A Jungian Reading of Beowulf
The epic poem, Beowulf, depicts the battles and victories of the Anglo-Saxon warrior Beowulf, over man-eating monsters. The noble defender, Beowulf, constantly fought monsters and beasts to rid the land of evil. The most significant of these monsters, Grendel, represents Beowulf's shadow, the Jungian archetype explored in the essay collection, Meeting the Shadow.
The character Grendel portrays the fallen self, which will assert itself violently if neglected, and must be overcome throughout life. The monster Grendel mirrors the part of our fallen state. Grendel's ancestry leads to the biblical figure Cain, to which all evil can be attributed. Grendel represents the hidden evil of Beowulf. Rollo May describes this in his metaphor "the dragon or the Sphinx in me will often be clamoring and will sometimes be expressed"(174). Grendel represents Beowulf's Sphinx, that lashes out on others.
The name Grendel can be roughly translated to mean "grinder," and "storm" (Raffel Burton 152). These terms come to life when he invades the Mead Hall. Grendel "Rushed angrily across the inlaid floor, snarling and fierce: his eyes gleamed in the darkness, burned with a gruesome light. Then he stopped, seeing the hall crowded with sleeping warriors, stuffed with rows of young soldiers resting together. And his heart laughed, he relished the sight, intended to tear the life from those bodies by morning"(46). Grendel and the other monsters that represent Beowulf shadow "project their own evil onto the world" (Peck 178). Grendel the "Shepherd of evil, guardian of crime" represents the inherent evil that the shadow embodies (Burton 46).
Beowulf fought off Grendel like we must fight our shadow. We cannot rid ourselves from our evil potential; the shadow represents a lifelong endeavor. Beowulf never finished fighting his demons. He defeated beasts in the sea, Grendel, Grendel's mother, battled with the Swedes, and finally fought the dragon until his death. To defeat evil we must shed the grip that it has over us. Grendel's "hatred rose higher, but his power had gone. He twisted in pain, and the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder snapped, muscle and bone split and broke" (Burton 48). Beowulf disempowered Grendel by ripping of his arm. To rid ourselves from evil we must loosen its grip over us by eliminating its power. Grendel represents Beowulf's...