“In my youth I engaged in many wars”, Beowulf boasts to his warriors, which is certainly true. Throughout his life, he faces many deadly foes, all of which he handily defeats, save one. His story focuses on the most challenging, as well as morally significant of foes, Grendel and the dragon. These creatures reveal much about society as well as Christian virtue at the time. Even after Grendel and the dragon are defeated physically, the two monsters pose a new threat to the hero on a higher plane. Beowulf is not only at risk of losing his life, but his humanity, virtue, and even spirituality.
The first beast the hero faces is the wicked Grendel. At first he appears to be a demon, a “hellish enemy”. However, it is soon revealed that he is human, the “kin of Cain”. This is a crucial detail involving the lesson Beowulf will learn from this battle. The man-beast always strikes at night while his prey is fast asleep. He has no respect for the fight, preferring to attack the unwary and defenseless. On the night Grendel attacks Heorot with Beowulf lying in wait, Grendel’s most horrid of traits is learned: “He suddenly seized a sleeping man, tore at him ravenously, bit into his bone-locks, drank the blood from his veins, swallowed huge morsels; quickly had he eaten all of the lifeless one, feet and hands” (36). This utter disrespect that the supposed ‘man’ shows for human life is a testament to his complete lack of humanity. Any such qualities have rotted inside of him, replaced by hatred. He delights in slaughter, killing not out of necessity or for God or country: “His heart laughed: dreadful monster, he though that before the day came he would divide the life from the ...
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...h-day”. While Beowulf could not resist the calling of the riches, his intentions were good. Protector of his people for fifty years, he is remembered as a brave and just king.
Beowulf’s life was truly epic struggle. The monsters he battled made it so. Grendel and the dragon, capable of crushing men physically, stood for evils that could just as easily crush men in spirit. These two beasts represented society’s greatest fears, as well as detriments, and Beowulf fearlessly took them on. Grendel taught the hero a valuable lesson about maintaining one’s humanity in a world dominated by the dogs of war. The dragon, showed Beowulf’s mortality, his imperfection, but the hero eradicates it nonetheless, saving his people from not only physical threat, but sin. Bringing in such spiritual and moral dimensions, these two beasts certainly give the story of Beowulf depth.
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