Grendel is a one of the ways in which the poet introduces Judeo-Christian tradition into an otherwise traditionally Anglo-Saxon mythology. Grendel is a descendant of Cain. Cain committed the first recorded murder in the Bible when he killed his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. Neither God nor Adam would kill Cain, but God did curse Cain. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the descendants of Cain were human-like, but not human creatures, including creatures such as giants. Cain’s descendants were considered monsters with some human characteristics. For example, they could be monsters, ogres, or other clearly humanoid-looking monsters that were sufficiently physically distinct from humans to make it clear that they were not human, but also sufficiently physically similar to humans to make it clear that they were not merely animals. Grendel is one of these monsters. He resembles a man, but he seems to have claws either in lieu of hands or in lieu of arms, though it is possible that he simply has claws at the ends of his hands. He is larger than a man, and he is much stronger than a man. Furthermore, he has some type of magical protection; he cannot be killed by a weapon, though how and why Grendel came to be charmed is not explained in the poem. It may have been part of the underlying oral tradition, but Grendel’s backstory was not included in the poem Beowulf.

Grendel becomes angry at the happy sounds that are coming from Heorot. While they may be disturbing him in the swamp, the anger seems to be rooted in a general resentment of mankind. Like Cain’s biblical resentment of Abel, Grendel’s resentment of the men at Heorot seems to be based in them finding God’s favor when he has not. That the poet adds this dimension to the dispute between Grendel and Beowulf is significant because it demonstrates the poet’s desire to inject Christian ethical principles into a heroic story that is based on a pre-Christian oral tradition.

The poet’s description of Grendel coming up from the swamp land and approaching the mead...

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Essays About Beowulf