III

GRENDEL THE MURDERER

          When the sun was sunken, he set out to visit
          The lofty hall-building, how the Ring-Danes had used it
          For beds and benches when the banquet was over.
          Then he found there reposing many a noble
5       Asleep after supper; sorrow the heroes,
          Misery knew not. The monster of evil
          Greedy and cruel tarried but little,
          Fell and frantic, and forced from their slumbers
          Thirty of thanemen; thence he departed
10      Leaping and laughing, his lair to return to,
          With surfeit of slaughter sallying homeward.
          In the dusk of the dawning, as the day was just breaking,
          Was Grendel's prowess revealed to the warriors:
          Then, his meal-taking finished, a moan was uplifted,
15      Morning-cry mighty. The man-ruler famous,
          The long-worthy atheling, sat very woful,
          Suffered great sorrow, sighed for his liegemen,
          When they had seen the track of the hateful pursuer,
          The spirit accursèd: too crushing that sorrow,
20      Too loathsome and lasting. Not longer he tarried,
          But one night after continued his slaughter
          Shameless and shocking, shrinking but little
          From malice and murder; they mastered him fully.
          He was easy to find then who otherwhere looked for
35      A pleasanter place of repose in the lodges,
          A bed in the bowers. Then was brought to his notice
          Told him truly by token apparent
          The hall-thane's hatred: he held himself after
          Further and faster who the foeman did baffle.
30      So ruled he and strongly strove against justice
          Lone against all men, till empty uptowered
          The choicest of houses. Long was the season:
          Twelve-winters' time torture suffered
          The friend of the Scyldings, every affliction,
35      Endless agony; hence it after became
          Certainly known to the children of men
          Sadly in measures, that long against Hrothgar
          Grendel struggled:--his grudges he cherished,
          Murderous malice, many a winter,
40      Strife unremitting, and peacefully wished he
          Life-woe to lift from no liegeman at all of
          The men of the Dane-folk, for money to settle,
          No counsellor needed count for a moment
          On handsome amends at the hands of the murderer;
45      The monster of evil fiercely did harass,
          The ill-planning death-shade, both elder and younger,
          Trapping and tricking them. He trod every night then
          The mist-covered moor-fens; men do not know where
          Witches and wizards wander and ramble.
50      So the foe of mankind many of evils
          Grievous injuries, often accomplished,
          Horrible hermit; Heort he frequented,
          Gem-bedecked palace, when night-shades had fallen
          (Since God did oppose him, not the throne could he touch,
55      The light-flashing jewel, love of Him knew not).
          'Twas a fearful affliction to the friend of the Scyldings
          Soul-crushing sorrow. Not seldom in private
          Sat the king in his council; conference held they
          What the braves should determine 'gainst terrors unlooked for.
60      At the shrines of their idols often they promised
          Gifts and offerings, earnestly prayed they
          The devil from hell would help them to lighten
          Their people's oppression. Such practice they used then,
          Hope of the heathen; hell they remembered
65      In innermost spirit, God they knew not,
          Judge of their actions, All-wielding Ruler,
          No praise could they give the Guardian of Heaven,
          The Wielder of Glory. Woe will be his who
          Through furious hatred his spirit shall drive to
70      The clutch of the fire, no comfort shall look for,
          Wax no wiser; well for the man who,
          Living his life-days, his Lord may face
          And find defence in his Father's embrace!

Footnotes

  1. 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. The role of the king as a medium between the gods and society is an ancient one and has precedent in both Christian monarchies and pre-Christian pagan kingdoms.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In the wake of a killing, Scandinavian societies forestalled vengeance by using money to settle the death. Sometimes translated as “paying blood-gold,” this practice prevented endless cycles of honor killings to avenge family members. The payments financially compensated the relatives of the killed. Grendel's refusal to conform to such customs of the land is further evidence of his evil and inhuman nature.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. From the Beowulf poet's perspective, Grendel and his mother are not evil for warring with men. After all, men fight each other all the time. Rather Grendel, his mother, and other monsters are evil for warring with God. Murdering men is the surest way to attract God's attention.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  4. At a loss for what to do, the Danes turn to their pagan 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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  5. 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
  6. 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 have no time to grieve, Grendel's relentless attacks create an atmosphere of despair and helplessness around Hrothgar's Hall. The tension and anxiety build as the audience awaits the arrival of a champion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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 thanemen, or soldiers sworn to the service of their king, from the hall and take them back to his lair shows us that this evil creature has strength beyond normal human capacities. Details like this help the poet create an atmosphere of dread and terror.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor