"Malignant by Nature," (137) Grendel as Man's Violent Impulse
"In peaceful times the warlike man sets upon himself." The poem "Beowulf" illustrates the violent, primitive reality of the truth in Nietszche's aphorism. The monster Grendel plays a symbolic role as the primordial, inalienable instincts that exist on the fringes of human civilization whose existence is ignored and whose presence is desperately barred from entrance into the great and glorious mead-hall. At the same time, Beowulf's battle with Grendel is an affirmation of man's ability not only to conquer and control, but accept, his violent impulses. Beowulf's acceptance of his nature is what truly qualifies him to be a hero, while the heroic feats of strength he achieves are only an unavoidable progression of events after Beowulf first realizes that he is destined for greatness.
While the Spear-Danes were still warlike men, violence reigned supreme. "Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches" (4-5) was praised as a "good king."(11) At this point, the violent expenditure of energy was directed outward and peace within the ranks of the Spear-Danes was possible. However, when Hrothgar "turned to hall-building," (68) the Danes remain warlike...
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