Violence in Beowulf
Violence in Beowulf Beowulf is an epic poem written in Anglo-Saxon times, by an unknown poet. Beowulf is a Geatish man who rescues the Danish people from evil, and helps save his own country from destruction. Beowulf, renowned for his bravery, and known as the strongest man alive, acquires the help of fourteen thanes to sail with him to Denmark. There he is involved in two battles with two evil monsters. He then fights another battle in his homeland with a Fire dragon. Without violence in Beowulf, heroism would be impossible as evidenced by Beowulf’s battles with Grendel, his mother, and the Fire dragon.
Beowulf first shows his heroic nature in the fight with Grendel. After all the men in the great hall of Heorot fall asleep, Beowulf waits for his enemy, Grendel, to come for his feast of Danish warriors. After Grendel devours one of the warriors, he makes a wrong move and grabs for Beowulf. As soon as Beowulf grips Grendel’s hand, Grendel knows he has not met anyone with the strength of Beowulf. Beowulf shows how he is a hero by deciding not to use weapons against the monster. Violence is a way of life in the Scandinavian warrior culture of Beowulf.
When your hero’s goal is to kill a local demon that’s been attacking people and carrying off corpses by the dozen, you’re going to get a certain amount of circumstantial violence. In Beowulf, battle is not only bloody, it’s gory and grimy and sweaty and sinews are tearing apart. Corpses don’t just burn on funeral pyres; the fluids and gases ooze and bubble out of the bodies as they’re burning. People don’t just wrestle; they tear each other’s arms out of their sockets and so on. Grendel isn’t only a violent murderer.
He’s also a greedy killer, someone who takes the lives of thirty men at one stroke even though he can’t pay reparations for their deaths and there seems little reason for him to lash out in this way. Even though the world of the Danes and Geats is a brutal medieval battlefield, Grendel’s violence stands out because it just doesn’t make sense according to their customs. Grendel actually takes pleasure in the details of his murderous assaults on the Danes, suggesting that he values battle for its own sake, rather than for the glory or the gold that he can get as a result of taking part in it.
By contrast, heroes like Beowulf fight for honor and for rewards, not for the thrill of killing. Grendel’s death however, was not quick and ruthless like those he inflicted to his victims. His death was slow and tortuous, as Beowulf ripped his arm right off. Grendel wasis forced to run away and escape eminent death. He had plenty of time to suffer and think about was had happened, a very painful death indeed. I believe that having Grendel die this way is a far more severe punishment than a quick and painless death.
The monster comes to the horrible realization that he too is just mortal and has finally met his match. Not only was he defeated, but demoralized and brought down to the level of his victims. I feel that even though violence is generally portrayed in a negative way, Beowulf must counter his opponent’s violence with a violence of his own. This monster had been terrorizing a people and had to be stopped at all costs. Whatever the reason to why Beowulf took it upon himself to do so is insignificant.
In the end, the mission was accomplished and the people saved from this tribulation. A hero was born and a terror slain. This theme of justice can even be seen today with the capital punishment system. When society deems a person to be a threat and menace, he or she is killed for committing such an act. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Not much has changed since the epic of Beowulf. If people were to read this epic with the understanding that Beowulf did what he must for the greater good, they wouldn’t consider him a violent person, but a just and righteous hero.