Feuding References (ll.99-114) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Referential storytelling
Justification through a feud
Closing

Back To Top
Abstract

Grendel has his first mention by name, and his origin is quickly explained.

Back To Top
Translation

“So the warriors of the hall lived in joy,
were prosperous, until one began
committing crimes, like a fiend of hell.
It was the ghastly ghoul called Grendel,
border walker from the marshlands, he that the moors held,
whose mire was his mansion; from the land held fast by
woe laden man-shaped sea beasts,
since the Shaper had condemned them
as kin of Cain – so the almighty Lord punished
him for that murder, when he slew Abel.
Cain was given no good from that, the Measurer cast him
far abroad, done for his evil, away from humankind.
Then the monsters all awoke,
ogres and elves and orcs,
also giants, those that waged long warfare
against God; until he gave them their reward.”
(Beowulf ll.99-114)

Back To Top
Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

Back To Top
Referential storytelling

To anyone familiar with Greek myth, there’s a strange mash up of origin stories happening here. The final two lines suggest some sort of war between god and monsters, specifically giants. In Greek myth, such a story would be a reference to the Gigantomachy wherein the Giants (the force of chaos) fought against the gods of Olympus (the force of order).

Taken as a reference to early parts of the Old Testament, these lines could be describing an Anglo-Saxon take on the Nephilim, the half human/half angel offspring of angels who walked the earth and cavorted amongst humanity. In the Old Testament stories, interestingly, given the Anglo-Saxons’ warrior status, these angels are allegedly the ones who showed humans how to work metal and create weapons for war.

This tale of a war between god and monsters could also be a reference to the story of the Roman de Brut, an epic poem about the first settling of what’s now England, and the giant that the settlers had to overcome to claim the land for their own. But the version of that poem written by Wace is dated to 1150-1155 with much more certainly than Beowulf’s own dating. As a result of this late date, Beowulf would have had to have been written/composed later in the twelfth century. Alternatively, it could well have influenced Wace (along with his major source for his Roman de Brut, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regium Britanniae).

Nevertheless, the story about a war between god and giants could be construed in a number of historical ways, too. Perhaps it’s a Christian insertion into the poem, meant to represent how Christian monotheism overtook pagan polytheism (something that is quite active in this leg of the poem, actually). Or maybe there’s more of an historical/allegorical bent at work, the figures on either side standing for certain factions that faced off in the poets/writers’ distant past.

Whatever the case, this event is definitely something that took place far into the past. After all, it’s clearly stated that the monsters all awoke after the condemnation of Cain (ll.109-112). Likely this is how the story goes because Biblically Cain is the first human outcast. Surely, Adam and Eve had their own losses from being cast out of the garden, but to be cast out from the cast outs would make Cain particularly damned. Especially in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, for whom community and social inclusion were integral for survival.

Back To Top
Justification through a feud

The whole “kin of Cain” (“Caines cynne” (l.107)) thing is interesting. It takes something that is by its nature as a creature of the borderlands mysterious and other and gives it a lineage. Grendel isn’t just some monster that no one knows anything about, but is instead related to the first murderer and, curiously, an early farmer. A cheeky reading of the Cain and Abel story, could, in fact, be that god, with childish aplomb, prefers meat to vegetables.

Anyway, giving Grendel a lineage and taking the mystery out of him thereby, makes him more approachable. It feeds into the feud culture of the Anglo-Saxons as well. After all, without a hereditary feud to conclude/perpetuate, Grendel would be somewhat in the right, since the Danes are encroaching on his territory. What’s more, Grendel only attacks Heorot once he’s provoked by the noise from within. Giving Grendel a clear ancestor, though, brings the feud element into play, which makes who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong muddier. After all, any godly person would surely take the side of god in a war with the monsters. Surely.

Running with the idea that Beowulf was substantially altered when written down for the sake of Christianizing the Anglo-Saxons, any feud element would be an incredible asset. From the perspective of a missionary such elements would be their “in;” to the Anglo-Saxons feuds were eminently familiar.

This familiarity would help make the Christian parts of the story seem more understandable. Particularly helpful in this area is the final line of this extract. The climactic sarcasm to be found there makes it prime for Anglo-Saxon appreciation, and could be there as a kind of medieval fan service.

Back To Top
Closing

Grendel ventures into the hall next week, and there wreaks his first reported havoc.

Back To Top

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s