Chapter II

AS SOON AS night had come, Grendel set out to explore the lofty abode and to mark how the Ring-Danes had gone to rest within it after their revelry was done. He found the regal band sleeping inside after the feast, unaware of woe or human hardship. That heathen wight was right ready: fierce and reckless, he snatched thirty thanes from their slumber, then sped homeward, carrying his spoils and roaring over his prey as he sought his lair.

At dawn, the break of day, Grendel's deeds of war were made plain to men; thus, so soon after the festivities, a voice of wailing was lifted up, and in the morning was heard a great cry. The illustrious ruler, the excellent prince, sat without mirth; he wrestled with woe—the loss of his thanes, once they traced the monster's trail, brought him grief—this contest was cruel, long, and loathsome. It was a time not longer than one night before the beast committed more murders, thinking nothing of this atrocity; such was the guilt in which he was steeped. It was easy to find men who sought rest at night in remote rooms, making their beds among the hall's bowers, once the conspicuous proof of this hell-thane's malice was made manifest. Whosoever escaped the fiend kept at a distance and put up his guard.

So he reigned in terror and raged nefariously against one and all until that majestic building stood empty, and it remained long in this state. Twelve years did the Scyldings' sovereign bear this trouble, having many woes and unending travails. Thus in time the tidings became well-known among the tribes of men through ballads of lament: how unceasing was Grendel's harassment of Hrothgar and what hate he bore him, and what murder and massacre came in the many seasons of unremittant strife. He would brook no parley with any earls of the Daneland, would make no pact of peace, nor come to agreement on the blood-gold—nor did any councilman expect fitting payment for the feud from his fiendish hands. Still did the evil one, the dark death-shadow, lie in wait for old and young alike, prowling about and lurking at night on the misty moors: men know not where the haunts of these hell-wizards are.

Many were the horrors that this man-hater, this solitary prowler, often wrought—severe wrongs. He ruled Heorot, that richly decorated hall, on dark nights, but never could he approach the throne sacred to God—he was the outcast of the Lord.

The sorrow of the Scyldings' friend was sore and heart-breaking. Many times did the realm gather in council, seeking out how best the stout-hearted men could try their hand against the horrific menace. Betimes at heathen shrines they made sacrifice, asking with rites that the slayer of souls would afford them relief against their people's great pain. Thus was their custom, heathen faith; 'twas of Hell they thought in their imaginings. They knew not the Almighty, the Arbiter of actions, the mighty Lord, nor did they pay mind to Heaven's Crown, the Wielder of Wonder.

Woe to he who in wretched adversity plunges his soul in the fiery bosom; he has no consolation, nor any place to turn. But it goes well with him who may draw near to his Lord after the day of death, finding friendship in the Father's arms!

Footnotes

  1. At a loss for what to do, the Danes turn to their heathen gods for help. The poet not only reminds his audience that the Danes did not know the Christian God, but he also condemns the practice by saying that turning to false gods will offer no consolation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In this passage, the poet tells us that Grendel rules Heorot through terror but is unable to kill Hrothgar or approach the throne of the mead-hall. The poet indicates that Grendel is incapable of doing this because the king possesses a divine right to rule, as bestowed on him by God's grace.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A method of forestalling vengeance in Scandinavian societies, paying blood-gold was a way to avoid endless cycles of honor killings to avenge family members by financially compensating the relatives of the killed. Grendel's refusal to conform to such customs of the land further evidence his evil and inhuman nature.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. For the purposes of the story, it is important that Grendel's reign of terror lasts as long as it does. By stating that the dire situation became well-known among the Danes, Swedes, and Geats, the poet foreshadows the coming of a hero to save Hrothgar's Hall.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The loss of so many of his guard humiliates and saddens King Hrothgar, who gets no respite from the first attack because Grendel remorselessly strikes again the very next night. Since Hrothgar and his people are unable to have time to properly grieve, Grendel's relentless attacks help to provide an atmosphere of despair and helplessness around Hrothgar's Hall.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. In Grendel's first attack on Heorot, we are witness to the power, and size, of this creature. The fact that he is able to take thirty liegemen, or soldiers, from the hall and take them back to his lair shows us that this evil creature has unnatural strength beyond normal human capacities.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. While this word simply means a living being or creature, very often it is associated with evil or malice in tales of fantasy and fiction. The fact that it is associated with Grendel adds to this connotation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. From the *Beowulf* poet's perspective, Grendel and, later, his mother, are not necessarily evil because they are at war with men--after all, men fight each other all the time--but Grendel, as well as other monsters, are warring with God (with murdering men being the easiest way to get God's attention).

    — Stephen Holliday