Violence, in the world of Beowulf, not only carries with it its inherent negative effects but also it helps to bring out good human qualities. The violence being described in the epic is the murder of inhabitants and the plundering of their possessions. The first negative effect of violence as depicted in Beowulf is the destruction of peace and order in a community or nation.
In the epic, the key conflict is preventing or stopping evil monsters from causing violence to the hero’s land and those of neighboring shores. The two key enemies are Grendel and the Dragon.
Grendel is a “grim monster…a descendent of Cain” who lives in a murky pond with his mother and with “elves and evil spirits” (Beowulf Book I). Cain is referred to in the Bible as a man who murdered his own brother so that as a punishment God cursed the ground for him and that he was sent out as a wanderer in the earth (“Genesis” 3). During times of great celebration in the great Hall built by King Hrothgar, King of Denmark, Grendel suddenly attacked the King’s guests. The attack brought terror and grief to the Danes and as a result the peace and joy they felt vanished.
It is important to note that such merciless act was committed without any provocation from the Danes at all. One day Grendel just decided to come out of his lair and slaughtered his captives. The grief and terror felt by the Danes lasted for twelve long years as Grendel continued his cruelty (Beowulf Book I,II). The Dragon, on the other hand, was a monster “ with a fire belching out of its mouth” who attacked Beowulf’s kingdom in his old age(Beowulf Book XXXII). He, too, was described as ruthless, strong and hard to be subdued.
In a Christian context, a Dragon symbolizes evil and death (“Dragon” 2007). But unlike Grendel, the Dragon attacked upon provocation. His anger was roused when his treasures was stolen from a burial mound. Out of revenge he attack the Geats who at this time were enjoying fifty years of peace and serenity brought about by the wise rule of King Beowulf (Beowulf Book XXXI). Another negative effect of violence as depicted in the epic is the threat it caused to the survival and maintenance of civilization or nation. Grendel slaughtered his victims and carry off some prisoners to his abode.
Book II describes his assault this way “unhallowed wight, grim and greedy, he grasped betimes, wrathful, reckless, from resting-places, thirty of the thanes, and thence he rushed fain of his fell spoil, faring homeward” (Beowulf Book II). Grendel is hard to be defeated because according to the epic no weapon can destroy him. The Dragon, on the other hand, would “burn homes with fire “(Beowulf Book XXXII). Both monsters would make their assault at night, a time when the people are supposed to be resting and therefore slightly defenseless.
In the cover of darkness both fearsome creatures can carry on their slaughter swiftly. The Dragon stood unopposed as the people could not get near him due to the flames from his mouth (Beowulf Book XXXII). In such a hopeless situation and without any intervention, the inhabitants will be eventually wiped out. Violence also breeds other violence. When Beowulf killed Grendel, Grendel’s mother was consumed with fury and tried to avenge his death. It does not matter to her if Grendel was the one at fault.
In her screwed reasoning, Grendel was his son and therefore needs to be avenged. Prior to his death, Grendel’s mother was not in any way physically involved with the slaughter. However, upon his death, Grendel‘s mother became as ruthless as his son. Without any further delay, Grendel’s mother went out to the Hall hoping to kill the criminal who put his son to eternal sleep. However Beowulf was not around so that angrily she took a Danish nobleman and Grendel’s paw and carried them with her back to her home( Beowulf Book XIX ) .
Upon hearing of this incident, Beowulf run after her and with a sword ended her life. In another sense we can say that the death of Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the Dragon at the hands of Beowulf was also a form of violence. However, upon careful analysis, such violence can be considered necessary to end the greater violence committed by the three aggressors. In the epic, violence only ended at the death of the three. If left alive, there is a big possibility that their violence will continue owing to their untamed evil natures.
Although violence is a wicked thing to commit and should be avoided at all cost, but if present it helps to bring out the heroic trait of an individual. The hero is the man of the hour who stops and controls the spread of violence. While the enemy is described as evil and ruthless, the hero is describes a s a man possessing a good, companionate and courageous heart. Beowulf was such a man. He was a prince who possessed not only these good human traits but also endowed with great strength that equals, if not surpassed, the aggressors.
Even long before he came to the aid of King Hrothgar, he had already proven his fighting prowess when he killed the sea-monsters that plied the sea he swam in on his way to help the Finns in getting rid of their enemies(Beowulf Book I).. He showed his compassionate heart when hearing of Grendel’s cruelty in Hrothgar’s kingdom; he sailed to Denmark without waiting any pleas of help from the Danish king ( Beowulf Book III). Unarmed and single-handedly he engaged Grendel in mortal combat (Beowulf Book XI).
Grendel was surprised at the firm grip of Beowulf and according to him he had not yet ever encountered such a strong man in his lifetime. Beowulf managed to tear Grendel’s arm out of his shoulder. “The awful monster had lived to feel pain in his body, a huge wound in his shoulder was exposed, his sinews sprang apart, and his bone-locks broke). This wound had mortally wounded Grendel so that he later died in his lair. The Dragon, o the other hand, was challenged by Beowulf in his den. The two struggled against each other until Beowulf killed him with the sword).
Unfortunately Beowulf, old at this time, was also wounded and eventually died (Beowulf Book XXII). It is important to note that as a hero Beowulf fought against evil forces from his youth until his old age. The epic delivers a strong message that preventing and controlling violence is a never-ending struggle. When Grendel’s violence ended, another one arose in the hands of the Dragon. In the face of violence, the loyalty of an individual is exposed. During Beowulf’s fight with the Dragon, the struggle became fearful to watch so that Beowulf’s men flee in fright.
Only Wiglaf remained to help his aging monarch. Even at the cost of his life, Wiglaf help Beowulf slay the fiery Dragon (Beowulf Book XXXVI). His loyalty and gallantry was later rewarded when before Beowulf died he proclaimed Wiglaf as his successor to the throne of Geatland (Beowulf Book XXXVIII). This last gesture of Beowulf is a declaration that loyalty in the face of crisis is to be honored. It is possible that without Wiglaf, Beowulf, wounded and old as he was, would have failed to put an end to the Dragon’s life. The Dragon then will continue to terrorize the Geats.
Wiglaf’s loyalty was crucial in attaining the victory of that climatic battle. Beowulf was assured that with Wiglaf the struggle against violence will be carried on long after his death. To the eyes of the Geats, Wiglaf is a source of hope for the survival and maintenance of Geatland. On the other hand, those who deserted Beowulf were reproached and reaped nothing but shame. WORKS CITED “Dragon. ” Microsoft® Encarta® 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006. “Genesis”. The Holy Bible. Korea: Thomas Nelson, Inc. , 1984.
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