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Poor, Pitiful Monsters From Homer to Borges
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Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut, USA
This article reviews famous monsters in Western literature that reveal a hidden humanity or affinity with the hero that elicits compassion or emphasizes their bestiality in surprising ways. Their monstrosity is often a distorted mirror image of the hero’s humanity. Shakespeare’s Caliban is a famous example of the affinity between monster and protagonist. Homer’s Polyphemus, the first monster in Western tradition establishes certain traits that persist through later literature: lawless, barbarian, cannibal, and giant. Polyphemus hates men, but loves his old ram. Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon in Beowulf are giants, lawless, cannibals. The dragon Beowulf dies fighting anticipates the identity between hero and monster that Borges makes explicit in Asterion, the Minotaur. Dante’s Satan in the Inferno fails to leave later successors. In Borges’s “The House of Asterion” the Minotaur is both monster and hero. Asterion’s affinities with other protagonists in Borges’ stories suggest that the monster in the labyrinth is not the Minotaur, but the concept of infinity.
monsters, Homer, Beowulf, Borges
Borges, J. L. (1962). Labyrinths: Selected stories and other writings. D. A. Yates, and J. E. Irby, (Eds.). New York: A New Directions Book.
Homer. (1996). The Odyssey. (R. Fagles, Trans.). New York: Penguin Books.
Kittredge, G. L. (Ed.). (1939). Sixteen plays of Shakespeare. Boston: Ginn and Company.