In Beowulf, how does Beowulf overcome the frightful monster?
Beowulf's victory over the monster Grendel is one of the great battle scenes in the history of literature, and it establishes him as the first epic hero to be recorded in the English language. Grendel's arm, ripped from its shoulder and hanging from Herot's rafters, is one of the most striking literary images of any language.
Beowulf's victory is made possible by the usual qualities of the epic hero: bravery and strength. Clearly, Beowulf can do things no other man can do, and he complements his physical prowess with courage and audacity. But there is another interesting aspect to his battle with Grendel that sometimes goes without mention. Look at this part of the battle, from Burton Raffel's translation:
Human eyes were watching his evil steps.
Waiting to see his swift claws.
Grendel snatched at the first Geat
He came to, ripped him apart, cut
His body to bits with powerful jaws,
Drank the blood from his veins, and bolted
Him down, hands and feet; death
And Grendel's great teeth came together,
Snapping life shut. Then he stepped to another
Still body, clutched at Bewoulf with his claws,
Grasped at a strong-hearted wakeful sleeper
--And was instantly seized himself, claws
Bent back as Beowulf leaned up on one arm.
Wow, that's pretty violent—it might even earn a parental warning in today's world. But did you notice what Beowulf did? Beowulf intentionally laid in wait while Grendel occupied himself with destroying one of his men. Beowulf was willing to sacrifice his own loyal soldier to gain the element of surprise over his adversary. Beowulf isn't just brave and powerful, he is also absolutely ruthless, toward both his enemy and the safety of his own men. This isn't a quality that we normally attribute to the epic hero, but it isn't wholly out-of-place with the Anglo-Saxon emphasis on violence and warfare.
Without the element of surprise, Beowulf might not have been able to realistically defeat Grendel. Although we normally attribute his victory to physical strength and bravery, we must also consider his willingness to use his own man as bait to help him win.
Grendel, the monster that attacked Herot, Hrothgar's mead hall, was unstoppable until Beowulf arrived in the land of the Danes to face the monster. The monster had attacked and killed many of Hrothgar’s warriors forcing the people to abandon the mead hall. News of Grendel reached Beowulf, a brave and skilled warrior from the Geats, who after hearing the news left his home to challenge the monster.
He arrived with some of his men in the land of the Danes and made his intentions known to King Hrothgar. At night Beowulf and his compatriots sleep in Herot to wait for the monster. Grendel arrives in the dark and begins to attack the warriors. The warriors fight back but their weapons don’t work on Grendel because of enchantment protecting the monster from harm. Beowulf refused to use any weapons and instead battled the monster by hand. The two engage in a vicious fight until Beowulf grabs the monster's arm and tears it from the its body. Grendel then runs back home mortally wounded and dies there. Beowulf keeps the arm as a trophy.
In the Epic Poem Beowulf, Beowulf is described as the typical Epic Hero. Given that Beowulf possess the many characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon hero, he has the ability to defeat the monster Grendel.
Epic heroes, like Beowulf, must possess many different qualities which the society deems great and, therefore, qualifies a man as a hero. This being said, of the many characteristics which make Beowulf a hero, the two characteristics which allow Beowulf to defeat Grendel are 1)the conflict must be with a being of equal or greater ability (no fame comes from defeating a weak opponent) and 2)his decision to fight Grendel without weaponry given Grendel possess and carries no weapons.
In the end, Beowulf takes the arm of Grendel as a trophy, and confirmation, of his vanquishing the beast known for tormenting the people of Hrothgar's kingdom.