Describe Grendel physically using quotes from Beowulf.

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Grendel is a supernatural villain, the first of three monsters that Beowulf must fight in the epic poem. He is first described as "a fiend out of hell" who "began to work his evil." He is said to be descended from the biblical Cain and is so "condemned as [an...

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Grendel is a supernatural villain, the first of three monsters that Beowulf must fight in the epic poem. He is first described as "a fiend out of hell" who "began to work his evil." He is said to be descended from the biblical Cain and is so "condemned as [an outcast]" along with others of his race. Grendel is angry at being an outlaw and at the noise coming from celebrations inside Heorot, Hrothgar's mead hall. He decides to go to the hall every night and feast on Hrothgar's men. On the first night, "he grabbed thirty men" to take back to his lair. Clearly, he is massive and must be very strong in order to be able to hold thirty warriors and to win so easily.

Once Beowulf hears about Grendel, he decides to go to Denmark to fight the beast. When Grendel arrives in the mead hall and is surprised by Beowulf, we hear more about his appearance. As he approaches, Grendle is described as "greedily loping" toward Heorot, with "his rage boil[ing] over." We learn that he has "talons" during the fight with Beowulf and approaches Beowulf "with open claw." The so-called "hell-serf" tries to destroy Beowulf but is overpowered.

The hero rips Grendel's arm from its socket, and the monster runs off to his lair to die. When Beowulf goes to the lair later to fight Grendel's mother, he sees Grendel's body and cuts off its giant head as a trophy. It takes four very strong warrior men to carry the head back to Heorot. The "horror" of Grendel's head is visible to all in the hall, as his monstrous arm was to those who came to Heorot to see it after Beowulf bested the monster.

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I have always found Grendel an interesting character, because he isn't described with a huge amount of imagery in regard to his physical description. I believe it was the responsibility of the original listeners to use their imaginations to help flesh him out. Still, though, there are some descriptions of him throughout the text that help the reader to develop his own more individualistic views of him. 

When Grendel is first introduced, he is called a "fiend of hell" and his lineage is traced back to Cain, the evil young man who killed his own brother and was cursed by God for his sins. Later, Grendel is described as a "dark death-shadow" who "lurked and swooped" about. Once Beowulf arrives, Grendel is again described, this time as a "shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift," "greedily loping," as having "talons" and "claws." When Beowulf presents the gift of Grendel's arm to the kingdom, it is described as " brutal and bloodcaked." Through these well-placed details, the listener or reader can create an individual, imagined picture of Grendel. 

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In Beowulf, Grendel’s ferocity, which is expressed through physical description, sets the stage for Beowulf’s heroism. As an epic hero, Beowulf has exceptional strength and courage. Where dozens of men are unable to defeat Grendel, Beowulf can, even without the use of weapons.

The post above shows how Grendel is physically characterized before his battle with Beowulf. It is also important to look at how is described near the end of this encounter, as Beowulf gains the upper hand and begins to defeat the monster.

The monster’s hatred rose higher,

But his power had gone. He twisted in pain,

And the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder

Snapped, muscle and bone split

And broke.

This vivid imagery (look at the verbs: twisted, bleeding, snapped, split, broke) brings Beowulf’s power to the forefront. By describing Grendel’s defeat in such detailed and painful terms, the reader sees that Beowulf has an unmatched ability to defeat evil and make life safe for humanity, at least in Herot. Grendel is no longer fearsome; he is broken.

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Grendel, as described in Beowulf, is horrible indeed. A clawed monster of great strength and cunning, he can move quickly and quietly in the night, as he did when he invaded Herot to carry off thirty warriors:

The monster's

Thoughts were as quick as his greed or his claws:

He slipped through the door and there in the silence

Snatched up thirty men, smashed them

Unknowing in their beds and ran out with their bodies,

Grendel's eyes reflect his evil nature as they "[g]leamed in the darkness, burned with a gruesome Light." He has "swift hard claws," "powerful jaws," and "great teeth." Furthermore, Grendel's skin was impenetrable in battle: "[T]he sharpest and hardest iron / Could not scratch at his skin."

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