Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Beowulf II

The second section of Beowulf has much in common with the first -- it is framed by feasts, features a fight with a monster, and has a fortuitous finale. One may, rightly, wonder at the internal repetition of the narrative pattern, and so it makes sense to ask what's different the second time around.

We're told that Grendel 'nursed a hard greivance,' though its nature is somewhat vague -- it seems to have to do with a sense the that building of Heorot and the sounds of feasts within offended Grendel, as it was previously part of his domain (though one might point out, that from the point of view of monstrous appetites, it was rather like someone building a McDonald's next door to one's house). But unlike Grendel, Grendel's mother has a very specific grievance that the Saxons and we today can all instantly recognize: revenge for the death of her son.

But there are other, perhaps less-obvious points of comparison: Grendel's mother lacks a name (though in a poetic form averse to proper names, it may not be a handicap), and her visit to Heorot is quite differently framed; despite its ferocity it is fringed with fear: "the hell-dam was in panic; desperate to get out / in mortal terror the moment she was found." She had come, it seems, not so much for revenge as to retrieve her son's arm, which had been hung as a humiliating war-trophy from the cross-beam.

Hrothgar, belatedly, tells that he has heard tales of "two such creatures," and gives Beowulf directions to the mere (!) -- one wonders why he didn't say something about it sooner. And, though the response of the hero is no less bold than before, the battle is quite a different one: it takes place unseen by comrades, and Beowulf comes disturbingly close to defeat. His eventual victory comes by using like against like; only a weapon from the age of giants can slay a giant. His faithful comrades go home, believing he has lost, and he has to go after them to announce his victory, perhaps a foreshadowing of the faithlessness his retainers will show at his final battle with the dragon. All in all, it's a bleaker, lonelier episode, one that all the rich rewards offered at the second feast, it seems, can scarcely recompense for. Even for the boast-loving Saxons, there is a sense of hubris.

19 comments:

  1. I actually have finished our assigned reading of Beowulf - I found this to be a challenging yet enjoyable read(Granted I had to keep looking up who's uncle or father was who). Now I understand the idea of reparation/revenge/honor for the fallen are quite prevalent in Saxon society of the time, however, here is where I find a disconnect - where does it stop? Grendel, apparently angry about all the merriment and happiness going on at Heorot(maybe he is bitter about not getting an invite to that party), decides to slaughter a bunch of the Danes for 12 years. That is a really long time to keep killing people. Then, Beowulf gets involved, and since Grendel apparently won't discuss matters or make monetary reparation for his killing of so many Danes, Beowulf takes Grendel's arm, in effect killing him and keeps that arm as a trophy. And we think, huzzah! it's finally over! But not so much - seeing now that Grendel's mother is pretty angry about HER kin being killed, so now she goes out to seek revenge for the death of her son. She apparently never bothers to ask for monetary reparation, but I am sure that King Hrothgar would have been more than happy to oblige, he was the ring giver and all. Plus if you think about it, things would have come full circle had that happened, because he did the same for Beowulf's father in the past. She kills another one of Hrothgar's men, which prompts them to once again go out on a hunt and in the end she is killed by Beowulf. Now, who is to say that she did not have a sister that will then be pretty angry about her kin being killed and goes out to take revenge? It seems to be a senseless circle of death.

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  2. Throughout reading this section one thing that kept returning into my mind was what the narrator had said about death. The narrator reminds us that we will all face death, just as Grendel had to face death so I wonder if this is foreshadow. If this is hinting to us what Beowulf and King Hrothgar may encounter in the future. Also listening to the audios are much help because having someone read it out-loud breaks down the words for me and I can actually visualize the words in my head.

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  3. I feel worst about the death of Grendel's mother when the lake becomes cleared of all the evil things that dwell within. It's sort of like the death of magic and the unknown in the world. It seems a far more boring place when evil is purged.

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    1. Yes, indeed. It makes me think of the final chapters of the Lord of the Rings after the fall of Sauron. Late in life, Tolkien even considered a new story, which would be set after the reign of King Aragorn. In it, young Gondorian teenage thugs were drawn to an "Orc Cult" in which they donned the armor and imitated the ways of Orcs! Perhaps for the best, it was abandoned -- the coming of the "Age of Man" is always the ending of the age of magic, whether good or evil.

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  4. I really enjoyed this read. This edition gave the readers a new perspectice on beowolf. I honestly feel some sympathy for Grendel. He was annoyed by all the noise, and all though he could have handled it better, the king also should have realized throwing party after party wasn't a good idea. I liked that the king did attempt to make peace, and Grendel should have tried, but as a reader, we also have to remember he's a monster and monsters don't think rationally, they think distructivly, but knowing he wasnt doing it just to do it, gives me a different perspecrive.

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  5. I actually felt bad for Grendal although depicted as a Monster. I don't think a party should of been held for either. I mean if you think about the moral of this story its about religion and power kind of. Now that the son and the mother mosters are dead, there is no fear of them. Kind of sad story.

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  6. As a first time reader of Beowulf, I really enjoyed the text. While I may not feel sympathy for Grendel, I do believe the reader can find something behind his mother's actions to form an understanding, if not sympathy. We discussed it briefly in class, but the fact that her son was slain and that his arm was mounted as a trophy gives her cause. It's written in the post above that the Saxon's would identify with this, which is huge considering they were the formal audience of the piece. This theme of revenge is common in writings old and new, from the past and still today. I like the tone shift that came with the arrival of Grendel's mother. I agree with what was stated above- there is more of a sense of fear that wasn't present with Grendel's attack. While this piece was challenging, I thought it was a great text.

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  7. I was able to enjoy reading Beowulf more, than when I read through it in high school. This translation of the text really paints a vivid picture in your head. In this section of the reading once again the Danes never change, when they really should. Once again they recklessly party and are attacked in the hall. One would think they would do something to make their "Great Hall" a little more impenetrable. It is hard not to feel a little bad for Grendel and his mother as they didn't choose to have such noisy neighbors, but then again eating their neighbors isn't a good response. I guess both sides had what was coming to them

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  8. I still don't think the Danes believed Grendel's mom had the same right to a death price as God beloved humans did. She's further mocked when Beowulf brings back a new trophy of her son to Heorot after killing her without remorse in her own home.
    I think the ending celebration foreshadowed Beowulf's death--that when he is an old king he should stand back and let the young Geats take down the monsters, like Hrothgar did. Could that have been Beowulf's fatal flaw? Refusing to step down, and act over his age?

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    1. The case for the "price" rests on a line in reference to Grendel, back around line 155, where the poet says that "he would never parley or make peace with any Dane /nor stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price." The original word is "Ă¾ingian" which means "to make terms for a person." So if it's noted that Grendel wouldn't do that, then it seems possible that Grendel's mother, too, could be conceived of as a creature who exists in the world in which life can be recompensed with money (as strange as that may seem to us today).

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  9. I keep getting drawn to the sense of tradition that surrounds the Geats. Take, for example, the need to spew out their whole origin and family history when they meet, or their sense of duty when it comes to facing the monsters.
    Their tradition, in the end, leads to the end of the heroic Beowulf. I can't help wondering if this says something about humanity as a whole? Perhaps we should stop living in the traditions of our families and our cultures and start anew?

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  10. I found it interesting that you pointed out Grendel's mother and her lack of a name. There is power in a name and although Beowulf manages to slay the monstrous mother, she does not go down easily. We spoke in class of how Beowulf was a man of incredible strength and it was unclear as to whether it had been previously bestowed upon him by some higher power. I found it interesting that despite his immense strength he required the magic blade to slay her, as if to signify that man alone is not strong enough to withstand an unearthly force without the aid of another.

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  11. This part of the story is rather strange to me. After Beowulf defeats Grendel, one would think that the killing would be over and Beowulf would return home. Then as Grendel's mother comes to herot, she only takes one life, along with the arm of Grendel, and returns home. One would think that out of vengeance she would go on a killing spree in Herot, but she simply scurries off with her tail between her legs. Hrogarth sends Beowulf to in turn seek revenge for Herot and defeats Grendel's mother (who you'd think due to her significance would have a name). As expected Beowulf defeats the beast, takes Grendel's head as a souvenir, and returns back to herot the hero once again.

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  12. Evident by reading Beowulf, the Saxons were strange people. They seem primitive in a sense, lacking what almost appears to be common sense. This is evident in Grendel's attacks on Heorot occurring for over a decade before they seek help. It would also seem to make sense to tell Beowulf that there are two monsters in the land, and both need to be taken care of. While it could have been a tactic to not keep Beowulf around so he wouldn't flee from two monsters, it seems more of an afterthought than anything else. This apparently diminished intellectual level may also further show that Beowulf is a higher being - almost Christ-like, as he sacrifices himself in the end for those who put faith in him. This epic story also shows the roots of high fantasy that I love so much, and is why I am so intrigued by the tale of Beowulf.

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    1. Well, yes -- but then the people in many legendary tales put up with a lot -- sometimes with generations of misrule or oppression -- before they decide to do something about it. I agree, this makes Beowulf in some sense a sort of Messiah (a vibe with the poem's redactor, I'm sure, sensed and sought to amplify).

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  13. I believe this battle of Beowulf fighting the mother on his own shows how brave and clever he is as an individual and that he is a true leader.
    But I agree why couldn't the fact that there were two beast and not just one? Maybe to build the suspense. To make it seem like everything was going to be fine and then here comes another one to cause more trouble.
    The mother comes for revenge. What mother would not want to take care of their child. I think what she was doing was out of instinct. Someone hurt her baby so now she wanted to protect her baby and kill Beowulf. What mother wouldn't do that for their child. She did not want her child to be their trophy. In her eyes and any mother with their child she saw no wrong being done on grendel part. They came to their land and they built hereot on their property.

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  14. Due to the dependence and reaction to Beowulf’s heroic deeds, it is clear he is viewed as God-like to the Danes. The Danes lack the common sense and guidance to defend themselves so they depend on the great Beowulf to fight their battles. Beowulf seems to have superhuman abilities, able to fight and defeat vicious monsters, battling under water. He always seems willing to sacrifice his life to fight back and protect the Danes.
    After returning home from fighting both Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf returns home and in time he takes the throne as King of the Geats. 50 years after his rule, Beowulf is forced to face another battle, similar to Grendel’s attack. A dragon is bothered and unleashes its fury on the Geats. Although Beowulf is old, he defeats the dragon and is killed shortly after. Just like the Danes were dependent on Beowulf to fight their battles so were the Geats. Instead of using their manpower to prepare and create security for themselves, they idiotically lived too comfortably and were unable to protect themselves, leading them to lose their king and feel anxious about the future.
    This makes me wonder how the Danes have been living for all these years and if they managed to deliberately make plans to ensure their safety.

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  15. Although it was a difficult read, it was very enjoyable. The narrator continually referenced the idea of death throughout this poem and it was a reminder there is no escaping it. Grendel’s mother’s death was a reminder of how death comes in many shapes, forms, and times, and the only thing certain is that it’ll happen whether we are ready or not.

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  16. After reading the story of "Beowulf," I think Beowulf is a perfect hero. The story described a perfect hero. He was strong, an outstanding fighter and very loyal to all who came into his presence. The story gives examples of his great courage and his fierce strength. In the story, Beowulf took on sea monsters and crushed them in his grip. When Beowulf went into battle, he believed in a fair fight. He believed that no fighter should have the upper hand.

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