Beowulf trespasses in Grendel waters, and over preparing for alien encounters (ll.1492-1505)

Beowulf, Youth Culture, Wary Welcomes
Possibly Over-Preparing to Encounter Alien Beings

Grendel's mother menaces the pinned Beowulf with a knife.

By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain,

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Beowulf dives into the Grendel’s watery lair, and is attacked by Grendel’s mother.

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“After those words the Geatish lord
was quickened by courage, no answer
would he wait for, into the sea-wave he
threw himself. It was nearly the length of a full day
before he could see the bottom of that lake.
Soon that one sensed him, she who that underwater expanse
had occupied for a fiercely ravenous fifty years,
grim and greedy, she knew that a man,
an alien being, one from above had come exploring.
With claw outstretched she grasped towards him, wrapped the warrior
in her terrible grip. Yet nowhere on his body
was at all injured, his mail protected him all around,
she could not pierce through his war coat,
the linked mail shirt was locked against her loathsome fingers.”
(Beowulf ll.1492-1505)

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Old English:


Modern English:


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Beowulf, Youth Culture, Wary Welcomes

Beowulf cuts the “good lucks” short here, as he just dives right into the mere where Grendel’s mother waits. No doubt part of him wants to get this experience over with, while another part is excited for the challenge.

But as he’s diving into the water and since he knows he’ll be facing a monster as strong as, if not stronger than, Grendel on its own turf, I wonder if he’s nervous?

Being a young man, Beowulf probably isn’t doubting his ability to do the same thing twice. That’s something that’s definitely an advantage of youth…says the guy who’s only 30, though had I been 30 three decades ago I’d be past the age where I could be trusted by mainstream youth culture…now I am youth culture.

Perhaps that little tangent is unrelated, but it brings to mind a curious question: Is Beowulf representative of the era’s youth culture?

Did Beowulf diving into the water after the monster that killed Hrothgar’s councillor Æschere inspire kids all over the northern parts of Europe to dive into strange lakes, looking for supernatural beasts? Or did the Anglo-Saxon audiences of Beowulf regard him as a supernatural being himself?

I think, since he is a hero (and therefore already different from most), that Beowulf would’ve been regarded as a supernatural being. in a way, after all, having the strength of 30 men isn’t exactly as common as blue eyes and brown hair. It’s also definitely not normal to be able to hold your breath for half a day. And yet that’s how long it took Beowulf to get to the bottom of this lake.

Personally, I don’t think Beowulf had much doubt in his mind as he dove into the lake. He seems like he’s pretty keen on getting to the bottom of things.

Just as Grendel’s mother is keen to eliminate those who intrude in her domains. And the poet even acknowledges that, to Grendel’s mother, Beowulf is doing just that. He’s regarded as a man by this woman of the deep, and therefore as “an alien being” (“ælwihta” (l.1500)).

So Beowulf is very clearly intruding into the space of another, perhaps looking to exact the “wergild” that Grendel’s mother owes for Æschere from her very body. Curiously, though, the poet doesn’t make it seem like Grendel’s mother is waiting for anyone; she’s not sitting out on the porch with a shotgun in her lap saying “you shouldn’t’ve come out here, surface dweller.” She’s just attacking Beowulf because he’s “come exploring” (“cunnode” (l.1500)).

Is Beowulf in the right, intruding in Grendel’s mother’s domain to seek vengeance for the man she killed? Or does Grendel’s mother have the upper hand since she’s defending her home from an intruder (much as Beowulf did earlier in the poem)?

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Possibly Over-Preparing to Encounter Alien Beings

If you met an “æl-wihta”1 out on the “brim-wylm”2 you might not jump to the conclusion that it was “heoro-gifre”3.

Unless you were a “guð-rinc”4 of some kind.

And, if you were a “warrior” who met such a creature out on the open waters, you’d probably be prepared with a “fyrd-hom”5 or “leoðo-syrcan”6 to “ymb-bearh”7 your body entirely. Maybe some sort of kevlar wet suit.

But boy oh boy, would there be egg on your face if it turned out that the “æl-wihta”1 was just a walrus or something entirely peaceful.


1æl-wihta: strange creature, monster, alien being. el (foreign, strange) + wihta (wight, person, creature, being, whit, thing, something, anything)

2brim-wylm: ocean surge. sea-wave. brim (surf, flood, wave, sea, ocean, water, sea-edge, shore) + wielm (boiling, swelling, surf, billow, current, stream, burning, flame, inflammation, fervour, ardour, zeal) (a word exclusive to Beowulf)

3heoro-gifre: fierce, greedy for slaughter. heoru (sword) + gifre (greedy, rapacious, ravenous, desirous of)

4guð-rinc: warrior, hero. guð (combat, battle, war) + rinc (man, warrior, hero)

5fyrd-hom: corslet. fyrd (national levy or army, military expedition, campaign, camp) + hama (covering, dress, garment, womb, puerperium [period between child birth and a woman’s reproductive organs return to their original, non-pregnant state], slough of a snake)

6leoðo-syrcan: corslet. leoðo (retinue, following; limb, member, joint) + serc (sark, shirt, corslet, coat of mail)

7ymb-bearh: to run round, surround. ymb (around, about, at, upon, near, along, about, at, after, before) + beorg (protection, defense, refuge)

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Next week, the struggle between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother continues.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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1 thought on “Beowulf trespasses in Grendel waters, and over preparing for alien encounters (ll.1492-1505)

  1. Pingback: Beowulf gives his last will and testament (ll.1482-1491) | A Blogger's Beowulf

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