Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
Grendel appears at Herot in the middle of the night. The warriors, sated by drink and food, are "sprawled in sleep," unaware of any imminent danger. Notice that the motif of feasting, followed by going to bed, is another pattern that the poet weaves into the texture of his poem. (In this instance, bed means "death.") The monster steals silently into the hall, kills thirty of the sleeping Danish warriors, and returns to his home in the swamp, "delighted with his night's slaughter" (125).
At one moment everyone was happy and self-satisfied. How often we've felt that way ourselves, only to be rudely awakened by the harshness of reality! In this case Grendel acts as the terrible reminder that evil lurks in the world, and that all pleasures exist only in the moment and then pass away.
In the morning, Hrothgar, stunned by the loss of his friends, weeps inconsolably, uncertain whether Grendel's attack is just an isolated incident or whether, as the poet says, "the beginning might not be the end." You might think that Grendel would be satisfied with his first night's work, but his hatred of mankind is insatiable. When he returns a second time, the Danish warriors make no attempt to fight against him. It's every man for himself.- the only way to escape death is to flee.
Doesn't it seem that the Danish warriors, whose reputations depend so much on their courage in the face of danger, should attempt to defend their hall? When we meet Beowulf himself later in the poem, we'll realize the difference between the Danish soldiers, who are ultimately just ordinary mortals like ourselves, and a true hero, for whom no danger is too great.
Twelve years pass. Herot, built as a symbol of Hrothgar's success as a king, remains empty. The story of Grendel, and of Hrothgar's inability to restrain the monster's wrath, spreads across the seas, and is sung "in all men's ears." Grendel appears everywhere, stalking the Danish warriors, lurking in the shadows. At night he lives in Herot, where only Hrothgar's throne, protected by God ("whose love Grendel could not know"), remains unharmed.
Hrothgar and his counselors make useless attempts to appease the monster. They can't offer him gold or land, as they might an ordinary enemy. Like most people in a time of crisis they slip back into old ways of thinking. Instead of praying to God for support, they sacrifice to the stone idols of their pagan past. Though enlightened by Christianity, the poet is saying, pagan rituals were still very much a part of these people's lives.