13. The Norse saga of Beowulf and Grendel
Originally written in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the epic poem describing the adventures of Beowulf tells of one of the myths of the Danes and Swedes. The first part of the myth tells the story of Grendel, an ogre of fearsome cruelty, the son of an equally brutish mother. Grendel they live in the marshes and swamps of the Kingdom of Hrothgar. On one night, Grendel enters Hrothgar’s castle, kills 30 of the king’s warriors, and carries their bodies to his home in the swamp, for his mother and he to eat. Grendel continues his attacks on the castle for 12 ensuing years, terrorizing the kingdom. Hrothgar and his subjects pray in vain to their pagan gods for relief, and the stories of Grendel’s depredations spread to other kingdoms in the Norse regions, among them the land of the Geats. There they are heard by a Geat warrior named Beowulf.
Beowulf’s feats are already legendary among the Geats when he hears of Grendel. As a slayer of both sea monsters and giants, Beowulf has little trouble recruiting 14 warriors from the Geats to accompany him to Hrothgar. There he fights Grendel in hand to hand combat, ripping the monster’s arm off before Grendel escapes to the swamp, where he dies. Beowulf returns to Hrothgar, presenting the arm of the dead beast to the king, and it is hung in a place of honor in Hrothgar’s castle, Heorot. Meanwhile, Grendel’s mother, vows to avenge her dying son. She travels to Heorot, kills one of the king’s aides, and escapes to the swamp carrying Grendel’s arm. Beowulf then follows the monster to a cave in the swamps, carrying a sword with super powers named Hrunting. When Hrunting fails to injure the monster, Beowulf grabs another sword from a wall in the cave, with which he kills the monster and decapitates the body of Grendel.