VOCABULARY (for those with the Heaney translation):
hasp: shut or fasten
hoop: clasp or encircle
hirpling: a fast but uneven gait.
lap: a part that lies along the side of a part of another
Quick Summary: Beowulf awaits the monster and when Grendel arrives, he gives him the surprise of his life; so strong is Beowulf that he is able to rip off Grendel’s arm, and the monster escapes to the fens to bleed to death. When morning comes, the kingdom celebrates Beowulf’s victory with a story of Sigemund, the dragon slayer and King Heremond (there is much foreshadowing in this section) by a ministrel, speeches giving thanks to the Lord, a doling out of gifts/treasure, and a final story about the Danes and Frisians with regard to blood feuds and revenge. To conclude this section, Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s queen, honours Beowulf with a curious speech ……
Picking up from the last section, I thought I would label some descriptions for Grendel. My sympathy for him is non-existent, and and here is why:
“…. blood-lust rampant ….”
” …. powerful demon …..”
” ….a fiend out of hell ….”
” ….. grim demon ……”
“…… God-cursed brute …..”
” ….. creating havoc …….”
” ……. greedy and grim ….”
” …… inflamed from the raid ……”
“……. merciless Grendel ……”
” …… malignant by nature, he never showed remorse …”
” ….. hall-watcher’s hate ……”
” ……Grendel ruled in defiance of right …….”
” ……vicious raids and ravages of Grendel ….”
” …… long unrelenting feud …..”
” ….. how he would never parley or make peace nor pay the death-price ……”
” ….. all were endangered: young and old …..”
“……. dark death-shadow ……”
” ….. reavers from hell …….”
“……. inflicting constant cruelties …… atrocious hurt …. ”
He is evil, a murderer and, not only does he kill the people, he is “inflamed” by killing (and probably by eating his killings). He does not distinguish adults from children but will gladly murder both. He has never shown any remorse for his actions and, in fact, refuses even to speak with the Spear-Danes to make peace, nor will he pay the wergild. I can well imagine the terror the Danes feel towards this vicious creature, as they are powerless to stop his ravages.
I did not understand by my translation that the Danes came into Grendel’s territory. In fact, the Danes appear to have been in the area for generations and Grendel’s appearance seems relatively recent, but the text is not completely clear.
What bothers Grendel, is the joy that he is hearing: the lovely note of the harp, people singing and laughing and speaking about God. He hates everything that is good and is overcome with the will to destroy it.
Lines 710 – 835
And yet another example of Grendel’s evil as he comes to Heorot preparing more murders:” …… And his glee was demonic, picturing the mayhem …….” The fact that he was excited with joy at the though of killing and dismembering helpless people, makes me shiver. (Lines 730-731)
Okay, this is perhaps the goriest description I remember reading in any book: ” ….. struck suddenly and started in; he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench, bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body utterly lifeless, eaten up hand and foot …” Yuck! (Lines 739-744)
As soon as Grendel knows that he has met someone who is a match for him, he immediately is “desperate to flee” and “hide”, which paints him as a coward and a bully, although this word is entirely too weak to describe his demonic character. (Lines 754-763)
From the text, I understood that Beowulf decides to fight Grendel without a sword because of a type of honour; he wants to meet him on equal terms. Is that what everyone else understands? Now, during the fight, his warriors try to attack Grendel with their swords but, ” …no blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art could ever damage their demon opponent. He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge of every weapon …” “He” appears to mean Grendel, which perhaps indicates that he has access to magic …..??? Of course, by having Beowulf fight the monster with his bare hands, it makes him appear more heroic. (Lines 790- 807)
Lines 836 – 1061
” ……. Beowulf’s doings were praised over and over again. Nowhere, they said, north or south between the two seas or under the tall sky on the broad earth was there anyone better to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom ….” Beowulf the hero! Of course, this deed would have given him enormous respect and power. (Lines 855-860)
“….. Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord, the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king …” Hrothgar really should have tried to kill Grendel himself and, even if he died in the process, at least he would have died with honour. However, by the above lines, we can surmise that even if he had been cowardly, he must have had other good qualities that engendered respect in his warriors and allayed their scorn. The poet makes certain to include this line, so it appears to be important. Again, this reminds me of King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings ….. and Heorot is very like Meduseld, the Golden Hall in Rohan. (Lines 861-862)
The tale of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer is a comparison between his exploits and those of Beowulf, but does it also have another function?? (see questions) (Lines 884-914)
Of course, with Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel, the first acknowledgement is to the Lord and His favour, but there is someone else who is mentioned …” …… But now a man (Beowulf), with the Lord’s assistance, has accomplished something none of us could manage before now for all our efforts. Whoever she was who brought forth this flower of manhood, if she is till alive, that woman can say that in her labour the Lord of Ages bestowed a grace on her …..” Part of the honour of victory is given to Beowulf’s mother, another example of renown and recognition given to a woman. (Lines 938-945)
Beowulf’s mighty deed has certainly put Unferth in his place: ” ….. There was less tampering and big talk then from Unferth the boaster, less of his blather …….” Perhaps he will now give Beowulf the respect he has certainly earned. (Lines 978-980)
And my favourite line: ” …… Whoever remains for long here in this earthly life will enjoy and endure more than enough ….” It is a wise statement. The author is not fatalistic, like I might have expected, but contrasts “enjoy” and “endure” for a balanced picture of life. (Lines 1060-1061)
Lines 1062 – 1157
This is what I understood from the poem of the battle between the Danes & the Frisians:
Hildeburh his a Danish princess married to Finn, a Frisian king. The Danes, led by Hildeburh’s brother Hnaef, attack the Frisians on their home soil. Hnaef is killed along with Hildeburh’s son, a Frisian warrior. With the Danes losing, Hengest, a Dane, steps up and agrees to a truce with Finn, who says that the Danes can stay among the Frisians, be honoured with gifts, and be treated exactly as his own people (it appears the Danes cannot get home because it is wintertime and the sea is too rough). Enmity is nursed over the winter by the Danes and when spring arrives, they attack, killing Finn, stealing his treasures and they take Hildeburh back home. There is a mention of Guthlaf and Oslaf making an “old accusation” but I have no idea what that is about.
Lines 1158 – 1250
Here we see what appears to be a somewhat nervous Wealhtheow trying to secure the succession of kingship for her sons:
“……(to Hrothgar) and now the word is that you want to adopt this warrior as a son. So, while you may, bask in your fortune, and then bequeath kingdom and nation to your kith and kin, before your decease. I am certain of Hrothulf (Beowulf). He is noble and will use the young ones well. He will not let you down. Should you die before him, he will treat our children truly and fairly. He will honour, I am sure, our two sons, repay them in kind when he recollects all the good things we gave him once, the favour and respect he found in his childhood …..”
Just the fact that she has to make his speech indicates that she is not sure at all that Beowulf will honour her sons, and while this speech is diplomatic, Beowulf could not fail to miss her point.
I must say, this would be the perfect chance for Beowulf to attack Hrothgar and win treasure, bounty and more renown for himself. Hrothgar is weak and Beowulf is admired (and probably feared) by everyone. It is a perfect opportunity!
The gift of the torque to Beowulf is interwoven with a story of Hygelac’s death while wearing his torque. I got the impression that the message here was that, while treasure was good and perhaps even necessary to this culture, it cannot give life and that their fate could certainly be affected by their decisions. Is this a different tone than we have heard previously in this poem?
” …. Fate swept him away because of his proud need to provoke a feud with the Frisians …”
Please put any questions, comments, or answers to the questions below in the comment area even further below! I’m going back into the previous week’s posts at the end of the section week to answer my own questions, so if anyone is curious, you can check out Week 1.
- The tale of Sigemund the dragon-slayer is a comparison between his deeds and those of Beowulf, but do you think it might serve another purpose? If so, what purpose? What about King Heremond? Why was it important for the reader to learn about him?
- How did you interpret Wealhtheow’s speech? Did you agree with my analysis? Was there another purpose in her words other than honouring Beowulf and attempting to protect her sons’ inheritance? Does she have a deeper objective?
- Did you see a motive or intent in the story of the actions between the Danes and the Frisians? Why do you think the poet chose to include it?
Week 3 starting post will go up on May 16th!