Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Reader-Moderator
bdNM
Posts: 470
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Beowulf, ll. 1-500

Brief summary:  A brief description of Scyld Scefing, and his descendents, ending with Hrothgar, who has had great success as king of Denmark, and has been a good ring giver to his followers.  As a symbol of his success and good fortune, he orders that a great mead hall be built, which he will call Heorot ("Hart Hall"). Soon after Heorot is dedicated and filled with warriors singing and celebrating, a monster from the moors, Grendel, attacks the hall killing 30 men and dragging their corpses back to his watery den.  He attacks the next night, and thereafter all of the warriors stay clear of the hall. He cannot attack Hrothgar's throne directly, but, in emptying the hall, he has ruined any symbolic value of the great hall. 

For 12 years, Grendel has turned the hall (at least after dark) into an empty place, not serving its customary role as place for warriors to gather, drink and celebrate.  Beowulf, a young warrior of the Geats, and kinsman of the king, Hygelac, hears of Grendel's raids and of Hrothgar's need of good men.  He travels to Denmark, where he is confronted by a Danish soldier guarding the coast.  Appreciating the quality of Beowulf, and realizing Beowulf and his 14 followers have not come to attack Denmark, he directs them to Hrothgar.  Before he is admitted to Hrothgar, he is challenged by Wulfgar, a retainer of the king.  It turns out that the king knows of Beowulf and knew his father, whom he once entertained when Ecgtheow took it on the lam from Geatland.  Hrothgar helped him resolve a feud.  He figures that Beowulf has come to help him in return, and hopes he proves a great warrior who can defeat Grendel.

 

I have lots of questions and observations here, but first, I'd like to share some of Kennedy's translation.  When I have performed some of the poem aloud, I generally start with a ten line (or so) section, in which Grendel first attacks Heorot.  I then offer Kennedy's translation to give a sense of the alliteration:

 

"Then at the nightfall the fiend drew near

where the timbered mead-hall towered on high,

to spy how the Danes fared after the feast.

Within the wine-hall he found the warriors

fast in slumber, forgetting grief,

forgetting the woe of the world of men.

Grim and greedy the gruesome monster

fierce and furious, launched attack,

slew thirty spearmen asleep in the hall,

sped away gloating, gripping the spoil,

dragging the dead men home to his den.

Then in the dawn with the coming of daybreak

the war-might of Grendel was widely known.

Mirth was stilled by the sound of weeping;

the wail of the mourner awoke with day."

 

Grendel is an interesting character -- he is the antithesis of Hrothgar.  Where Hrothgar built the hall for celebration, and camaraderie, Grendel uses it for destruction, causing the group to splinter.  Hrothgar is still king, but he can only hold sway in his hall during the day.  When night comes, Grendel takes over, and he is an outcast, a "fierce lone-goer" as Kennedy calls him.  Anglo-Saxon society is about the group and group and family loyalty -- a loner, or an outcast, is anathema to that society. 

We get hints here, and later, that Heorot will be destroyed -- not by Grendel.  He cannot destroy the hall.  Ironically, it will be destroyed by fire, some 10-15 years down the road, when a feud breaks out between Hrothgar and his son-in-law (the marriage hasn't yet taken place).  It is men who will destroy Heorot, when monsters could not, and Beowulf's actions save the hall, but only for a short time.

When we are introduced to Beowulf, there is little sense of the story motif of the "unpromising youngster."  Later, we'll find that Hygelac didn't want Beowulf to go, and there is some sense that Unferth's insult that Beowulf isn't that great points to some version of the story in which the hero had a less than glorious past, even though he proves himself here.

As we're reading, let's look at Beowulf and how he presents himself.  He is a young man full of confidence, apparently very strong, but largely untested.  He shows the loyalty suitable for a young man who is a thane to another. We'll see statements of that loyalty towards Hygelac later, but here we see his loyalty towards Hrothgar, a man who had shown his father, Ecgtheow, generosity. 

Once last note here from me -- Beowulf's name is puzzling.  As you may have noticed, all of Hrothgar's blood relatives have names beginning with H.  This was customary for this society (and for Anglo-Saxon society) for sons to have a name that alliterated with their dad.  Beowulf's name does not alliterate with Ecgtheow (we'd need an initial vowel).  This has led some to posit that the figure of Beowulf (Bee wolf = Bear) is a folklore figure who fights a water monster, who is grafted onto this story of Hrothgar and his hall. 

As you're reading this -- I'm stopping just before the Unferth challenge (the so-called "Breca episode") for this first week's reading -- please share  your observations and puzzlements -- this is a very tightly wound work, whose original audience could get all the references, but which references are often lost on us.  It's what makes the poem, along with the powerful beat of the alliteration, that really grabs me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

Dignity, always dignity.
Inspired Contributor
MissElinorDashwood
Posts: 50
Registered: ‎10-01-2009
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

[ Edited ]

I am really enjoying reading this!  It is a lot easier than I thought it would be (still challenging, but not impossible!) 

I did wonder about the attacks of Grendel.  At one part of the story it makes it sound as if the attacks only happen in Heorot at night, so the men all avoid the mead hall after dark (Lines 138-146).  But then it seems like he attacks randomly "lurked and struck young and old alike, in perpetual night held the misty moors.  Men do not know whither such whispering demons wander about."(160-163).

Am I misinterpreting something?

 

Reader-Moderator
bdNM
Posts: 470
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500


MissElinorDashwood wrote:

I am really enjoying reading this!  It is a lot easier than I thought it would be (still challenging, but not impossible!) 

I did wonder about the attacks of Grendel.  At one part of the story it makes it sound as if the attacks only happen in Heorot at night, so the men all avoid the mead hall after dark (Lines 138-146).  But then it seems like he attacks randomly "lurked and struck young and old alike, in perpetual night held the misty moors.  Men do not know whither such whispering demons wander about."(160-163).

Am I misinterpreting something?

 


 

I think that Grendel does only come out at night -- there is no evidence of him during the day.  But as the Mead Hall, especially at night, symbolizes the community together (during the day they're doing various tasks), by holding the hall, he has smashed the community.

Dignity, always dignity.
Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 


bdNM wrote:

Brief summary:  A brief description of Scyld Scefing, and his descendents, ending with Hrothgar, who has had great success as king of Denmark, and has been a good ring giver to his followers.  As a symbol of his success and good fortune, he orders that a great mead hall be built, which he will call Heorot ("Hart Hall"). Soon after Heorot is dedicated and filled with warriors singing and celebrating, a monster from the moors, Grendel, attacks the hall killing 30 men and dragging their corpses back to his watery den.  He attacks the next night, and thereafter all of the warriors stay clear of the hall. He cannot attack Hrothgar's throne directly, but, in emptying the hall, he has ruined any symbolic value of the great hall. 

For 12 years, Grendel has turned the hall (at least after dark) into an empty place, not serving its customary role as place for warriors to gather, drink and celebrate.  Beowulf, a young warrior of the Geats, and kinsman of the king, Hygelac, hears of Grendel's raids and of Hrothgar's need of good men.  He travels to Denmark, where he is confronted by a Danish soldier guarding the coast.  Appreciating the quality of Beowulf, and realizing Beowulf and his 14 followers have not come to attack Denmark, he directs them to Hrothgar.  Before he is admitted to Hrothgar, he is challenged by Wulfgar, a retainer of the king.  It turns out that the king knows of Beowulf and knew his father, whom he once entertained when Ecgtheow took it on the lam from Geatland.  Hrothgar helped him resolve a feud.  He figures that Beowulf has come to help him in return, and hopes he proves a great warrior who can defeat Grendel.

 

I have lots of questions and observations here, but first, I'd like to share some of Kennedy's translation.  When I have performed some of the poem aloud, I generally start with a ten line (or so) section, in which Grendel first attacks Heorot.  I then offer Kennedy's translation to give a sense of the alliteration:

 

"Then at the nightfall the fiend drew near

where the timbered mead-hall towered on high,

to spy how the Danes fared after the feast.

Within the wine-hall he found the warriors

fast in slumber, forgetting grief,

forgetting the woe of the world of men.

Grim and greedy the gruesome monster

fierce and furious, launched attack,

slew thirty spearmen asleep in the hall,

sped away gloating, gripping the spoil,

dragging the dead men home to his den.

Then in the dawn with the coming of daybreak

the war-might of Grendel was widely known.

Mirth was stilled by the sound of weeping;

the wail of the mourner awoke with day."

 

Grendel is an interesting character -- he is the antithesis of Hrothgar.  Where Hrothgar built the hall for celebration, and camaraderie, Grendel uses it for destruction, causing the group to splinter.  Hrothgar is still king, but he can only hold sway in his hall during the day.  When night comes, Grendel takes over, and he is an outcast, a "fierce lone-goer" as Kennedy calls him.  Anglo-Saxon society is about the group and group and family loyalty -- a loner, or an outcast, is anathema to that society. 

We get hints here, and later, that Heorot will be destroyed -- not by Grendel.  He cannot destroy the hall.  Ironically, it will be destroyed by fire, some 10-15 years down the road, when a feud breaks out between Hrothgar and his son-in-law (the marriage hasn't yet taken place).  It is men who will destroy Heorot, when monsters could not, and Beowulf's actions save the hall, but only for a short time.

When we are introduced to Beowulf, there is little sense of the story motif of the "unpromising youngster."  Later, we'll find that Hygelac didn't want Beowulf to go, and there is some sense that Unferth's insult that Beowulf isn't that great points to some version of the story in which the hero had a less than glorious past, even though he proves himself here.

As we're reading, let's look at Beowulf and how he presents himself.  He is a young man full of confidence, apparently very strong, but largely untested.  He shows the loyalty suitable for a young man who is a thane to another. We'll see statements of that loyalty towards Hygelac later, but here we see his loyalty towards Hrothgar, a man who had shown his father, Ecgtheow, generosity. 

Once last note here from me -- Beowulf's name is puzzling.  As you may have noticed, all of Hrothgar's blood relatives have names beginning with H.  This was customary for this society (and for Anglo-Saxon society) for sons to have a name that alliterated with their dad.  Beowulf's name does not alliterate with Ecgtheow (we'd need an initial vowel).  This has led some to posit that the figure of Beowulf (Bee wolf = Bear) is a folklore figure who fights a water monster, who is grafted onto this story of Hrothgar and his hall. 

As you're reading this -- I'm stopping just before the Unferth challenge (the so-called "Breca episode") for this first week's reading -- please share  your observations and puzzlements -- this is a very tightly wound work, whose original audience could get all the references, but which references are often lost on us.  It's what makes the poem, along with the powerful beat of the alliteration, that really grabs me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 


 


MissElinorDashwood wrote:

I am really enjoying reading this!  It is a lot easier than I thought it would be (still challenging, but not impossible!) 

I did wonder about the attacks of Grendel.  At one part of the story it makes it sound as if the attacks only happen in Heorot at night, so the men all avoid the mead hall after dark (Lines 138-146).  But then it seems like he attacks randomly "lurked and struck young and old alike, in perpetual night held the misty moors.  Men do not know whither such whispering demons wander about."(160-163).

Am I misinterpreting something?

 


 

I think that Grendel does only come out at night -- there is no evidence of him during the day.  But as the Mead Hall, especially at night, symbolizes the community together (during the day they're doing various tasks), by holding the hall, he has smashed the community.

 

bdNM

 

 

I've got hold of a library copy of Andy Orchard's A Critical Companion to 'Beowulf', and on pp. 30-32, referencing The Letters of Alexander [the Great] to Aristotle, there's the sea-monster story, which I'll post in the translation since I have no idea if/how Anglo-Saxon script is possible to type here (a pity, since it's so pretty to look at).

 

So, here, gathered from portions of pages and put together by me (hopefully, that's okay), is the part of the story dealing with the sea monsters:

 

And when my troop was heartened and calmed by this, we went ahead on the route we had taken before, and it was not long until we came to a certain river in the wilderness.  On the river-bank there stood reeds and pines, and silver-fir trees of huge size and stature grew and flourished on the cliff-edge.

 

[And here, I include the Roman version of events -- the above is Anglo-Saxon]

 

After that event had made the army more settled, I continued on the journey we had begun.  Not far away in the desert there appeared to me a river, the banks of which were covered by reeds sixty feet high, surpassing in their girth the trunks of pines or silver-firs, and the Indians used that material to construct buildings.

 

[Back to Anglo-Saxon now]

 

Then we went forth along the bank of the river, at the eighth hour of the day.  Then we came to a village, built in the middle of the river on an island.  The village was built and constructed from the reeds and trees that grew on the river-bank, and which we have written about and described already.  When we looked into the village we saw dwelling in it about a few half-naked people.  But as soon as they themselves saw us they hid themselves furtively in their houses.  I wanted to catch sight of these men, to find out about clean fresh water.  After we had waited a long time and none of them would emerge, I ordered a few arrows to be shot into the village, so that if they would not come out to us voluntarily, they should of necessity, through fear of battle.  Then they were still more greatly afraid, and hid themselves more securely.  Then I ordered two hundred of my thegns from the Greek army to arm themselves with light weapons and to go over to the village by swimming, and they swam over across the river to that island.  And when they had swum about a quarter of the river, something terrible happened to them.  There appeared a multitude of water-monsters, larger and more terrible in appearance than the elephants, who dragged the men through the watery waves down to the river bottom, and tore them to bloody pieces with their mouths, and snatched them all away so that none of us knew where any of them had gone.  Then I was very angry with my guides, who had led us into such danger.  I ordered that one hundred and fifty of them be shoved into the river, and as soon as they were in [the water], the water-monsters were ready, and dragged them away just as they had done with the others, and the water-monsters seethed up in the river as thick as ants, they were so innumerable.  Then I ordered the trumpets to be sounded, and the army to head off.

 

According to Orchard, pp. 31-32:

 

"The Latin source makes it clear that this 'multitude of water-monsters (nicra mengeo) is in fact a herd of hippopotomai, whose actions, moreover, are described in rather less dramatic terms..." [I provide the English version here]:

 

hippopotami, that had been emersed in the deep currents of the waters, appeared, snatched the men in their mouths and took them off in a cruel punishment while we wept.

 

He points out that the Anglo-Saxons were more imaginative in their version; "the water-monsters 'dragged them away just as they had the others', while the  Latin simply notes that the hippopotami 'dealt out to them their just deserts'..."

 

There's more, but I'll post it where its parallel belongs, later in the story.  I hope this helps.

 

Redcatlady

 

 

Reader-Moderator
bdNM
Posts: 470
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

Wow.  One of the letters of Alexander to Aristotle (it must be this one) is grouped with Beowulf in the Cotton Vitellius A.XV ms.  I'm not sure about these letters.  The Western European scholarly community in the medieval period would only know Latin, and so this must be a Latin translation of the Greek, if the letter is an authentic one -- Alexander seeing an hippopotamus on his journeys to the East.  Even if it is not authentic, but a Latin creation or a later Greek creation, they would know what a hippo was.  The Anglo-Saxons would not likely know what such a beast was.  I've read that Grendel comes from a tradition of water monsters in Germanic literature who is probably closer to what we might call an ogre (cf. Shrek), a big hulking creature of humanoid appearance.  And there are stories in the folk tradition of a hero (type) called the "Bear's Son" taking on such a water monster (a nicor, as Kennedy calls them).  As Beowulf may be a kenning of "Bear," this is in keeping with that tradition, though the Beowulf author has chosen to view that story in terms of community and Christianity, so that Grendel is not just a monster, but a demon, the son of Cain.  Thanks for the posting.  -- you can see more of a translation of the Alexander letter at http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf2.htm
Redcatlady wrote:

 


 

 

I've got hold of a library copy of Andy Orchard's A Critical Companion to 'Beowulf', and on pp. 30-32, referencing The Letters of Alexander [the Great] to Aristotle, there's the sea-monster story, which I'll post in the translation since I have no idea if/how Anglo-Saxon script is possible to type here (a pity, since it's so pretty to look at).

 

So, here, gathered from portions of pages and put together by me (hopefully, that's okay), is the part of the story dealing with the sea monsters:

 

And when my troop was heartened and calmed by this, we went ahead on the route we had taken before, and it was not long until we came to a certain river in the wilderness.  On the river-bank there stood reeds and pines, and silver-fir trees of huge size and stature grew and flourished on the cliff-edge.

 

[And here, I include the Roman version of events -- the above is Anglo-Saxon]

 

After that event had made the army more settled, I continued on the journey we had begun.  Not far away in the desert there appeared to me a river, the banks of which were covered by reeds sixty feet high, surpassing in their girth the trunks of pines or silver-firs, and the Indians used that material to construct buildings.

 

[Back to Anglo-Saxon now]

 

Then we went forth along the bank of the river, at the eighth hour of the day.  Then we came to a village, built in the middle of the river on an island.  The village was built and constructed from the reeds and trees that grew on the river-bank, and which we have written about and described already.  When we looked into the village we saw dwelling in it about a few half-naked people.  But as soon as they themselves saw us they hid themselves furtively in their houses.  I wanted to catch sight of these men, to find out about clean fresh water.  After we had waited a long time and none of them would emerge, I ordered a few arrows to be shot into the village, so that if they would not come out to us voluntarily, they should of necessity, through fear of battle.  Then they were still more greatly afraid, and hid themselves more securely.  Then I ordered two hundred of my thegns from the Greek army to arm themselves with light weapons and to go over to the village by swimming, and they swam over across the river to that island.  And when they had swum about a quarter of the river, something terrible happened to them.  There appeared a multitude of water-monsters, larger and more terrible in appearance than the elephants, who dragged the men through the watery waves down to the river bottom, and tore them to bloody pieces with their mouths, and snatched them all away so that none of us knew where any of them had gone.  Then I was very angry with my guides, who had led us into such danger.  I ordered that one hundred and fifty of them be shoved into the river, and as soon as they were in [the water], the water-monsters were ready, and dragged them away just as they had done with the others, and the water-monsters seethed up in the river as thick as ants, they were so innumerable.  Then I ordered the trumpets to be sounded, and the army to head off.

 

According to Orchard, pp. 31-32:

 

"The Latin source makes it clear that this 'multitude of water-monsters (nicra mengeo) is in fact a herd of hippopotomai, whose actions, moreover, are described in rather less dramatic terms..." [I provide the English version here]:

 

hippopotami, that had been emersed in the deep currents of the waters, appeared, snatched the men in their mouths and took them off in a cruel punishment while we wept.

 

He points out that the Anglo-Saxons were more imaginative in their version; "the water-monsters 'dragged them away just as they had the others', while the  Latin simply notes that the hippopotami 'dealt out to them their just deserts'..."

 

There's more, but I'll post it where its parallel belongs, later in the story.  I hope this helps.

 

Redcatlady

 

 


 

Dignity, always dignity.
Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 


bdNM wrote:
Wow.  One of the letters of Alexander to Aristotle (it must be this one) is grouped with Beowulf in the Cotton Vitellius A.XV ms.  I'm not sure about these letters.  The Western European scholarly community in the medieval period would only know Latin, and so this must be a Latin translation of the Greek, if the letter is an authentic one -- Alexander seeing an hippopotamus on his journeys to the East.  Even if it is not authentic, but a Latin creation or a later Greek creation, they would know what a hippo was.  The Anglo-Saxons would not likely know what such a beast was.  I've read that Grendel comes from a tradition of water monsters in Germanic literature who is probably closer to what we might call an ogre (cf. Shrek), a big hulking creature of humanoid appearance.  And there are stories in the folk tradition of a hero (type) called the "Bear's Son" taking on such a water monster (a nicor, as Kennedy calls them).  As Beowulf may be a kenning of "Bear," this is in keeping with that tradition, though the Beowulf author has chosen to view that story in terms of community and Christianity, so that Grendel is not just a monster, but a demon, the son of Cain.  Thanks for the posting.  -- you can see more of a translation of the Alexander letter at http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf2.htm


A year or two back, I was able to get a copy of The McNeese Review, Volume XXXIII, 1990-1994.  One of the articles was "Was Grendel a Bigfoot?", by Edwin Duncan (pp. 91-99).  Duncan hops up and down the poem, so I'll have to mention him on all the post sites -- unless, of course, you think this deserves its own message -- but Grendel as the son of Cain is also mentioned on p. 96:
"To the Anglo-Saxons, who knew little or nothing of apes, gorillas, or cave men, the same creature would have been interpreted according to the prevailing beliefs of the time, and these would obviously differ from those we hold now.  As an early Christian, the Beowulf poet explained Grendel as a descendant of Cain (102-14), i.e. one of the monster-race begat by Cain after God cursed him for the slaying of Abel.  As such, he would not have been just another creature of the wilderness like the bear and the boar, but a part of the devil's brood, an personification of evil and darkness.  This interpretation of his place in the greater scheme of things would account for such references to him in Beowulf as ellorgast (807), alien spirit; [Anglo-Saxon that I can't type] (788), hell-slave; Godes andsaca (1682), God's adversary; and feond on helle (101), fiend from hell.  Besides these demonic terms, however, several Old English words applied to Grendel are ones normally reserved for man.  As in modern reports of bigfeet these terms suggest some ambiguity in classification:  wer (105), man; rinc (720), man or warrior; hilderinc (986), warrior; secg (1379), man and even man when one counts the man in [more words I can't type] (1353), any other man.
Two other designations for Grendel in Beowulf indicate his association with the old Germanic giant tradition, and both qualify as synonyms for bigfoot.  One is eoten, jotunn in Old Norse, which is almost translated as 'giant' because it normally refers to superhuman-sized creatures.  Thus, eoten might well have been an appropriate term for a seven-foot-plus walker of the moors.  The second designation is [can't type it], which apparently referred to a hairy, man-like beast of the wilderness and is used for Grendel in Beowulf (426).  According to [Lotte] Motz, ... is associated with mental deficiency and 'generally designated the savage, simple-minded ogre who invariably fell before the wit and cunning of a human hero.'  This Old English term, possibly more than any other, suggests the qualities normally associated with the bigfoot, especially when one considers its use in a curious, unexplained passage from the Old English Maxims II [from The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, edited by Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie]:
The ... must live on the fen, alone in the land."
I would go on, but I'd end up leaving blanks here, which wouldn't be any help.  So, what do you think?  What's your gut reaction to reading this?  Is it plausible?  Ridiculous?  Let me know.
Redcatlady

 

 

 

 

Reader-Moderator
bdNM
Posts: 470
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

[ Edited ]

Thanks, Redcatlady, for the info.  As I understand it, the water monster, inhabiting marsh lands or waterfalls, was a feature in Germanic folklore, and I'm not sure what image the Beowulf poet has in mind.  I tend to think of Grendel as something like a 7 foot loping monster, who would look probably pretty close to my images of Bigfoot or the Yeti, though I think of them as hairier than Grendel.  Many folklores have monster figures of one sort or another that the hero (often an unprepossessing hero, like Jack in "Jack and the Beanstalk") manages to defeat after others have tried and failed.  What that creature means in those stories is not clear to me, other than some figure that stands as a crystalization of our fears, which we must face -- we all have demons that we must face.  For the Beowulf poet, Grendel, I think, represents a couple of things.  He is the anti-Hrothgar, and so serves the same function as the dragon later in the story -- where the king as ring-giver, should be generous and kindly to his followers, the leader of a great band, here we have someone who is not generous but greedy (greedy for human flesh), who is not part of a band, but a figure who stands alone (this is something anathema to the Anglo-Saxon ethos -- cf. the poem, "The Wanderer" -- if your band is gone, and you are a person alone, you are nothing -- you are defined in terms of the group).  He travels at night, a troubling time for humans who want to live in the light.  And, as a Christian author, the poet also sees Grendel as the opposite of Christian values, which are merged somewhat with the Anglo-Saxon warrior ethos. 

For me, one of the most powerful themes in the poem is the futility (in the cosmic scheme) of human efforts.  Beowulf is heroic and does save Heorot, but Heorot is doomed.  It will be burned to the ground within ten or so years in a civil strife between Hrothgar and his son-in-law.  In that sense, the saving of Heorot is something futile -- the hall built to last didn't last, and it was not some monster that destroyed it but men.  There is also a melancholy about this work (and about a lot of Anglo-Saxon poetry) -- things of this world don't last, but we are touched by them and feel their loss.  And so the wanderer in the poem of the same name is lost without those things in society that defined him.  Even for a Christian Anglo-Saxon, who might realize that, in the cosmic scheme, he was saved and there was something greater beyond, there was still pain in the loss of those things in the here and now.  And for the Beowulf poet, we have an added melancholy -- he is likely a monk, or someone of deep faith in Christianity -- he looks lovingly at the old stories that he loved, but that society is ending, as it should (I think that's one of the points of the poem), but there is still this overwhelming sense of something lost.

Sorry, I'm rambling, and have gone far past your reference, for which, again, a great thanks.

Dignity, always dignity.
Distinguished Bibliophile
Peppermill
Posts: 6,768
Registered: ‎04-04-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

[ Edited ]

Redcatlady and Bernard -- thank you for the learned discussion I am having fun trying to follow!

 

Where my stream of consciousness went when reading of the water monsters was to Book 21 of The Iliadwhich Fitzgerald calls "The Clash of Man and River" and Ian Johnston labels "Achilles Fights the River.

Clearly, there are significant differences, but the sense of the interaction of nature, gods, demons, and man in a watery setting I think is what struck me.

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
Correspondent
rbehr
Posts: 354
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

Thanks to all of you for the literary insights you've noted in Beowulf.  I read these lines quickly and missed some of the points you've brought up about Grendel and other "water monsters".  I'm going to go back and reread these lines and go slower in the remainder of the book. 

 

 


Peppermill wrote:

Redcatlady and Bernard -- thank you for the learned discussion I am having fun trying to follow!

 

Where my stream of consciousness went when reading of the water monsters was to Book 21 of The Iliadwhich Fitzgerald calls "The Clash of Man and River" and Ian Johnston labels "Achilles Fights the River.

Clearly, there are significant differences, but the sense of the interaction of nature, gods, demons, and man in a watery setting I think is what struck me.


 

 

Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 


Redcatlady wrote:

 


bdNM wrote:
Wow.  One of the letters of Alexander to Aristotle (it must be this one) is grouped with Beowulf in the Cotton Vitellius A.XV ms.  I'm not sure about these letters.  The Western European scholarly community in the medieval period would only know Latin, and so this must be a Latin translation of the Greek, if the letter is an authentic one -- Alexander seeing an hippopotamus on his journeys to the East.  Even if it is not authentic, but a Latin creation or a later Greek creation, they would know what a hippo was.  The Anglo-Saxons would not likely know what such a beast was.  I've read that Grendel comes from a tradition of water monsters in Germanic literature who is probably closer to what we might call an ogre (cf. Shrek), a big hulking creature of humanoid appearance.  And there are stories in the folk tradition of a hero (type) called the "Bear's Son" taking on such a water monster (a nicor, as Kennedy calls them).  As Beowulf may be a kenning of "Bear," this is in keeping with that tradition, though the Beowulf author has chosen to view that story in terms of community and Christianity, so that Grendel is not just a monster, but a demon, the son of Cain.  Thanks for the posting.  -- you can see more of a translation of the Alexander letter at http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf2.htm


A year or two back, I was able to get a copy of The McNeese Review, Volume XXXIII, 1990-1994.  One of the articles was "Was Grendel a Bigfoot?", by Edwin Duncan (pp. 91-99).  Duncan hops up and down the poem, so I'll have to mention him on all the post sites -- unless, of course, you think this deserves its own message -- but Grendel as the son of Cain is also mentioned on p. 96:
"To the Anglo-Saxons, who knew little or nothing of apes, gorillas, or cave men, the same creature would have been interpreted according to the prevailing beliefs of the time, and these would obviously differ from those we hold now.  As an early Christian, the Beowulf poet explained Grendel as a descendant of Cain (102-14), i.e. one of the monster-race begat by Cain after God cursed him for the slaying of Abel.  As such, he would not have been just another creature of the wilderness like the bear and the boar, but a part of the devil's brood, an personification of evil and darkness.  This interpretation of his place in the greater scheme of things would account for such references to him in Beowulf as ellorgast (807), alien spirit; helle hæfton (788), hell-slave; Godes andsaca (1682), God's adversary; and feond on helle (101), fiend from hell.  Besides these demonic terms, however, several Old English words applied to Grendel are ones normally reserved for man.  As in modern reports of bigfeet these terms suggest some ambiguity in classification:  wer (105), man; rinc (720), man or warrior; hilderinc (986), warrior; secg (1379), man and even man when one counts the man in ænig man oðer  (1353), any other man.
Two other designations for Grendel in Beowulf indicate his association with the old Germanic giant tradition, and both qualify as synonyms for bigfoot.  One is eoten, jotunn in Old Norse, which is almost translated as 'giant' because it normally refers to superhuman-sized creatures.  Thus, eotenþyrs might well have been an appropriate term for a seven-foot-plus walker of the moors.  The second designation is , which apparently referred to a hairy, man-like beast of the wilderness and is used for Grendel in Beowulf (426).  According to [Lotte] Motz, þyrs is associated with mental deficiency and 'generally designated the savage, simple-minded ogre who invariably fell before the wit and cunning of a human hero.'  This Old English term, possibly more than any other, suggests the qualities normally associated with the bigfoot, especially when one considers its use in a curious, unexplained passage from the Old English Maxims II [from The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, edited by Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie]:
The þyrs must live on the fen, alone in the land."
So, what do you think?  What's your gut reaction to reading this?  Is it plausible?  Ridiculous?  Let me know.
Redcatlady

 

 

 

 


 

 

Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 


Redcatlady wrote:

 


Redcatlady wrote:

 


bdNM wrote:
Wow.  One of the letters of Alexander to Aristotle (it must be this one) is grouped with Beowulf in the Cotton Vitellius A.XV ms.  I'm not sure about these letters.  The Western European scholarly community in the medieval period would only know Latin, and so this must be a Latin translation of the Greek, if the letter is an authentic one -- Alexander seeing an hippopotamus on his journeys to the East.  Even if it is not authentic, but a Latin creation or a later Greek creation, they would know what a hippo was.  The Anglo-Saxons would not likely know what such a beast was.  I've read that Grendel comes from a tradition of water monsters in Germanic literature who is probably closer to what we might call an ogre (cf. Shrek), a big hulking creature of humanoid appearance.  And there are stories in the folk tradition of a hero (type) called the "Bear's Son" taking on such a water monster (a nicor, as Kennedy calls them).  As Beowulf may be a kenning of "Bear," this is in keeping with that tradition, though the Beowulf author has chosen to view that story in terms of community and Christianity, so that Grendel is not just a monster, but a demon, the son of Cain.  Thanks for the posting.  -- you can see more of a translation of the Alexander letter at http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf2.htm


A year or two back, I was able to get a copy of The McNeese Review, Volume XXXIII, 1990-1994.  One of the articles was "Was Grendel a Bigfoot?", by Edwin Duncan (pp. 91-99).  Duncan hops up and down the poem, so I'll have to mention him on all the post sites -- unless, of course, you think this deserves its own message -- but Grendel as the son of Cain is also mentioned on p. 96:
"To the Anglo-Saxons, who knew little or nothing of apes, gorillas, or cave men, the same creature would have been interpreted according to the prevailing beliefs of the time, and these would obviously differ from those we hold now.  As an early Christian, the Beowulf poet explained Grendel as a descendant of Cain (102-14), i.e. one of the monster-race begat by Cain after God cursed him for the slaying of Abel.  As such, he would not have been just another creature of the wilderness like the bear and the boar, but a part of the devil's brood, an personification of evil and darkness.  This interpretation of his place in the greater scheme of things would account for such references to him in Beowulf as ellorgast (807), alien spirit; helle hæfton (788), hell-slave; Godes andsaca (1682), God's adversary; and feond on helle (101), fiend from hell.  Besides these demonic terms, however, several Old English words applied to Grendel are ones normally reserved for man.  As in modern reports of bigfeet these terms suggest some ambiguity in classification:  wer (105), man; rinc (720), man or warrior; hilderinc (986), warrior; secg (1379), man and even man when one counts the man in ænig man oðer  (1353), any other man.
Two other designations for Grendel in Beowulf indicate his association with the old Germanic giant tradition, and both qualify as synonyms for bigfoot.  One is eoten, jotunn in Old Norse, which is almost translated as 'giant' because it normally refers to superhuman-sized creatures.  Thus, eoten might well have been an appropriate term for a seven-foot-plus walker of the moors.  The second designation is , which apparently referred to a hairy, man-like beast of the wilderness and is used for Grendel in Beowulf (426).  According to [Lotte] Motz, þyrs is associated with mental deficiency and 'generally designated the savage, simple-minded ogre who invariably fell before the wit and cunning of a human hero.'  This Old English term, possibly more than any other, suggests the qualities normally associated with the bigfoot, especially when one considers its use in a curious, unexplained passage from the Old English Maxims II [from The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, edited by Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie]:
The þyrs must live on the fen, alone in the land."
So, what do you think?  What's your gut reaction to reading this?  Is it plausible?  Ridiculous?  Let me know.
Redcatlady

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 

rbehr wrote:

Thanks to all of you for the literary insights you've noted in Beowulf.  I read these lines quickly and missed some of the points you've brought up about Grendel and other "water monsters".  I'm going to go back and reread these lines and go slower in the remainder of the book. 

 

 


Peppermill wrote:

Redcatlady and Bernard -- thank you for the learned discussion I am having fun trying to follow!

 

Where my stream of consciousness went when reading of the water monsters was to Book 21 of The Iliadwhich Fitzgerald calls "The Clash of Man and River" and Ian Johnston labels "Achilles Fights the River.

Clearly, there are significant differences, but the sense of the interaction of nature, gods, demons, and man in a watery setting I think is what struck me.


 In Chapter 11 of John Grigsby's Beowulf and Grendel -- pp. 123-37 -- Grendel's 12-year animosity toward Hrothgar can be summed up this way:  Hrothgar didn't die after his first year of rule, like a good little Vanir-era king, so Grendel had to come get him:

 

J.G. Frazler's The Golden Bough is cited on p. 135:

 

"In this sacred grove [of Diana Nemorensis or 'Diana of the Wood', a woodland lake at Nemi] there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl [my italics].  In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy.  He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead.  Such was the rule of the sanctuary.  A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office until he was himself slain by [one] stronger or a craftier...

 

Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken.  Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughss.  Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis)."

 

Grigsby links this to the bog men of Denmark, each a probable king killed at midwinter by their brothers, with the consent of the embodiment of the fertility goddess. Before each yearly slaying, she ritually washed in the waters of the grove, which in turn paved the way for her to accept the murderer as the new year's king -- who would then, in turn, meet the identical fate the following midwinter.

 

According to Grigsby, Grendel is the Danish answer to the "King of the Wood."  For 12 years, Grendel stalks the mead-benches unchallenged until Beowulf dares take up the challenge, killing him and having to "suffer the consequences -- a tryst with the lake goddess."  Even Beowulf itself alludes to this:

 

"Grendel's mother herself, a monstrous ogress ... had been doomed to dwell in dread waters, in the chilling currents, because of that blow whereby Cain became the killer of his brother."  (Beowulf, 1258-65; My [Grigsby's] italics.)

 

It wasn't any connection to Cain that made them the kin of the "brother-slayer".  It was the Norse Vanir regicidal/fratricidal cycle of ritual royal slaying -- haulted only when Hrothgar decided to end the cycle by establishing the  Skjolding/Scylding dynasty.  Ironically, though Beowulf itself doesn't identify the season as midwinter, Norse sources  apparently do.  

 

Research at your leisure.

 

Redcatlady

 

 

 

Frequent Contributor
Redcatlady
Posts: 260
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Beowulf, ll. 1-500

 

Redcatlady wrote:

 

rbehr wrote:

Thanks to all of you for the literary insights you've noted in Beowulf.  I read these lines quickly and missed some of the points you've brought up about Grendel and other "water monsters".  I'm going to go back and reread these lines and go slower in the remainder of the book. 

 

 


Peppermill wrote:

Redcatlady and Bernard -- thank you for the learned discussion I am having fun trying to follow!

 

Where my stream of consciousness went when reading of the water monsters was to Book 21 of The Iliadwhich Fitzgerald calls "The Clash of Man and River" and Ian Johnston labels "Achilles Fights the River.

Clearly, there are significant differences, but the sense of the interaction of nature, gods, demons, and man in a watery setting I think is what struck me.


 In Chapter 11 of John Grigsby's Beowulf and Grendel -- pp. 123-37 -- Grendel's 12-year animosity toward Hrothgar can be summed up this way:  Hrothgar didn't die after his first year of rule, like a good little Vanir-era king, so Grendel had to come get him:

 

J.G. Frazler's The Golden Bough is cited on p. 135:

 

"In this sacred grove [of Diana Nemorensis or 'Diana of the Wood', a woodland lake at Nemi] there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl [my italics].  In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy.  He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead.  Such was the rule of the sanctuary.  A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office until he was himself slain by [one] stronger or a craftier...

 

Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken.  Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughss.  Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis)."

 

Grigsby links this to the bog men of Denmark, each a probable king killed at midwinter by their brothers, with the consent of the embodiment of the fertility goddess. Before each yearly slaying, she ritually washed in the waters of the grove, which in turn paved the way for her to accept the murderer as the new year's king -- who would then, in turn, meet the identical fate the following midwinter.

 

According to Grigsby, Grendel is the Danish answer to the "King of the Wood."  For 12 years, Grendel stalks the mead-benches unchallenged until Beowulf dares take up the challenge, killing him and having to "suffer the consequences -- a tryst with the lake goddess."  Even Beowulf itself alludes to this:

 

"Grendel's mother herself, a monstrous ogress ... had been doomed to dwell in dread waters, in the chilling currents, because of that blow whereby Cain became the killer of his brother."  (Beowulf, 1258-65; My [Grigsby's] italics.)

 

It wasn't any connection to Cain that made them the kin of the "brother-slayer".  It was the Norse Vanir regicidal/fratricidal cycle of ritual royal slaying -- haulted only when Hrothgar decided to end the cycle by establishing the  Skjolding/Scylding dynasty.  Ironically, though Beowulf itself doesn't identify the season as midwinter, Norse sources  apparently do.  

 

Research at your leisure.

 

Redcatlady

 

 

 

 

 

I found this interesting link:

 

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/studies_in_philology/v104/104.2drout.pdf

 

Hope it takes.

 

Redcatlady