Why did Grendel learn to fear Beowulf?

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Prior to his fight with Beowulf, Grendel was unmatched in terms of physical prowess and strength. Not only had no other warrior been able to stand up to him over the years, but he was also protected from harm against blades and other weapons. It's for this reason later on that Beowulf fights Grendel unarmed.

But Grendel does come to fear Beowulf once he engages with him in Heorot. As Grendel enters Heorot, he scans the mead-hall greedily, with the intent to wreak violence on the warriors present. He attacks one thane and gorges himself on his victim's blood. He turns to do the same thing to Beowulf, who lies on a bed with his back to Grendel.

When Grendel reaches toward Beowulf, he quickly realizes he's made a mistake. Beowulf grabs him in a bone-crushing grip that is harder than anything he's ever encountered from another man. His very bones recoil against Beowulf's strength, and it's in this moment that fear enters Grendel, as he tries to escape and return to the wilderness that he came from. According to Seamus Heaney's translation, "The dread of the land [Grendel] was desperate to escape," but Beowulf would not let him leave Heorot alive (761). The two continue to struggle in the mead-hall, but it's not long before Beowulf inflicts his fatal wound on Grendel, ripping his arm clean off. Grendel streaks out of Heorot back to the fens, where he is destined to die.

Grendel learns to fear Beowulf because this warrior exceeds all of his expectations and conceptions of a great warrior. Never before has a man exhibited such strength and such power. And as for Grendel's charm against man-made weapons, it doesn't matter in the end. Beowulf's pure, raw strength is all it takes to put an end to the "scourge of man."

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