, , , , , , , , , ,

Through out the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, there are numerous vivid portrayals of the nature of evil. All three have a few things in common, including greed, or perhaps more appropriately, the stronger description: lust.   Grendel, the Mother of Grendel, and the Dragon are all evil, all three are interesting portrayals of evil.
Let us start with Grendel. Grendel is described as a descendant of Cain, as are his kin: the orcs, elves, demons, and such. Cain it will be recalled committed the first recorded case of murder. Grendel’s first and most overwhelming characteristic is a blood-lust, and battle-lust. The portrayal of his slayings depict him as savage, and reveling in the spilling of the blood of mortal men. Grendel’s main trait then, apart from greed, is blood-lust: brutality, savagery, murder, and related characteristics. Grendel is the first, and perhaps most blunt and savage depiction of evil in Beowulf.
Grendel’s mother, despite her relationship to Grendel, is quite different. She is described as weaker, and she uses cunning to exact vengeance. She does not seem to revel in blood shed as her son did. When she visits the halls of the Danes to exact vengeance for Beowulf’s killing of her son, she enters without fanfare, and seizes one man. And unlike Grendel, she bears him away, rather than slaying him there in front of his comrades. The mother of Grendel is cunning and less blunt than Grendel himself. Her overwhelming characteristic is pure malice. Of all the evils portrayed in Beowulf, she (in my mind at least) is the most like Satan, even more so than the Dragon.
The Dragon is the most primeval of the evils portrayed. The Dragon could be said to be the personification of greed, or more accurately, lust. The dragon broods over its hoard of gold, never enjoying it, but lusting after every part of it, down to the last coin. Through out the various mythologies and epic poetry, the dragon is always portrayed this way. The Dragon is a sickness. Fafnir, in Norse poetry, is cunning, and ends up eventually corrupting a great many people. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Smaug is quite like both the Dragon of Beowulf, and like Fafnir. In the films of the book, the “dragon sickness” is done quite well. Smaug is first and foremost a cunning and greedy creature, and so it is with the Dragon of Beowulf.
Evil in Beowulf has one thing in common: lust. Lust is at the root of all the evils in Beowulf, and it can be argued was the beginning of sin. Eve lusted after the apple. Humans lust for power, wealth, and other more abstract things. Lust is what the three great evils of Beowulf have in common.