Monday, January 29, 2018

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.

24 comments:

  1. I found it interesting that much of the battle between Grendel and Beowulf described the pain and suffering that Grendel went through, not the struggle that Beowulf had to overcome to claim the victory. The reading described how Grendel's arm was nearly ripped to pieces and how his entire body was in pain. The poem never really describes how Grendel is feeling. Reading about the gruesome treatment of Grendel almost made me feel a little sympathetic towards him. “He was desperate to flee to his den and hide with the devil’s litter, for in all his days he had never been clamped or cornered like this” (Line 754). This line helps to show the fear that Grendel was experiencing. Although he was originally portrayed to be a gruesome monster, this description shows an overwhelming sense of cowardness. Grendel does not even want to fight; he would rather disappear back into his hiding than face defeat. Grendel’s fear strongly contrasts Beowulf’s strength, who is hailed as a hero.

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    1. I also find it interesting how Beowulf is almost perfect in the story. While he is supposed to be the hero, his lack of humility makes him feel more like the bad guy than the one I want to root for. Because of Beowulf's unlikable perfectness and Grendel's exaggerated struggle, I feel more empathy for Grendel than I do for Beowulf. When the story describes Grendel as he is leaving the battle after being defeated, I feel so bad for him. The poem reads, "His days were numbered, / the end of his life was coming over him, / he knew it for certain" (lines 820-822). The wording of the story, and how it shows that Grendel knew he was leaving to die a slow painful death makes me feel worse for him than for any of the people he attacked. Plus, he is attacking people because his homeland is being invaded, which makes me wonder who the bad guys really are.

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    2. I agree with this thought. Like it was stated before we seem to compare "poor" Grendel with the Grinch in a way. He has been living in his cave for many years resting and as soon as he is disturbed he does the only thing he knows how to do; goes out and kills the people causing the trouble. And in all fairness Beowulf come to defend his neighbor to do the same thing, which is the only ting he really knows how to do, kill. But Beowulf being the manly man full of honor that he is by chance does it with no armor or weapons which we later find out when he fights Grendel's mother was a good choice and rips Grendel's arm off. All Grendel wanted was to sleep and what he got was a horrible last few years of his life and to die in pain.

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    3. I agree with what you are saying. Grendel was seen as a horrific monster in the beginning and although Beowulf was just being the hero he is told to be, Grendel is shown to give a "soft" side. He is shown to be in a tremendous amount of pain when his arm is ripped off by Beowulf and shows his pain as he just wants to run away into hiding. Now while I do not think Beowulf is the monster, but is Grendel a horrible being for wanting to live where he has been his whole life?

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  2. Beowulf's reputation precedes him. Yet at a feast held in his honor Unferth doesn't believe Beowulf will defeat Grendel. He states (Lines 525-528) "No matter, therefore, how you may have fared in every bout and battle until now, this time you'll be worsted; no one has ever outlasted an entire night against Grendel." Instead of letting an argument go, Beowulf feels the need to defend himself. Once someone's reputation precedes you, let it go. He makes fun of Unferth for not killing Grendel himself and that he will go to Hell for what he has said. Unferth had been drinking and this situation should not even have been thought on twice.
    Crystal Ruger

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  3. In these sections of Beowulf, I found that Beowulf is trying to prove that he is a great warrior. Not only is he trying to prove to others, but also to himself, that he is a good warrior. He starts by telling everyone at the feast about his version of the swimming competition. According to Beowulf, “Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked. However it occurred, my sword has killed nine sea-monsters (572-575). Hoping to have the Geats and Danes believe him to be a great warrior, that way they will assume he will be able to defeat Grendel. Instead, they do not believe him and believe that he will fail. The fight with Grendel happens and Beowulf shows his bravery. He rips Grendel’s arm and shoulder out of its sockets and hangs it up on the wall as if it is a trophy. This is proving to himself that he defeated Grendel, which then makes him a great warrior. Having Grendel’s arm and shoulder on the wall can remind Beowulf of the warrior he is. In the first part of the celebration, Hrothgar compares Beowulf to Sigemund, a famous warrior who killed a dragon and took its treasure. Overall, Beowulf tries to prove to others and himself that he is a warrior and by defeating Grendel that shows that, he is a good warrior.
    Jaimee Barrett

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  4. Beowulf’s high and mighty appearance along with strength does not fool Unferth, who claims Grendel will defeat Beowulf. This argument stems from a swimming match where Beowulf was defeated. Instead of brushing off the comments the Dane was saying about him, he feels the need to defend himself. Beowulf appears to be insecure, he feels he needs to prove himself to others that he is the greatest. Beowulf ends up telling his side of the swimming match story where he proves to everyone he is the greatest warrior. After his story, everyone praises him for his heroism, boosting Beowulf’s ego even more.

    Jenna Cipriano

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  5. While continuing to read the next sections of Beuwolf, I began to notice a pattern of cockiness in the main character, a trait that made my perception of the story change rather quickly. At first, I held on to the impression that Beowulf is going to be the greatest s tale, mainly because he was going to fight off the enemy, Grendel. But, once I noticed his arrogance-a very nasty trait in my eyes. This characteristic shines through in "Feast at Heorot". "You killed your own kith and kin," says Beowulf, "so for all your cleverness and quick tongue, you will suffer damnnation in the depths of hell" (line 587). Towards the end of the story, in "Celebration at Heorot", Hrothgar claims Beowulf as his son, promising him that "here'll be nothing he'll want for, no wordly goods that won't be his" (line 946). I was not very fond with the ending considering how my feelings towards the hero had changed previous to this, but perhaps we as a class can infer as to how the ending should have been.

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  6. This section of the story feels as if it could almost be written as a movie. Especially the opening sequence which describes the encounter between the Danes and Grendel. Particularly 749 to 757. In this we see a further exacerbation of the dichotomy of Grendel and Beowulf as not only good and bad, but also the Devil as he Grendel is quite literally referred to, and also Beowulf being a man of God. However, Grendel wears a charm that protects him from damage from metal weapons (804 - 805) which again, plays to the deception aspect of the typical "devil" character. I also believe like many others in the class that Beowulf is seeking to be immortalized, much like Sigmund in the poem. Evidently, Beowulf is warned in 1758 and onward, essentially stating he should be weary of such things; "your piercing eye will dim and darken; and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away."

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  7. In the sections given to us, we see another instance of characterization, specifically with Grendels Mother. After Beowulf defeats Grendel and proclaims his triumph, Grendel runs to his mother before he dies in in her arms. When we witness a Mother seeing her own child die before her, we start to have sympathy. Grendels Mother doesn't attack Heorot for no reason, there is a clear motive that is justified: she wants revenge. There are a few things to question here.
    First, I have to wonder, why does the narrator never give Grendel's Mother a name? We get solid imagery to her appearance but never a hint to her name. I think there is room for a feminist reading here, Grendel is named, he is known as the son of Caine, but his Mother is only known as "Grendels Mother", and she is arguably a much more formidable opponent to Beowulf than Grendel was.
    I would also like to look back at my previous post where I questioned Beowulfs title as hero. After Grendels Mother attacks Heorot, she takes Grendels arm off the mantle and brings it back to the sea. Is there a way we can then question Beowulfs motives? Does he fight Grendels Mother for honor and helping the Shield Danes or does he fight her because Grendels Mother made a statement and took away his "trophy".
    Even when the singers at the party foreshadow Beowulfs inevitable doom by singing about "Sigurd the Dragon Slayer", he still goes headlong into battle, not caring for the consequences. Instead of dealing with a character that doesn't look like Beowulf, we are now dealing with one that is a woman, and thus needing a different reading for the fight with Grendels Mother.

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    1. After reading this, you got me thinking why the narrator doesn't give Grendel's mother a name. She's an important part of the poem when he runs to his mothers arm before he dies. I also agree that she does have a motive to attack the Heorot because she wants her son's arm back, which is exactly revenge.- Jaimee Barrett

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  8. Beowulf in this section reminds me of the way modern superheroes are looked at. He talks to one of Ecglaf’s children about his battle with the monster in the sea. He glorifies himself the same way we see superheroes be glorified in movies. At one point he says “Breca could never move out farther or faster from me (541-542)”. This is a typical way that we see superheroes they are the best and no one can ever get ahead of them. Superheroes can also be quite cocky which is also seen in The Fight with Grendel section. Beowuf shows his cockiness when he says, “When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel (677-678)”. So, he clearly feels confident in this battle he is about to engage in with Grendel. It also adds to the confidence that the community has such faith that Beowulf can keep them safe.

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    1. When reading this section I thought the same thing. The superheros that I read about always see themselves to be lifesavers. Beowulf and the superhero’s are both fighting for a good cause, and I mean that they are trying to protect people, Beowulf is fighting to destroy the monster that is eating all of Hrothgars men in the mead hall. Beowulf always defeats monsters.

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    2. Ashley, to me Beowulf seems to have a cocky personality as well. He's not fighting for the people or to protect them. He's fighting to be the spot light and to show off that he can kill. Typical hero's do not act like that. I think the people are blinded by Beowulf's confidence because he has the ability kill.

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  9. as I was reading this, I started to get annoyed at Beowulf's comments about himself. I know he is a very strong man and has a good chance to beat Grendel, but he finds out later that it was much harder than he had thought. I am confused about how Beowulf gets hurt. because on line 801 it says " no blacksmiths art could ever damage their demon opponent." But then on line 815 it states how Grendel has a giant wound. was it just because of Beowulf's handgrip that made him have a wound? and if so, if a sword cant cut through his skin then how did Beowulf do it with his bare hands?

    Nicole Langella

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  10. I had a few thought while reading this section.
    One, for the time, if someone kills your kin you are entitled to something, the idea that everyone has a certain worth. Does Grendal's mother not have a right to adequate compensation? That being an important part of their culture I'm wondering what's going on with that.
    Two, Beowulf is made to be a super hero of sorts. Does he make a habit of traveling to other countries and helping defend them from monsters? Or did he only do it because it's distant relatives.
    Overall, I noticed the increasing amount of Christian protestant language which was probably changed over the course of oral dictation. Beowulf is like a super hero and he sells himself so well that I think I'd like to hire him to slay a few monsters.
    -Skyler Davis

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  11. The fight between grendal and beowulf
    Was intrigueing for two things. One was how easy beowulf beat the demon. He still had a great struggle with the beast that took him a long time to defeat. But it seem that he did one move on grendal and that was enough to beat the beast. This type of hero reminds me of rambo and other 80's action heroes. You see theses heros stand their shooting countless numbers of enemies while the hero is untouched by them. This type of hero is unrealistic and leads to a disappointment of the story. The hero needs to struggle so that he look more human. When he looks more human then the reader will relate to the character and make him more entertaining. The next intrigueing part is grendal. This beast who has cause so much trouble is easily defeated by beowulf. Once the beast realizes that beowulf wouldnt be as easier as the others, the monster wants to run back to home and hide under a rock. The monster has to bring up more of a fight to the hero to make it look more entertaining. In theses types of fights people like to watch a david vs goliath story where the hero looks like he has almost no chance aginst the villian. instead we got a fight where the hero eaily be the villian and the villian became a whip dog which makes this fight a disappointment.
    Richard young

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  12. I've actually never read Beowulf before now, so I was a little bit surprised that Grendel's demise came so easily. I also noticed that Beowulf seemed to be very confident in his abilities, some could argue that he was cocky, but I think he had every right to be. He essentially did what many sought to do, but failed at. Beowulf put an end to the grief and turmoil in the land, and gave everyone a sense of relief, which is a lot more than what anyone else has accomplished thus far. Though, what interested me the most in this section was Grendel's mother. To me, it was a heartwarming in a sense to know that Grendel had someone who seems to really care about him. His mother fought to avenge her son, which to me, made Grendel and his mother's character more humane. Because as read in the first section, Grendel is blatantly described as a monster. He kills people with no remorse, he terrorized all of the land, and the make matters worse, he is the descendant of Cain. But after analyzing the how hurt his mother was over his death, I concluded that Grendel and his mother are just like everyone else. Of course what she did was extreme, but I think it was a depiction of motherly love, and she showed that in perhaps the only way she knows how. Overall, I enjoyed this section.

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  13. This is also my first time reading Beowolf and I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I still feel sorry for Grendel and his mother after Grendel is killed and his arm is hung in Heorot as a symbol of victory. Im still siding with Grendel on this one because his land was taken from him where Heorot was built and both him and his mother are negatively effected by it. I like how you explained it as "having a McDonalds built next to your house". Grendels peace is disturbed because of the feasts held at Heorot and then he is killed for trying to defend his territory. If you flip the roles and say that the Grendel and his mother come and build a dwelling on the land of the Danes. The Danes would most likely take offense to this and try to defend their land, and because they are not "monstrous creatures", it will appear to seem more ethical. I also did not like Beowulf's attitude towards the end, for he seems to get cocky and overconfident. Overall, I enjoyed the reading and have also watched a few versions of the movie and I can honestly say that it was a very interesting story. Im curious to see how people react to the story and who they believe is in the wrong and who they sided with throughout the poem.

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  14. Beowulf clearly now is taking revenge but i wouldn't call it true revenge as he is a thrill seeker. he not going after the the mother because one of the royal family was taken and away but rather the trophy that was Grendel's hand and proof that he defeated a monster. It's his pride and joy.

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  16. Beowulf is interesting because it’s an origin story in which a narrator reflects on a brutish, pagan-like hero, who is greater than humans, and thus a part of our ancient past. Death reminders are everywhere in the text but the main character Beowulf is mostly focused on earthly renown and fame in Gaetland. He keeps ruminating on his past glories and grand fights he has won between Grendel and Grendel’s mom. He builds a castle filled with gold and treasures, and takes delight in earthly possessions as well. In Act 3, he is older and death is brought up again by the narrator. Instead of focusing on good deeds and humility, Beowulf is still after fame and glory and decides to fight the dragon that has burned his throne. What I find interesting is that Beowulf doesn’t try to repent and focus on heavenly afterlife, but instead seeks earthly fame by pursuing this ancient creature. Even though he reflects upon the meaning of his life and the futility of blood feuds when he is about to die, he fails to look toward heavenly afterlife, and dies respectively among his treasures which symbolize earthly pleasures over heavenly afterlife. The narrator seems to accept that this is part of our collective ancient past, but it should remain there, and we should learn to live a Christian life. –Arrissa Tavares

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  17. In Beowulf's society, they emphasize the importance of the heroic code. Beowulf has a strong personality and a big ego. He is portrayed as one that is focused on his reputation. According to him, having a reputation helps shape ones identity. Although, he is an outstanding warrior, he has nothing to lose and glorifies being praised rather than seeking protection for his people. When he goes against the dragon, who seems to be a threat to the kingdom, he is defeated and brought to his death. Beowulf fights against the dragon for his treasures. Beowulf is a powerful hero but his position as being King is questionable.
    -Leony Lopes

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  18. It is interesting when you compare the two Beowulf fights - Beowulf vs. Grendel, and Beowulf vs. Grendel's mother. I think the two are purposefully put in the poem to feel representative or similar, so that the differences are made more clear. The fight between Beowulf and Grendel was full of hate and aggression, it was a stereotypical fight between good and evil, two dominant male characters. However, I feel that the fight between Beowulf and Grendel's mother was far more vicious. Beowulf was fighting a women (who were never thought to be associated with violence at the time), and there is far more passion in this fight because Grendel's mother is fighting Beowulf with the pain of Grendel's death on her back. Even though Grendel countless times had been known as a ruthless, vicious character, it is interesting that his mother in this fight seems to be even more powerful, far more viscous, and 10 times more evil.

    -Crystal Agyemang

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