The Epic Poem, Beowulf - A Jungian Reading of Beowulf
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A Jungian Reading of Beowulf
The epic poem, Beowulf, depicts the battles and victories of the Anglo-Saxon warrior Beowulf, over man-eating monsters. The noble defender, Beowulf, constantly fought monsters and beasts to rid the land of evil. The most significant of these monsters, Grendel, represents Beowulf's shadow, the Jungian archetype explored in the essay collection, Meeting the Shadow.
The character Grendel portrays the fallen self, which will assert itself violently if neglected, and must be overcome throughout life. The monster Grendel mirrors the part of our fallen state. Grendel's ancestry leads to the biblical figure Cain, to which all evil can be attributed. Grendel represents the hidden evil of Beowulf. Rollo May describes this in his metaphor "the dragon or the Sphinx in me will often be clamoring and will sometimes be expressed"(174). Grendel represents Beowulf's Sphinx, that lashes out on others.
The name Grendel can be roughly translated to mean "grinder," and "storm" (Raffel Burton 152). These terms come to life when he invades the Mead Hall. Grendel "Rushed angrily across the inlaid floor, snarling and fierce: his eyes gleamed in the darkness, burned with a gruesome light. Then he stopped, seeing the hall crowded with sleeping warriors, stuffed with rows of young soldiers resting together. And his heart laughed, he relished the sight, intended to tear the life from those bodies by morning"(46). Grendel and the other monsters that represent Beowulf shadow "project their own evil onto the world" (Peck 178). Grendel the "Shepherd of evil, guardian of crime" represents the inherent evil that the shadow embodies (Burton 46).
Beowulf fought off Grendel like we must fight...
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...be transformed into anger towards others and the denial of ones evil. The neglected shadow if not projected in another's direction, will surface in oneself to restore the imbalance personality. Evil presents us with a daily struggle between temptations and justice. Like Beowulf, we must battle the evils of our shadow until it has been recognized and defeated.
Bly, Robert. "The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us."Meeting the Shadow. Ed Connie Zwieg and Jeremiah Abrams. Los Angeles: Jeremy Teacher, Inc. 1991.
May, Rollo. "The Dangers of Innocence." Meeting the Shadow. Ed Connie Zwieg and Jeremiah Abrams. Los Angeles: Jeremy Teacher, Inc. 1991.
Peck, Scott, M. "Healing Human Evil." Meeting the Shadow. Ed Connie Zwieg and Jeremiah Abrams. Los Angeles: Jeremy Teacher, Inc. 1991.
Raffel, Burton, trns. Beowulf. New York: Penguin, 1963