In illiterate societies three was a number that represented importance. This is primarily because one occurrence of an event isn't relevant for it cannot be compared to another event. A second occurrence has much of the same meaning: the incident is solely a coincidence that it is parallel to the first incident. The third incidence of an episode distinguished to the people that it was relevant. The repetition of three analogous scenarios allowed the people of this time and place to connect more deeply with a story.
In the great tale of Beowulf, the same rule applied to many of the important themes. The greatest and most prominent occurrence of this 'rule of three' takes place in the three battles in which Beowulf partakes. In each of these three events, Beowulf comes across a great monster and is able to conquer it. Three primary themes are common through the encounters: the importance of victory and how it gained glory for men, the failings of human weapons, and the parallel between material possessions received and respect. The story of Beowulf seems to focus upon this group of events because it seemed like a basic model for how a great leader came to be, as well as the impressiveness of each conquest.
The great monster Grendel was the powerful warrior's first opponent in battle. Grendel was a ravager of a hall by the name of Heorot and was seen as a demon frowned upon by God himself. The great hall of the Danes had long been plagued by Grendel, who carried off the people in groups of about 30. Thus, it was Beowulf's purpose to conquer the great ravager of the Danes. Before their famed clash, Beowulf declared that he would not fight Grendel with any weapon of man, for the fiend would not be using any of his own, in the intention to create a fair fight. Beowulf caught Grendel by surprise as the monster was visiting the hall one final time. The guardian of the hall gripped Grendel so tightly that the demon was instantly stuck with fear and attempted to flee from the fight. In the struggle, Grendel lost his arm and was left to die in the forest.
Beowulf did not seem to have much trouble with the fiend in this battle, appearing to be the outright victor. This is surprising at first, considering the formidability of the monster that had plagued the hall of the Danes for so long. But then again, the great warrior did have a 'home-court advantage' of a sort, being in the hall initially and catching the demon by surprise. We also find that Beowulf also had an edge by not using his sword for Grendel was invulnerable to any weapon. During the battle, Beowulf's companions attempted to come to his aid, yet not a single swing of their blades could penetrate the skin of the monster. At the banquet the next day, Beowulf gains great glory and treasure from Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, for his cleansing of the hall.
In Beowulf's second paramount showdown, he fought the vengeful mother of the monster Grendel, who had come to the mead-hall at Heorot and carried away a warrior well known to the people there. In the battle, Beowulf was required to dive to the bottom of a seemingly endless lake to the home of the monster. On his way down,
"she grasped him, clutched the Geat in her ghastly claws...
Then the sea-wolf dived to the bottom-most depths,
swept the prince to the place where she lived
so that he, for all his courage, could not
wield a weapon" (Crossley-Holland 50).
After taking Beowulf to her lair at the bottom of the lake, Grendel's mother engaged the warrior in a terrible battle. Beowulf swung his sword with all his might, hoping to take out the rancorous mother, yet "its edge failed Beowulf when he needed it" (Crossley-Holland 51). After grappling with the beast for a period of time, Beowulf spotted a great sword, forged by the giants, and used it to slice down his opponent.
The battle with Grendel's mother was evidently much more difficult for Beowulf than his first...