt his hands go numb when he opened it (Beers 49). Enkidu is saved by Gilgamesh who soon becomes his leader. Enkidu and Gilgamesh were soon just feet from Humbaba. The giant became very frightening to Gilgamesh. Enkidu was crushed by the giant and Gilgamesh became very afraid of him. After the crushing, Gilgamesh hovered over Humbaba wielding an Axe. In one perfect stroke, he sliced Humbaba’s head cleanly. (Beers 53). Humbaba’s death demonstrates Gilgamesh’s development from fear to fearless, barbaric behavior. This epic novel illustrated how one character can become the foil of another.

The Iliad and Achilles are both portrayed in the novel. Hector is the commander and Achilles the strongest warrior among the Greek soldiers (Beers 56). They are masters of war. This explains why Achilles is the strongest warrior in their army, while Hector is the weakest. Athena (the goddess of wisdom/war), told Achilles as he searched for Hector that they would both kill Hector. Achilles was happy and obeyed the demands (Beers59). Athena accepted Achilles’ demands and is now preparing for battle. Soon after, Athena caught Hector up and disguised herself to be Deiphobus, the prince of Troy. She ordered them to kill Achilles. Hector agreed and rejoiced (Beers 59). Hector was transformed by this event. Hector was running from Achilles before the order. Hector, who was confident and believed he would win the battle, received the order. Hector’s fate was sealed by his confidence. This story illustrates that people should be aware of the dangers before jumping into it.

It is evident that characters can be changed by personal encounters and experiences. This is apparent after analysing the three novels. We have seen many elements of literature in works that were written thousands of year ago.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.