The Role Of The Great Mother In Beowulf

2009 words - 8 pages

The Role of the Great Mother in Beowulf

Grendel's dam is not simply a "wandering fiend" (1621), a "swamp thing from
hell" (1518), or a "troll-dam" (1391). She is an example of what Erich Neuhmann in his
book, The Great Mother, calls an embodiment of the Great Mother in her "negative
elementary character" (147). Her realms are the underworld, a cave below a lake, both
symbols of the unconscious. She is begetter and child bearer, creator and destroyer of
life; she nourishes and ensures the fertility of the land and people through her thirst for blood and sacrifice as a ritual for rebirth. As a pre-Christian goddess, she is not
categorized as evil, but rather as a necessary power to balance light and dark, life and
death. Her son, Grendel, is also not so easily defined as a monster-demon, for he is a
manifestation of her male properties (though neither Grendel or his dam are purely male
or female). Both 'creatures' are aspects of the one Great Mother, the archetypal female
symbol, as Destroyer, or 'Terrible Mother'(147). Her Terribleness springs not from her
monstrousness, but from her ability to live outside of patriarchy. Her presence in the
text, Beowulf, depicts the battle over authority between patriarchal Christianity and the
matriarchal pagan religion as she tries to reestablish her sovereignty as ruling deity in
the land of the Danes.

Grendel's dam is the embodiment of the Great Mother in her negative aspect. The Great Mother is an archetypal symbol of female powers. Her positive aspect includes her powers of procreation, fertility, nourishment, the earth as womb - that which contains all, and creativity. In her negative aspect, the Great Mother inspires awe and dread as a destructive, ravaging, consuming, seductive, and vengeful force. She appears as "the hungry earth" (Neuhmann 149), devourer of her own children. She is the tiger, the vulture, the wolf, "voraciously licking up the blood seed of men and beasts, and, once fecundated and sated, casting it out again in new birth" (Neuhmann 149-150). In Beowulf, her domain is the underworld, the cave below the mere, a "hellish turn-hole" (1513), her "womb of death" (Neuhmann 172), where she "attracts and draws in all living things" (Neuhmann 172). In the text, it is clear that Grendel's dam falls into the negative classification of the Great Mother: she is a "monstrous hell bride" (1258), a hell-dam (1292), a "force for evil" (1339). Here, we can clearly see that the Christian labeling of the Great Mother's negative aspect has been applied to Grendel's dam and she is not viewed as the balancing and necessary opposite of the positive, but has become evil, kin to the devil. As a devil/demon she has been "forced down into fearful waters" (1292), suppressed and denied, by the Christian usurpers of her domain, yet she lives on and extends a presence in the land of Hrothgar. Indeed, his subjects continue to pay homage to the pagan gods despite the influence of...

Find Another Essay On The Role of the Great Mother in Beowulf

The Role of Religion in Beowulf

718 words - 3 pages referenced, yet the monsters are said to have been sent by fate; a Pagan belief. There are multiple examples of this type of coexistence. Immediately following this however, there is a line that seems to be drawn purely from the belief in God’s providence. “But the man remembered his mighty power, the glorious gift that God had sent him” (1277,1278). Another reference to the bible is made when Beowulf fights Grendel’s mother. One cannot help but

The Great Battles of Beowulf Essay

791 words - 3 pages The Great Battles of Beowulf In the Epic Poem, Beowulf, we read about the famous warrior Beowulf and his many battles. We first read of his battle with Grendal and how Beowulf triumphed. Next we read of his battle with Grendal’s mother and how he overturned an almost certain defeat into a victory. Last we read of Beowulf’s battle against the dragon where he meets is ultimate death. So please, just sit back and relax as I compare and contrast

The Role of a Lost Language in Beowulf

860 words - 3 pages The epic Beowulf is one of the earliest known works in the English vernacular. The protagonist, Beowulf, is a hero with superhuman powers who fears nothing and no one. The poem follows his journey through life and specifically his defeat of the three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon, who brings about Beowulf’s downfall. The chosen passage details the horrors of Grendel’s attack on Heorot, the domain of Hrothgar, King of the

Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, and the Dragon in Beowulf

2027 words - 8 pages traveling to other countries (Beowulf). Because stories had traveled all over, Beowulf soon hears about the torture put on the innocent people. Beowulf, being full of him, tries to prove his heroism by fighting in dangerous ways that often does not prove his heroism (Vaught). With this mindset, Beowulf decides to fight Grendel with no armor, weapons, or help. The night before, a great party is held in the meed hall to draw Grendel out of his

The Unique Role of the Mother

2099 words - 8 pages The Unique Role of the Mother The discussion about our mother always evokes strong emotions in us. And it should! After all, we lived in her womb for nine months even before we experienced the light of this world. When we try to explain to others what she means to us, or what a mother should be like or do, each of us has a different expression. Each mother is, after all, different. The unique role of the mother will be viewed through the

"Beowulf" and the role of Woman

1060 words - 4 pages "Beowulf" is not just an epic tale of battles and kings; it offers an insight to the Anglo Saxon customs, one of these being the customs of women. Many parts in the story lead us to believe that woman were viewed as nothing more than servants, whereas others make us believe that woman played a very important role in society. The two characters that play the most important role in this topic would be Wealtheow and Grendel's mother. Wealtheow

Comparing the Role of Women in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

1322 words - 5 pages Hrothegar's kingdom can live in peace. Grendel's mother may seem like the exception in Beowulf, although, she too, is defeated by a man. She is able to attack the men with her, ""brutal grip" (1502), "savage talons" (1504), and "terrible strength" (1519); using the same type of violence that the men possess. However, because she is a woman, she fails. The poet created her as the outcast, the "swamp thing from hell" (1518). Grendel's mother is

Discuss the role of Maurya in ‘The Riders to the Sea’ as a ‘mother’ and ‘priest.’

1074 words - 4 pages in the sea. She had had a difficult time bringing them up, as her husband was also a victim of the sea. Maurya has undergone a great deal of suffering, which makes her an anxious mother during the first half the play.Like any mother, she too is protective. However, in Maurya's case her protectiveness borders on paranoia. This is evident in her words when Bartley is about to leave for the sea."He won't go this day with the wind rising from the

Discuss The Role Of Maurya In ‘The Riders To The Sea’ As A ‘Mother’ And ‘Priest.’

1332 words - 6 pages in the sea. She had had a difficult time bringing them up, as her husband was also a victim of the sea. Maurya has undergone a great deal of suffering, which makes her an anxious mother during the first half the play.Like any mother, she too is protective. However, in Maurya's case her protectiveness borders on paranoia. This is evident in her words when Bartley is about to leave for the sea."He won't go this day with the wind rising from the

Discuss the role of Maurya in ‘The Riders to the Sea’ as a ‘mother’ and ‘priest.’

1074 words - 4 pages in the sea. She had had a difficult time bringing them up, as her husband was also a victim of the sea. Maurya has undergone a great deal of suffering, which makes her an anxious mother during the first half the play.Like any mother, she too is protective. However, in Maurya's case her protectiveness borders on paranoia. This is evident in her words when Bartley is about to leave for the sea."He won't go this day with the wind rising from the

The Role of the Narrator in The Great Gatsby

2093 words - 8 pages The Role of the Narrator in The Great Gatsby The role of the narrator is to establish a link with the outside world and the one in which he lives. Nick in essence becomes the eyes and ears of the novel. And through him the basis of opinions that occur on the other characters are created. Nick becomes the sole source for information in the novel. Nick also participates in the novel, and is not just an observer. Nick provides the novels

Similar Essays

The Role Of The Hero In Beowulf

1298 words - 5 pages destined to fight and kill the terrible monster. Grendel's identification with Beowulf is so strong that even his mother can feel it. He can sense it something is coming that will have a great effect on Grendel. It seems Beowulf is Grendel's destiny. He cannot avoid it; all of his protestations are useless. Beowulf is arriving to kill Grendel. When Grendel’s mother decides to avenge her only son’s death, Beowulf fights her and kills her

The Role Of Women In Beowulf

2635 words - 11 pages politically and capable of keeping her kingdom under control even in the event of the death of Hygelac, remains tamed by male society for maintaining and following her gender-given role of cup-bearer and hostess. In these ways, the two noble women Wealhtheow and Hygd show the ways that they are tamed by males in the world of Beowulf. Conversely, Grendel's mother puts up the greatest fight for her refusal of male dominance. In the end, she loses her

The Role Of Wiglaf In Beowulf

1375 words - 6 pages The Role of Wiglaf in Beowulf Seemingly minor character Wiglaf plays a central role in the conclusion of Beowulf. A young knight who has never before seen battle, Wiglaf steps forward to help his lord, hero, and cousin Beowulf in a time of peril. With his failure in battle and resulting death, the narrator shows that Beowulf is, after all, a prideful and mortal being; thus begins the transfer of heroic status from the old king to the

The Role Of Religion In Beowulf

548 words - 2 pages leads to frequent biblical allusion and references to God, Cain, heaven, hell and "creator". In Beowulf, the author has combined the warrior fighting society of Anglo-Saxon with the belief of faith of Christianity and skillfully woven them in this epic poem and in the end, both religion functions alongside with each other to produce this great work of literature.Around the time of 18th century, this poem was rewritten by a Christian poet. Not