In any classic story about heroes and villains, the monsters involved are often characterized as the evil ones and, consequently, receive no justice under the law. Throughout the epic story Beowulf, the hero of the story encounters three monsters that are threats to society: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The monsters in Beowulf are quickly targeted and destroyed because of the harm they cause to society. However, upon further examination of the monsters and the motives for their actions, the reader can view the monsters not as the cutthroat villains they may initially appear to be, but perhaps as victims of society. In today’s society, murderers and robbers are also portrayed as “monsters” because of the atrocious crimes they commit. While it is undeniably wrong to commit any kind of crime and I do not wish to condone murder or theft in any way, there may also be an ulterior explanation for why these modern “monsters” cause harm to society. In comparing and contrasting the monsters of Germanic epic with criminals of today, perhaps we can gain some insight into the motivation of both.
One reason for which monsters are held in contempt in the epics is the authochthonous Germanic culture of the Middle Ages. This broad society respected those with wealth, status, and honor, while those without any of these are shunned. For example, when Beowulf introduces himself to Hrothgar, that king immediately recognizes the visitor: “[h]is father before him was called Ecgtheow” (Beowulf ln. 373). For Hrothgar to acknowledge Beowulf by his lineage shows Beowulf’s societal prominence: he was born of distinguished quality. Beowulf also proves the quality of his ilk to King Hrothgar through his bravery in fighting Grendel and...
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...ities to come together, and causes people to re-evaluate their relationships with one another, all toward ensuring that, on the whole, peace continues into the future.
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