And my responses to:
In response to your comment about King Arthur being a Christian king, I am not really sure how this is at all relevant. The thematic linking I was suggesting was not based on religion but rather the ideals that the medieval society measured their leaders against. I don’t think Hrothgar measures up.
Your first post states "In both cases we have supernatural creatures that are challenging the celebratory excesses of the local ruling class and forcing them to prove their worth."
My intent was to show that Grendel is not challenging any celebratory excesses and therefore your comparison is invalid. While Arthur is held to a more chivalric standard where drunken feasting on the order of what we'd assume your typical post-raid Viking would be doing, Hrothgar isn't. Therefore, as stated in my first response, his celebrations aren't looked down upon.
I thought that maybe the point here was that Grendel is showing the Danes going soft, but the author doesn't cast a critical eye towards their actions, either in the lines quoted previously, or in response to your next point, below. Hrothgar, is, as far as I can tell, a good king. My explanation of why this is necessary to the story is below as well.
Take a look at the lines around line 600. The King is seen as weak and it is up to Beowulf to save his sorry behind.
Perhaps my translation is different. From 510 to 579, Beoiwulf delivers a WWF-style boast about his abilities in relation to Unferth's disbelief. Lines 580-1 describe Hrothgar as "Hoary-headed and hady in war;/Thelordly leader...." Wealtheow then admires Beowulf then proclaims that he'll kill Grendel. We are then told about how everyone is optimistic and Hrothgar spends lines 620-630 telling Beowulf that he's never trusted anyone so. The guard is set and Beowulf says he will defeat Grendel bare-handed.*
I don't see Hrothgar's weakness in any of this. Furthermore, I think Hrothgar being weak would damage the story. This story isn't a simple "might makes right" metaphor, nor a Laibachian "more evil than Evil." It's about how even the best of us find problems that we can't solve. Hrothgar can't defeat Grendel on his own, so he calls Beowulf. Later (and this is going beyond where we've read to by this point, so I apologize), finally Beowulf can't defeat the dragon by himself, even with a sword - he need Wiglaf.
The drama of the situation is not that Hrothgar is a useless cur who Beowulf decides to help out of the goodness of his heart, it's from a good man who is unable to stand up for himself.
Also note that around line 475 the King tells the story of the blood feud that he was involved in. Unlike his dead kinsmen before him, he decides to pay the fine to end feud rather than face his opponent on the battlefield and this is equivalent to admitting his ultimate guilt.
I think you're misreading this. Hrothgar's brother dies before him, yes, but Hrothgar pays the weregild
on behalf of Ecgtheow who is Beowulf's
father. He ends the feud between Ecgtheow and the Wylfings. After this, they become friends.
Besides, I don't know that paying the weregild
was anything to be ashamed of. Recall the our Vikings were traders first and foremost and I don't know that this sort of payment would be unacceptable. After all, the payer of the weregild
would have had to have gotten that money from somewhere, presumably from his own exploits. My available sources don't really specify what the social aspects of paying weregild
were, but I'm guessing that it's like losing a lawsuit; in this case, I suppose it's closer to settling out of court.
Again, this emphasizes his inability to command respect as a warrior. Even the Queen seems to see the King as kind of a pansy if you read between the lines around 625. Furthermore, Hrothgar does not need to run away from his kingdom. Grendel is only focused on the mead house, for whatever reason. Simply staying away from the building is all he has to do to stay safe. He certainly has no problem sending others in to do his dirty work, of course, but this is not something I would associate with bravery.
See my previous quote form lines 580-1 for Hrothgar still being respected.
The closest I can get to Wealtheow not looking down on Hrothgar is in line 598, "At last she could look to a hero for help." I do get a sense that she prefers Beowulf to Hrothgar, but that's about it.
As for Hrothgar running away, or otherwise not occupying his throne, where do you get that? It's possible that I'm just missing the reference, but given that Grendel attacks for twelve years the implication is that there's someone sleeping in the stained seats of "the high-built house." (line 166)
For Grendel focusing on the mead-house, I believe that's because it's the symbol of the might of the Danes. Not only that, but here we have "A mightier mead-hall than man had known” (line 65) which sets up Grendel as being paricularly odious.
Since you brought it up, however, I believe an argument could be made about King Arthur representing Christianity in "Gawain and the Green Knight." The Green Knight is very overtly associated with paganism. While I don't have the text on hand to offer any quotes, the symbolism used during his description fall in line with those used in pre-Christian religion. In fact, Gawain's chivalry, a knightly code of conduct developed in Christian times, was tested and found wanting by the temptations of the Green Knight's pagan feasting ritual. The Green Knight also lives in, according to my translation, a “green chapel.” Make of that what you will.
I've got a copy in my anthology, so perhaps we can get to that one next. :)
This does bring up the issue of motivation when comparing the antagonists of these two texts. The Green Knight’s reasons are pretty plainly spelled out. Not so with Grendel, as he apparently lacks the ability to talk. I pointed out a quote before that suggested Grendel didn’t like the noise being made by the folks in the mead house and I think that is about as direct as the author ever gets. Even if we take this at face value, this particular establishment is very clearly the center of the issue.
I don't know if there's anything more than, "Grendel monster, monster bad" (tho' there is the lineage from Cain), however, lines 118-122:
Grim and greedt the gruesome monster,
Firece and furious, launched attach,
Slew thirty spearmen asleep in the hall,
Sped away gloating, gripping the spoil,
Dragging the dead men home to his den.
I think there may be something here. Hrothgar is a mighty warrior himself, who leads his troops on attacks, capturing booty. The booty goes to him, but he dispenses it. In return, he gets loyalty from his men. Grendel, on the other hand, lives alone and away from the civilized people. He fights not for gold, but for the love of killing (and food, but I think the love of is much more prevalent). Instead of having any companions, he lives alone, hoarding everything for his own use. He comes in the night when the "good" men with their deserved rest are unable to defend themselves. Where they put themselves in what is a monment to civilization, he lives in a cave, underwater, places where no civilized man would go.
I would even go so far to say as Hrothgar's foil, Grendel is the other end of this didactic how-to manual for Viking living.
I'll have to think on this a little, but I think there's a kinship between Unferth and Grendel, if not narratively, then thematically. They are both examples of how one shouldn't act and are equally villainous.
It says in my book, around line 712 or so, that "[Grendel] bore the anger of God." If your translation says something similar then this leads to some interesting possibilities. It could of course, be referring to the type or magnitude of Grendel's anger. A metaphor, in other words. But, even in that case it leads to imagery of righteous fury rather than hateful madness. Seen in this way, Grendel kind of reminds me of The Furies, the supernatural figures in Greek myth that rise up from the underground, hunt out, and kill the wicked. Given that Grendel seems fixated on the magnificent mead hall, I wonder if this building would have had some sort of significance to the medieval reader. Maybe a tower of Babel sort of thing, with the earthly king trying to create a heaven on earth?
My version doesn't have anything similar. I think the numbering between the two versions may be different.
I probably should have included this above (I'm responding as I go along), but I believe Grendel doesn't necessarily fill that role. As mentioned above, I don't see Hrothgar as wicked and the mead-hall, IMO, is the civilization of which Grendel can't (or, if we follow my thinking, won't) join.
I first thought of Heorot as a monument to ego and that perhaps Grendel was the avenging angel (as it were), but in viewing Grendel and Hrothgar as opposites and thinking of the text as a didactic one, I don't think this holds.
Hrothgar’s motivations for building the mead house certainly seem to be self-serving. I get the impression that it is basically a tribute to himself. He is certainly entitled to such, I suppose, but I don’t see any reason to believe that the king was being a humanitarian.
Again, the mead-hall as center of life. Where the men who are Men sleep and from which they sally forth to spread their influence and to which they return to celebrate a job well done.
I don’t have my text on hand, but based on your quote of lines 155+, I don’t see that the same way you do. It does not necessarily say that they argued with Grendel. The author just as easily is saying that those who had enough brain cells could easily tell that it would be impossible to stop him. I’ll take another look at the lines you point out around 175 before commenting further. I am also interested in your footnote about the wergild. Do you have any evidence that this is what is being reference or are you making a conjecture?
The "stricken by the image of a..." was a joke. I think what the author was going for was another reiteration of "Grendel doesn't understand civilization."
: Whoops. My copy has a footnote that explains that they're referring to the weregild
. I should have mentioned that, especially since my first reading of it was "pay for" as in "have revenge taken on him." My bad.
As for Beowulf having balls, I don’t think that is really the issue at all. After all, when our hero ultimately fights Grendel he is grouped up with several other fighting men. Unfortunately, they are eaten before they can do anything, but I would certainly classify them along with Beowulf in the balls department. What I think separates Beowulf from the rest isn’t that he has a large set, but rather that he can actually deliver on his boasts.
Yes, but have any of his men made boasts to deliver on?
As for Beowulf having a measure of testicular fortitude that's lacking in the others: I suppose that was a bad call on my part. There is the implication that there have been other would-be monster hunters who came before, but remember that a fair number of Hrothgar's men abandoned him and slept in the bowers (lines 138-9), only to come back when Beowulf makes his boast (ll 632-635).
There is a scene were he is presenting himself before Hrothgar and telling the assembled court of his accomplishments and his intended solution for dealing with Grendel. One of the characters seems a bit dubious (sorry, I don’t have my text to give you a line number or name). I am sure the sight of Grendel’s disembodied arm probably shut him up
Ah, Unferth. Will examine this in my "Grendel vs. Unferth" comparison. Will try to get that posted by Friday, but between laundry and wrestling, I don't know that I'll get to it with any coherency sooner.
* This is something I'd like to come back to when we get to "Parts II and III" (that is, the battle against the troll-mother and dragon). Beowulf makes a conscious decision to fight Grendel without weapons, ostensibly because Grendel knows nothing of "noble" fighting (presumably weapons/tools/companionship are what differentiates good/human from evil/monster). However, he chooses to use weapons both against the troll-mother and dragon. I'll have to see how this decision is made in those parts as I can't remember all the way back to sophmore year in college right now.
** An aside for later, I noticed (but couldn't find again) that Grendel is referred to as a Sea-Geat. I'll consider this as I try to follow my thought that he's the "ideological" opposite of the guys from Heorot.