Beowulf Quotes About Grendel: Examples & Analysis

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  • 0:04 The Scariest Monster
  • 0:49 What is Grendel?
  • 2:23 Monster Hangout
  • 3:17 Not a Good Neighbor
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Russell

Emily has taught writing and literature at the college level and is currently pursuing a PhD (ABD) in medieval and early modern literature.

This lesson discusses characteristics of Grendel, the monster in 'Beowulf.' It addresses why he was outlawed, why he lives in a creepy swamp with a bunch of other creepy monsters, and why he hates his neighbors.

The Scariest Monster

What's the scariest monster you can think of? Is it large and hairy like a Yeti? Serpentine like a giant snake or dragon? Maybe it's a huge bug of some sort; or perhaps it looks almost human. Sometimes the monsters we imagine are way worse than anything a movie producer or writer might dream up. Some writers give the reader only vague descriptions of monsters, counting on the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps. This is what the writer of the Old English epic poem Beowulf did with Grendel. But just because we don't get a detailed description of what Grendel looks like doesn't mean we don't know anything about him. There's actually a lot of information about his ancestry, his motives, and his monster community.

What Is Grendel?

Nobody knows exactly what image the writer of Beowulf had in mind when he dreamed up Grendel. He's supposed to be scary. After all, he's a homicidal monster! But what does he look like? How old is he? What does he do when he's not picking pieces of warrior meat from between his teeth? Can he talk? Can he reason? Can he feel emotion?

Very early in the poem, we get some background on Grendel. He's a demon, or bad spirit, that's been banished by God along with a hoard of other monsters. He's been outlawed, or thrown out of society; his life has no worth. In other words, he can be hunted and killed. This probably contributes to his anger issues and tendency toward extreme violence.

... a fiend out of hell,
began to work his evil in the world.
Grendel was the name of this grim demon ...
he had dwelt for a time
in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
and condemned as outcasts...
and out of the curse of his exile there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God
time and again until He gave them their reward

Grendel's ancestor is Cain, from the biblical story of Cain and Abel. In that story, Cain killed Abel and was outcast because of it. But the banishment didn't stop with Cain. He became the origin of a whole new race of monsters, and Grendel is part of that race. However, since pretty much every monster is a member of this race, it doesn't really help narrow down what Grendel is or what he looks like.

Some people think Grendel is an ogre
Some people think Grendel is an ogre.

Monster Hangout

You won't find Grendel hiding under your bed, but you might come across him in your neighborhood creepy monster swamp. Hrothgar, owner of the hall Grendel keeps attacking, describes Grendel's home this way:

A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere bottom has never been sounded by the sons of men

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