Grendel is one of the most famous and fearsome characters in the epic poem Beowulf, which is considered to be the oldest surviving work of English literature. He is a monstrous creature that terrorizes the hall of Heorot, where the Danish king Hrothgar and his warriors feast and celebrate. He is also a descendant of Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, who killed his brother Abel out of envy and was cursed by God. But how exactly is Grendel related to Cain, and what does this mean for his role and symbolism in the poem? In this article, we will explore the possible answers to these questions and shed some light on the mystery of the monster’s origins.
Grendel’s Genealogy: A Biblical Connection
The first clue to Grendel’s relation to Cain comes from the poet himself, who describes Grendel as “a creature of darkness, exiled from happiness and accursed of God, the destroyer and devourer of our human kind”. He also states that Grendel belongs to “the race of eotens”, which are a type of giants or monsters in Germanic mythology. Moreover, he explicitly names Cain as Grendel’s ancestor, saying that he was “born of Cain” and that he was “of Cain’s clan” . According to Wikipedia, he is one of the three antagonists in the poem, along with his mother and the dragon, all aligned in opposition against the protagonist Beowulf .
But how did Cain become the progenitor of such evil beings? The poet does not give a clear explanation, but he implies that it has something to do with God’s wrath and punishment. He says that after Cain killed Abel, God “avenged that death upon him”  and “drove him off”  from human society. He also says that God “made him anathema” , which means a person or thing that is detested or cursed. Furthermore, he says that God “gave him over to the race of eotens” , which suggests that God either transformed Cain into a monster or made him the father of monsters. Either way, it seems that Grendel inherited his wickedness and deformity from his biblical forefather.
Grendel’s Character: A Symbol of Evil
The second clue to Grendel’s relation to Cain comes from his actions and motivations in the poem. Grendel is portrayed as a ruthless and relentless enemy of mankind, who attacks Heorot night after night for twelve years, killing and devouring many of Hrothgar’s men. He is also depicted as a jealous and resentful creature, who hates the sound of joy and music that comes from the hall. He is especially enraged by the song of creation that celebrates God’s work in making the world . He cannot bear to see or hear anything that reminds him of God’s goodness and grace.
Grendel’s behavior mirrors that of Cain, who also acted out of envy and anger against his brother Abel, who was favored by God for his offering. Cain could not stand to see Abel’s happiness and success, so he decided to kill him in cold blood. Both Grendel and Cain are driven by a sense of alienation and rejection from God and humanity. They are also marked by their crimes: Cain by a sign on his forehead , and Grendel by his severed arm , which Beowulf rips off in their epic battle.
Grendel’s character thus symbolizes evil in its purest form: a force that opposes God and His creation, a force that seeks to destroy and devour all that is good and beautiful, a force that has no remorse or redemption. He represents the dark side of human nature, the potential for sin and violence that lurks within every person. He also represents the consequences of sin: exile, suffering, and death.
Conclusion: The Mystery Remains
Grendel is related to Cain by blood and by spirit. He shares Cain’s curse and carries on his legacy of evil. He is a fascinating and complex character that challenges us to reflect on our own moral choices and values. However, he is also a mysterious character that leaves us with many unanswered questions. For example:
- How did Cain become the father or founder of the race of eotens?
- What is the nature and origin of Grendel’s mother?
- Why does Grendel have some human-like qualities, such as intelligence, speech, and emotions?
- What is the significance of Grendel’s encounter with Beowulf?
- What is the role of fate or destiny in Grendel’s life and death?
These questions have intrigued and inspired many scholars, writers, and artists over the centuries, who have offered various interpretations and re-imaginings of Grendel and his story. Some of the most notable examples are:
- John Gardner’s novel Grendel (1971), which tells the story from Grendel’s point of view and explores his existential crisis and philosophical dilemmas.
- Neil Gaiman’s short story The Monarch of the Glen (2004), which features a modern-day Beowulf who fights a mysterious creature that may or may not be Grendel’s son.
- Robert Zemeckis’s film Beowulf (2007), which depicts Grendel as a deformed and tormented child of Hrothgar and his mother as a seductive and powerful demon.
These works show that Grendel is a character that continues to fascinate and challenge us, even after more than a thousand years. He is a character that invites us to explore the mystery of his origins and the meaning of his existence.