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Grendel is an epic which was brought over by the Anglo Saxons in 1066 to Britain and written down by monks more or less 500 years later. The following essay will discuss the characteristics of an epic with reference to Grendel and how and why it was adapted to the time period in which the monks lived.
Grendel was a large furry and bear-like monster who spent his time fighting humans. It is one of the three monsters that Beowulf battles. Grendel although looks like an animal, also possesses human qualities like emotions, impulses and values. Grendel is an outcast who lives in the swamps. The readers understand that behind aggression of Grendel lie his loneliness, grotesque looks and jealousy. Grendel is a member of “Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed / and condemned as outcasts.” (106–107). Needless to note that this figure is resented and abhorred by believers because he is malignant by nature and because never shows remorse (137).
The monks who rewrote the epic certainly did it for various religious purposes. On one hand, the epic made believers constantly remember about the evil associated with Grendel and the Cain’s clan. The epic made the believers remain vigilant and alert, knowing that no one is safe. On the other hand, Grendel’s human qualities also taught people that outcasts may also have emotions and feelings and that they should not be demonized. As a matter of fact the epic calls for some reconciliation, tolerance and forgiveness. Ultimately, the epic shows the triumph of humanity, represented by Beowulf, over the evil forces, represented by Grendel.
It is of importance to note that the image of Grendel has been used many times in literature with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Damme being the most famous examples. The image of Grendel allows readers to see the difference between the good and evil and to better understand the human nature. The monks who rewrote the epic accurately noted that inside Grendel, probably with the exception of his eating habits, little is different from what humans have inside. The same epic shows that humans are also as violent as Grendel if not more. The fact that Grendel engages in deep philosophical thinking and quest for truth and knowledge means to show readers that even those outcasts who are considered as rotten, corrupt and evil in fact have positive aspirations, hopes and desires.
Finally, the epic allows readers to illustrate that humans are very imperfect and this imperfection causes their sins and intolerance. The Beowulf one learns that the Shaper sings pretty songs and ‘shapes’ history making it look bright and attractive despite the fact that it wasn’t. Grendel who by the virtue of his being witnessed the true history of Danes and thus represents the source of wisdom and knowledge is not welcomed simply because people choose to live in the illusory world. To the monks who spread religion, this metaphor was enough to persuade people that their current lives are also based on illusions, wrongdoings and sins. Those who know or bring the truth to humans (like Jesus or Grendel) are not welcomed. They are rejected, oppressed, killed or crucified. The epic allows people to understand their own nature better, to build tolerance towards people who look or act differently and to ultimately endorse Christian values.
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