Grendel’s complications (ll.126-137) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Grendel’s hesitation
“G” is for vendetta
Closing

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Abstract

In the aftermath of Grendel’s attack there is great sorrow. This sadness is amplified when Grendel shortly strikes again.

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Translation

“Then, outside the hall at daybreak,
was Grendel’s war-strength seen by human eyes;
after that was there weeping to heaven,
a morning full of mourning. Famous warriors,
long tested true lords, sorrowful sat,
the mighty moaned, the lost thanes saddened them,
until they found the faint, loathful footprints that
the evil doing fiend had made. That was helpful to
the beast’s escape,hateful and sluggish. That night
was not long alone, nigh the next night he again brought
more violent death and seemed not to hesitate as before,
bringing violence and outrage; he came down heavily upon
          them.”
(Beowulf ll.126-137)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Grendel’s hesitation

So apparently Grendel was holding back in his first visit. Based on the penultimate line of this week’s extract, Grendel “seemed not to hesitate as before” (“no mearn fore”(l.136)). But what was there to hesitate about?

The suggestion that Grendel was holding back implies that he had some scrap of humanity in him on that first night, and it was this that was picked up on in last week’s entry. So, for some reason, after that first attack Grendel descends into something worse.

Perhaps Grendel was merely testing Heorot and those that he found there. But why would he need to test them? Again, it seems that Grendel had something in him to help him to know that he had something in common with his targets. Grendel is the kin of Cain, after all.

So, even if he could feel some commonality with the thanes of Heorot, he would be feeling it from the perspective of one who has a cursed nature. It’s safe to say, then, that Grendel’s perspective, feelings of kinship/commonality aside, is different at its base. Different enough to realize that he was somehow better than them, or that they were not a threat, not something against which he would have to hold back.

As a quick aside, John Gardner’s Grendel is a great study in the ghoul’s character, and it seems that Gardner drew more from Beowulf for it than you might think.

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“G” is for vendetta

Carrying forward the ideas of the feud between god and the monsters and the distant kinship between the Danes and Grendel (from last week’s entry), there’s a curious word on line 137. This word is “fæhðe,” which means “violence,” “outrage,” or “vendetta,” according to Clark Hall & Meritt’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.

Now, a “vendetta” isn’t quite the same thing as a “feud.” The former is something that’s generally more one-sided, something that a person embarks upon because of a perceived wrong, whereas the latter is usually something where both parties are at least dimly aware of some mutual wrong(s) that are the cause for their enduring dispute.

So, since the feud between god and monsters is something limited to the songs of the scops, it’s not likely that Grendel’s striking Heorot as part of the age old feud of which they sing. Whether it’s the noise, or being god’s preferred offspring, Grendel is raining violence down upon Heorot as part of a vendetta, a one-sided feud. To modern readers this could be something rooted in Grendel’s nature as a monster. But, to the poem’s early audiences, a thing like a vendetta would seem monstrous in itself.

Before authority became centralized in the form of kingdoms and fiefdoms, one of the great laws of Northern Europe was the feud. But it was, in the ideal case, something that involved both parties, and was a means of redressing a wrong that was great enough to legitimize the bloodshed inherent in such a conflict.

To bring a vendetta against someone or some other group would be seen as a flaunting of the law of the land, and the action of an imbalanced person. Thus, Grendel’s made to be extra monstrous because of the apparently unmotivated violence that he brings to the Danes. Not simply because he’s acting so violently, but because he’s carrying a vendetta to the hall.

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Closing

In next week’s extract, Grendel’s assaults drive people away from Heorot, and word of the hall’s woe spreads across the world.

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