Beowulf’s Rule of Three
Beowulf’s Rule of Three In illiterate societies three was a number that represented importance. This is primarily because one occurrence of an event isn’t relevant for it cannot be compared to another event. A second occurrence has much of the same meaning: the incident is solely a coincidence that it is parallel to the first incident. The third incidence of an episode distinguished to the people that it was relevant. The repetition of three analogous scenarios allowed the people of this time and place to connect more deeply with a story. In the great tale of Beowulf, the same rule applied to many of the important themes.
The greatest and most prominent occurrence of this ‘rule of three’ takes place in the three battles in which Beowulf partakes. In each of these three events, Beowulf comes across a great monster and is able to conquer it. Three primary themes are common through the encounters: the importance of victory and how it gained glory for men, the failings of human weapons, and the parallel between material possessions received and respect. The story of Beowulf seems to focus upon this group of events because it seemed like a basic model for how a great leader came to be, as well as the impressiveness of each conquest.
The great monster Grendel was the powerful warrior’s first opponent in battle. Grendel was a ravager of a hall by the name of Heorot and was seen as a demon frowned upon by God himself. The great hall of the Danes had long been plagued by Grendel, who carried off the people in groups of about 30. Thus, it was Beowulf’s purpose to conquer the great ravager of the Danes. Before their famed clash, Beowulf declared that he would not fight Grendel with any weapon of man, for the fiend would not be using any of his own, in the intention to create a fair fight. Beowulf caught Grendel by surprise as the monster was visiting the hall one final time.
The guardian of the hall gripped Grendel so tightly that the demon was instantly stuck with fear and attempted to flee from the fight. In the struggle, Grendel lost his arm and was left to die in the forest. Beowulf did not seem to have much trouble with the fiend in this battle, appearing to be the outright victor. This is surprising at first, considering the formidability of the monster that had plagued the hall of the Danes for so long. But then again, the great warrior did have a ‘home-court advantage’ of a sort, being in the hall initially and catching the demon by surprise.
We also find that Beowulf also had an edge by not using his sword for Grendel was invulnerable to any weapon. During the battle, Beowulf’s companions attempted to come to his aid, yet not a single swing of their blades could penetrate the skin of the monster. At the banquet the next day, Beowulf gains great glory and treasure from Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, for his cleansing of the hall. In Beowulf’s second paramount showdown, he fought the vengeful mother of the monster Grendel, who had come to the mead-hall at Heorot and carried away a warrior well known to the people there.
In the battle, Beowulf was required to dive to the bottom of a seemingly endless lake to the home of the monster. On his way down, “she grasped him, clutched the Geat in her ghastly claws… Then the sea-wolf dived to the bottom-most depths, swept the prince to the place where she lived so that he, for all his courage, could not wield a weapon” (Crossley-Holland 50). After taking Beowulf to her lair at the bottom of the lake, Grendel’s mother engaged the warrior in a terrible battle. Beowulf swung his sword with all his might, hoping to take out the rancorous mother, yet “its edge failed Beowulf when he needed it” (Crossley-Holland 51).
After grappling with the beast for a period of time, Beowulf spotted a great sword, forged by the giants, and used it to slice down his opponent. The battle with Grendel’s mother was evidently much more difficult for Beowulf than his first battle with her great son; the warrior narrowly escaped with his life. This has to do with the fact that Beowulf had gone to her, giving Grendel’s mother the advantage from the beginning. This equation, compounded with the great monster’s desire to avenge her son’s death, made for an interestingly even fight.
Adding to the advantages of Grendel’s mother was the fact that she too was invulnerable to any sword of human creation. The immunity of Grendel’s mother again depicts the failure of Beowulf’s weapons. The sword that was used to defeat the monster, however, was forged by the giants. Following his return, Beowulf is again rewarded handsomely by the leader of the Danes in gratitude for his courageous dealings with the demon. Years pass by, during which Beowulf becomes king of Geatland, before his third and final battle ensues. In this circumstance, it is a dragon that had to be defeated for his own peoples’ safety to be ensured in later years.
Beowulf chose a special few from his court to assist him in the extermination of the dragon, though he did not expect to need their assistance. As Beowulf and his party approached the dragon’s lair, he bellowed an enormous roar to awaken the great ravager. The dragon, overcome with anger, swooped down upon and assaulted Beowulf. Beowulf fought with sword and shield in hand, the dragon with the flames spurting from his mouth. The longer the battle went on, the more apparent it seemed this would be Beowulf’s last moments upon the earth, the dragon seemed to be too much for that great man.
After seeing his lord struggling with all his might, Beowulf’s kinsman, Wiglaf, came to his aid. The pair fought the dragon until “he [Beowulf] struck a blow so violent that his sword stuck in the dragon’s skull. But N? gling snapped! Beowulf’s old grey-hued sword failed him in the fight. ” (Crossley-Holland 89). The dragon bit into Beowulf’s neck, spraying blood everywhere. In assistance to his king, Wiglaf stabbed his sword into the belly of the beast, literally. Beowulf, barely in control of his senses at this time, finished the dragon with his knife.
Despite conquering this immense foe, Beowulf was left with a mortal wound from the bite. He died moments later after being able to view the great treasure within the barrow that the dragon had been guarding. This battle was the most difficult Beowulf had ever come across, bringing him to the edge of death. As well, he wore all of his armor and used a sword in battle, as if fearing that his own strength would not be superior during the fight. Ironically, he was right. Here Beowulf seemed to find an imagery of death itself in the great dragon.
Coming hand-in-hand with the sense of fate involved with Beowulf’s death, it also seemed fated that he was to be failed a third and final time by his sword. This time, however, Beowulf was unable to recover using his brute strength, as he did in the battle with Grendel’s mother, and needed the assistance of Wiglaf to take down the monster. And, also for the third time, Beowulf was blessed with the great wealth and possessions within the cave, although they were not under his ownership for more than a few moments. There were three clear commonalities among each of these three great fights.
The first was Beowulf’s conquest of each of the terrorizing beasts he faced. This demonstrates the great strength and leadership of the king of the Geats. During the time period, strength and victory in battle won a man glory and support. Each fight gained Beowulf more and more of both, making him one with countless numbers of supporters as well as making him of he most feared leaders of his time. His support is shown in a quote from Beowulf in his dying moments as he passed on the kingship to Wiglaf: “I have ruled the Geats for fifty winters; no king of any neighboring tribe has dared to attack me. ” (Crossley-Holland 90).
In gratitude for what Beowulf had done for them as a leader, his people gave their king an honorable funeral, burying with him many of the belongings Beowulf had amassed over his years. Another theme depicted in these confrontations was the letdown of the swords of men. In each of the battles, both Beowulf’s swords and his companions’ were unable to hurt the monster he was fighting. This is significant, considering that the sword was the weapon used for a sole purpose: killing. With the most specialized killing tool of man failing, this seems to symbolize the failure of men and their creations as a whole.
In Beowulf’s fights with Grendel and his mother, he is forced to resort to a more animalistic means of fighting in order to overcome his opponents. The final theme represented through the fights is that material possessions comes as a parallel to honor in a warring society. For example, when Beowulf defeated the monster Grendel, he gained many treasures from Hrothgar; as well, he gained the trust and respect of everyone within the great hall of Heorot. When he defeated Grendel’s mother, Beowulf was presented with even greater possessions and glory: Then Heafdene’s son, guardian of thanes, gave him twelve treasures in the hall… That king, descendent of kings, leader of the Scyldings, kissed and embraced the best of thanes; tears streamed down the old man’s face. ” (Crossley-Holland 62) The gifts that came from the great king were given along with the support of the entire race of the Danes, as shown by the kiss. Only a person dearly special or highly important to a king and worthy of an honor so great could have received a blessing such as this. The three scenes involving the monsters seemed to set the whole tone of the tale.
From the defeat of Grendel through the death of the great Beowulf, these themes were set up and maintained as constant factors. The themes were three of the ruling aspects of the entire story and were analogous to the ways of the people during these times. In warring culture, it was the most powerful, strongest, and greatest of the people that dominated the cultures during their lifetimes as Beowulf did. It was these men that gained honor and possessions from their conquests and support from their followers. Yet these people didn’t gain great glory unless they had three accomplishments to prove their worth.