Humbaba is the earliest monster in literature. He was a giant that guarded one of the trees of the god Ea in the old epic Gilgamesh, the world’s most ancient story. Huambaba was supernaturally fearsome and quite huge, not the kind of entity a mere human should oppose. And, of course, there are also some daunting monsters in holy writ that were said to be the offspring of angels and mortals. These were the giants such as Goliath and his hulking kin.
Another giant, the Cyclops, is one of Greek culture’s most impressive monsters. That one-eyed son of a sea-god is terrifically strong but also quite slow. He allows himself to be duped by the very clever Odysseus in more ways than one. After the cunning hero blinds the Cyclops’ one good eye, the creature asks his tormentor’s name. Quick-witted Odysseus replies, “Nobody, Nobody is my name.” Thus, after Odysseus and his men escape and the Cyclops’ equally monstrous brothers ask him who blinded him, he stupidly replies, “Nobody did it. Nobody blinded me.”
There are many monsters in Anglo-Saxon culture as well, including Grendel, his hag of a mother and a huge fierce dragon that guards treasure. Grendel is said to be a descendant of Cain, who is cursed to be perpetually homeless. In fact, that is one reason the ferocious and hideous creature continues to invade and devastate Heorot Hall in Denmark. He cannot stand the fact the Hrothgar and his men enjoy a home while he himself is doomed to wallow out in the swamp with his darkly dangerous mother. Thus evil-minded jealousy is his murderous motivation. And jealousy can be seen as a characteristic of all monsters, both figurative and literal ones.
Along those lines, Shakespeare created a more subtle kind of monster in Denmark, Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius who killed his own brother out of jealousy. He wanted Queen Gertrude for his own. He wanted his brother’s crown for his own. He wanted to rule in Denmark. One cruel act got him his goals—he poured deadly poison into his brother’s ear while he slept. This monster got away with it for a little while because Hamlet was so slow to act. But in the end, his monstrous plot was foiled by a poisoned cup and sword, thereby sending this monster to a hideous demise.
So we see that the primary motivation behind being a monster is often jealousy. Most of the time when we find cowardly acts, the companion is jealousy, as in, “If you have it and I want it and cannot have it, I will destroy it.” I had a childhood acquaintance that stomped on a little boat of mine because he wanted it and I said no. I have been tired of jealous jerks ever since. We must beware, for the monster called jealousy lurks inside all of us.