As depicted in Beowulf, compare Beowulf's fight with Grendel with his fight with Grendel's mother in order to determine which seems more dangerous.

Beowulf's fight with Grendel's mother is far more dangerous to him than his fight with Grendel. In the latter, Beowulf merely grasps Grendel's arm and holds on with his great strength until he tears the arm from the shoulder. But in the former, Grendel's mother nearly kills Beowulf after his sword fails.

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Heorot, the great hall of King Hrothgar and the Danes, has been under attack by the monster Grendel, the “notorious waste-wanderer” (line 100) and descendent of Cain. Grendel enters Heorot each night when Hrothgar's thanes sleep in the hall, grasps the men, kills them, eats some of them, and carries...

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Heorot, the great hall of King Hrothgar and the Danes, has been under attack by the monster Grendel, the “notorious waste-wanderer” (line 100) and descendent of Cain. Grendel enters Heorot each night when Hrothgar's thanes sleep in the hall, grasps the men, kills them, eats some of them, and carries others away for a snack later on. Grendel despises these men, for they have something that he never would: a place in the hall and the joys of fellowship with their king and among themselves.

Then Beowulf, Prince of the Geats, appears on the scene. His father was once aided by Hrothgar, and Beowulf wants to return the favor, so he volunteers to get rid of Grendel. He settles himself in Heorot that night, having already decided that he will fight Grendel with his bare hands and brute strength rather than with a sword. Grendel enters the hall and quickly eats one man, but Beowulf is ready for him. The strong Geat grabs Grendel's arm and holds on. Grendel cannot free himself, no matter how he struggles, until finally his arm starts to separate at the shoulders. His “sinews sprang asunder / bone-locks burst” (lines 817–18). Then Beowulf is still holding Grendel's arm, but Grendel himself is fleeing into the fens, mortally wounded.

The Danes and Geats celebrate Beowulf's victory all day and into the night, but another adversary lurks in the wilderness, bent on revenge: Grendel's mother. While the men sleep in Heorot, she enters stealthily, retrieves Grendel's arm, and grabs a warrior for good measure. Beowulf suddenly has another task to perform, and he is ready for it. He will kill Grendel's mother.

This job, however, will not be quite as straightforward as his fight with Grendel. Grendel's mother is more wary and sly, and Beowulf will fight her on her own turf. Beowulf and his men track Grendel's mother to her lair, which is at the bottom of a lake. Beowulf has to swim down amidst “many a sea-beast / with battle-tusks” (lines 1510–11) that attack him. When he finally confronts Grendel's mother in her own hall, he thrusts at her with his sword but does not even make a dent in her thick skin. Beowulf then grabs her by the shoulder, thinking to repeat his performance on her son at Heorot, but she falls to the floor and turns on him. Beowulf stumbles, and Grendel's mother draws her knife. She has Beowulf pinned, and only his mail-shirt saves him from death. Beowulf then sees an old sword nearby, one made by giants, which gives it extra powers. He grasps it and swings, catching Grendel's mother in the neck and killing her.

If we think about which fight was more dangerous to Beowulf, then, that with Grendel or that with Grendel's mother, we would have to conclude the latter. Grendel's mother almost kills Beowulf. His own sword proves useless, and it is only because of his sharp eyes that spy the magical sword and his quick thinking to grasp and use it that Beowulf survives the encounter.

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Grendel's mother is the stronger foe of the two in that she has a bigger advantage over the hero: her environment.

Grendel comes to Beowulf. Beowulf just has to hide in the mead hall and wait for the enemy to show up, so he has the element of surprise in his favor. With Grendel's mother, he has to search for her. Her watery domain is treacherous, filled to the brim with sea-monsters Beowulf must fight first, and going through it expends some energy, so Beowulf cannot really surprise her or fight in top condition when he reaches her.

Grendel's mother is a stronger opponent for other reasons as well. Her skin is thick, unable to be penetrated by an ordinary blade. Beowulf almost dies at her hands and must be rescued by coming across an enchanted sword that can kill her. He attacks her from above and breaks her collar bone. So unlike the battle with Grendel, where Beowulf's physical strength was enough to overcome the enemy, here Beowulf must to some degree rely on an outside force to save him. He must also use strategy to a greater degree to overcome her too.

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One could argue that Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother is significantly more dangerous than his fight with Grendel in Herot. Before Beowulf's battle with Grendel, he anticipated the monster's attack and was prepared to fight with him hand-to-hand. The element of surprise was taken away as Beowulf patiently waited for Grendel to attack. In addition to anticipating Grendel's arrival, Beowulf was familiar with Herot and Grendel was forced to travel to fight him. Reinforcements were also readily available for Beowulf during his altercation with Grendel and at any moment a soldier could intervene.

In contrast, Beowulf is forced to travel all day in order to arrive at Grendel's mother's lair, which is underwater. Once Beowulf arrives at the foreboding lake, he is forced to fight sea beasts, serpents, and dangerous creatures as he swims to Grendel's mother's underwater lair. Although Beowulf is armed with Unferth's sword, he discovers that it is useless against Grendel's mother's impenetrable skin. Beowulf also does not anticipate that Grendel's mother will use a dagger against him and is fortunate enough to wield a magical sword hanging on the wall to defeat the monster. The fact that Beowulf was forced to fight Grendel's mother in her lair, overcome the threatening monsters in the lake, and was not prepared for the battle is evidence that his struggle against Grendel's mother was significantly more dangerous.

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The epic battles in Beowulf prove to be very different in regards to difficulty for the hero Beowulf. Beowulf's fight with Grendel was one which he was prepared for. Being the true hero he was, Beowulf chose to enter into the battle in the same way Grendel would (without weapons). In this sense, Beowulf knew that he would be required to fight Grendel with his hands and strength alone.

In Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother, Beowulf took Hrunting (the heirloom sword of Unferth's family). Upon beginning battle with Grendel's mother, Beowulf soon finds out that the weapon is useless against the monster.

In both battles, Beowulf reigns as the victor. This said, the battles are very different. The battle with Grendel proves to be easier than the battle with his mother. For example, Beowulf must only fight Grendel. There are no other obstacles that he must overcome. In the battle with Grendel's mother, Beowulf must face off against sea-beasts which dwell in her watery lair.

One last difference between the battles was the lead-up to the battles themselves. For the battle with Grendel, all Beowulf needed to do was lay back and wait for Grendel to appear. On the other hand, he was required to spend "most of his day" traversing the watery dominion in order to reach Grendel's mother.

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