Comparing And Contrasting The Monsters Of Beowulf With Today´S Criminals

3018 words - 12 pages

In any classic story about heroes and villains, the monsters involved are often characterized as the evil ones and, consequently, receive no justice under the law. Throughout the epic story Beowulf, the hero of the story encounters three monsters that are threats to society: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The monsters in Beowulf are quickly targeted and destroyed because of the harm they cause to society. However, upon further examination of the monsters and the motives for their actions, the reader can view the monsters not as the cutthroat villains they may initially appear to be, but perhaps as victims of society. In today’s society, murderers and robbers are also portrayed as “monsters” because of the atrocious crimes they commit. While it is undeniably wrong to commit any kind of crime and I do not wish to condone murder or theft in any way, there may also be an ulterior explanation for why these modern “monsters” cause harm to society. In comparing and contrasting the monsters of Germanic epic with criminals of today, perhaps we can gain some insight into the motivation of both.
One reason for which monsters are held in contempt in the epics is the authochthonous Germanic culture of the Middle Ages. This broad society respected those with wealth, status, and honor, while those without any of these are shunned. For example, when Beowulf introduces himself to Hrothgar, that king immediately recognizes the visitor: “[h]is father before him was called Ecgtheow” (Beowulf ln. 373). For Hrothgar to acknowledge Beowulf by his lineage shows Beowulf’s societal prominence: he was born of distinguished quality. Beowulf also proves the quality of his ilk to King Hrothgar through his bravery in fighting Grendel and saving the Danes from further destruction. In addition, Beowulf gains greater honor through this accomplishment, and the Danes characterize him as a hero because he took on a journey and fought a battle that no one else was able to accomplish. On the other hand, Grendel, a creature who dwells in the swamplands away from human society, is treated as an outcast because of his lineage and relationship to “Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts” (ln. 106-107). Grendel has neither wealth, fame, nor honor; the fact that he does not even have a father to identify him makes him that much more worthless in society’s eyes, because the lack of a father downgrades one’s status. At a time when a person was identified by his or her paternal ancestry, fatherless Grendel roamed around aimlessly with no self-identity. Grendel was born completely devoid of distinction. To be fair, it is not Grendel’s fault that he is an outcast. He has no control over being one of the “fatherless creatures, [whose] whole ancestry is hidden in a past of demons and ghosts” (ln. 1355-1357). Yet it is because of this one unchangeable element, his birth into Cain’s clan, that Grendel is looked down upon by society. For this...

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