Monday, November 19, 2007

The Slaying of Grendel's Mother

Beowulf slaying Grendel's Mother, by Rockwell Kent
Illustration of Beowulf slaying Grendel's Mother, by Rockwell Kent, courtesy of Wikipedia.

EPIC POETRY IS no longer written, despite the efforts of Tolkien and Lewis, and what passes for poetry nowadays is not worthy of laurels and praise. (However, see the COMMENTS below.) BEOWULF, the epic poem of the Anglo-Saxons, which comes down to us through a single thousand-year-old manuscript, has been made into a film which, in typical Hollywood fashion, takes quite a bit of artistic license. Angelina Jolie, as Grendel's Mother, is her usual action-movie femme fatale and occasion of sin, and takes the plot of this story in a unique direction.

To avoid the confusion of viewers, here is the monster's fate in the original story:
Geseah ða on searwum · sigeeadig bil,
eald sweord eotenisc, · ecgum þyhtig,
wigena weorðmynd; · þæt wæs wæpna cyst,
buton hit wæs mare · ðonne ænig mon oðer
to beadulace · ætberan meahte,
god ond geatolic, · giganta geweorc.
He gefeng þa fetelhilt, · freca Scyldinga
hreoh ond heorogrim · hringmæl gebrægd,
aldres orwena, · yrringa sloh,
þæt hire wið halse · heard grapode,
banhringas bræc. · Bil eal ðurhwod
fægne flæschoman; · heo on flet gecrong.
Sweord wæs swatig, · secg weorce gefeh.
Lixte se leoma, · leoht inne stod,
efne swa of hefene · hadre scineð
rodores candel.
Or, in a more modern form of English:
Mid the battle-gear saw he a blade triumphant,
old-sword of Eotens, with edge of proof,
warriors' heirloom, weapon unmatched,
— save only 'twas more than other men
to bandy-of-battle could bear at all —
as the giants had wrought it, ready and keen.
Seized then its chain-hilt the Scyldings' chieftain,
bold and battle-grim, brandished the sword,
reckless of life, and so wrathfully smote
that it gripped her neck and grasped her hard,
her bone-rings breaking: the blade pierced through
that fated-one's flesh: to floor she sank.
Bloody the blade: he was blithe of his deed.
Then blazed forth light. 'Twas bright within
as when from the sky there shines unclouded
heaven's candle.
This epic, Christian but with respect for the noble pagan past, depicts the triumph over evil, while the modern film version is morally ambiguous.

1 comment:

  1. I beg to differ that epic poetry is no longer written today. I'm writing one myself at