November 04, 2022

#08-252: Beowulf Fights Grendel and His Mother

Grendel greedily grasps Hrothgar's men

Note: The earliest epic in what became English didn't occur in England at all! learn about the pic hero Beowulf and his victory over a monster and his mother.

Get Ready: When is a monster just a monster, and when is its "monsterness" caused by jealousy, being left out, and so on?

The Old English (Anglo-Saxon) story Beowulf is the first epic written by the culture that gives us modern English. However, the action takes place, not in the British Isles, but in Denmark and Sweden, home of the Angles and Saxons who later invaded England.

Here's the first part of the story. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, was having a monster problem. He had built a mead hall named Heorot, where he and his warriors gathered to celebrate past victories and mourn the loss of fallen comrades; sing songs; brag; and drink mead (a liquor made from honey).

Unfortunately, the hall was near a pond in which a monster named Grendel lived with his mother. The nightly celebrations disturbed their peace, and Grendel was jealous of the humans' happiness. So for twelve long years he came to the hall regularly at night to carry away Hrothgar's men one-by-one.

Beowulf, a Geat (a people from modern Sweden) sailed to Denmark to help Hrothgar. After the usual welcoming rituals, he lay down in the hall alone and pretended to sleep--without a weapon, to make the fight more equal. After all, he was said to have the strength of thirty men! The monster came, they fought, and in the struggle Beowulf ripped off Grendel's arm, which he nailed up over the door of Heorot. The wounded beast returned home, where (we learn later) he died.

Of course, Hrothgar and his men were overjoyed. They once again celebrated, forgetting that Grendel's mother was still out there, wanting to avenge her son's death. She did so by attacking Hrothgar's hall and killing his dearest friend, Aeschere.

Beowulf and his men followed her to the pond where she lived, and, while, his men waited on the shore, Beowulf dived in to battle against the monster's mother in a cavern below the surface.

When they met, Beowulf attacked her with his sword, but it failed to cut into her. He grabbed a huge old sword from the wall of her cavern--clearly made by giants--and stabbed her with that instead.

The poison in her body melted the sword up to the hilt, but it had done its work, and she died. When Beowulf saw Grendel's one-armed body, he cut off his head as a trophy to present to Hrothgar. It took four men to carry the giant head back to Heorot.

We'll learn about Beowulf's final battle--and his death--in Lesson #08-253.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. avenge
  2. brag
  3. comrades
  4. dived
  5. epic
  6. hilt
  7. mourn
  8. overjoyed
  9. pond
  10. trophy

  1. a long story about a hero
  2. a small lake
  3. extremely happy
  4. express sadness
  5. the guard on a sword, between the blade and the handle
  6. get revenge for; get even for
  7. an award given for winning a game (or battle)
  8. talk big about one's own greatness
  9. fellows; partners in an activity
  10. went headfirst

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 4, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. h; 3. i; 4. j; 5. a; 6. e; 7. d; 8. c; 9. b; 10. g