Two Sides of the Coin

Grendel vs Beowulf


The poem of Beowulf takes place in 6th century Denmark and Sweden. The first part takes place in Heorot, King Hrothgar's glorious mead hall. On the first night of the hall's first celebration feast is when the first monster, Grendel, is introduced. The demon ransacks the hall and kills many for years to come. years later a hero comes in, Beowulf, and slays the beast in a fair, bare, fight.

The Coin

In Anglo-Saxon literature, to be a hero was to be a warrior. A hero had to be strong, intelligent, and courageous. Warriors had to be willing to face any odds, and fight to the death for their glory and people. The Anglo-Saxon hero was able to be all of these and still be humble and kind. In literature Beowulf is, perhaps, the perfect example of an Anglo-Saxon hero. His strength and courage are unparalleled, and he is much more humble (and honorable) than many of the corrupt warriors around him. Beowulf displays his great strength time after time. Whether he is fighting sea monsters, Grendel's mother, or a horrible fire-breathing dragon, Beowulf shows that his courage and strength should be an inspiration to all heros.

However though, Grendel, the poem's first monster is the exact opposite. We dont hear much in the way of a physical discription, and this is becauae it's what Grendel represents that is the horror for the original audience. His name is associated with the "ground" or "bottom". He is a "lone-walker", not part of a group or army. He kills at night. He uses no weapon in battle, while all other warriors practically have names for theirs. He has no father, while everyone else introduces himself as "son of" someone. The poem says that "he won't settle the feud" , so he doesn't offer or accept wergild, which is the payment to an injured person, for injuring them. The poem says that he can't boast, everyone else is expected to, like Beowulf and is nine, sometimes thirteen, sea monsters.

"Venturing closer,

his talon was raised to attack Beowulf

where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in

with open claw when the alert hero's

comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.

The captain of evil discovered himself

in a handgrip harder than anything

he had ever encountered in any man

on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body

quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape ...

The geat captain had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:

he had healed and relieved a huge distress,

unremitting humiliations,

the hard fate they'd been forced to undergo,

no small affliction. Clear proof of this

could be seen in the hand of the hero displayed

high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel's

shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp."

In the fight between Grendel and Beowulf is confusing. Its not very clear as to who is beating who until the end. the confusion as to who is gripping whose arm suggest a döppleganger effect, a doubling. These two are two sides of the same coin, and the coin is a "warrior." In situations where Beowulf would stay, like losing a battle, Grendel would run to protect himself, not very honorable. In other words, Grendel represents everything a warrior should not be, or functions as the opposite of all Anglo-Saxon warrior virtues.


Caldwell, Sara. "STORMBLOG: Symbolism in Horror." STORMBLOG: Symbolism in Horror. Blogspot, 8 July 2008. Web. 11 May 2016

Garcia, Christopher. Anglo-Saxon Hero. Anglo-Saxon Hero. Pace University, 12 Feb. 2004. Web. 18 May 2016. <>.

Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. Print.

Tolken, J. R. "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics." Beowulf A Verse Translation. New York: W.W Norton, 200. 103-32. Print.

Cambria Graves

May 18, 2016