This past week, Dr. Comber has had us do a variety of things, from reading different transcriptions of Beowulf and comparing them, to learning about the history of the Medieval time periods through her amazing PowerPoints. What I was particularly interested in was how I got very different impressions from the two transcriptions that we read.
We read transcripts of Beowulf from the Glencose Literture: The Reader’s Choice textbook, and also several excerpts from Seamus Heaney’s version. We had discussed earlier this week that the textbook had many historical errors about the Middle ages. However, it was still an interesting depiction of this epic poem. In this transcription, Grendel, the “monster” of the poem, gives off the impression of being demonic. He is often called “God’s enemy” or “The Almighty’s enemy” which made me feel as though the only thing that could defeat him would be something super-human. Beowulf is characterized exactly in this way. Throughout the text, he is described as if he were a Herculean hero. When he and Grendel battled, Beowulf was said to have grabbed the monster’s forearm so strongly that Grendel was paralyzed, shocked, and terrified. All he wanted to do was run away from Beowulf and escape with his life. Eventually, Beowulf injured Grendel to such an extreme that the monster knew he would die soon. Though this is such a horrific scene, I felt no sympathy for Grendel due to the way the textbook had expressed Grendel’s character. Beowulf was then known to the people as a God-like hero, and was even addressed as “The Almighty.” This reveals that the translator of this poem treats Beowulf and Grendel as larger-than-life characters.
In Heaney’s transcription of Beowulf, I got a very different sense of the entire story. First of all, Heaney went into much more detail and included parts of Beowulf that the textbook omitted. This gave me additional understanding of the characters; however, Heaney described the characters in quite a different manner than the textbook did. The most prominent difference was that Beowulf and Grendel were not depicted as God-Like as they were in the other transcription. While still greatly heroic, Beowulf, nevertheless, seemed more like an actual human being, complete with some character flaws as well as good points. For example, in this version, he was more arrogant and egotistical. I felt that he was somewhat annoying when he talked about himself. He was so set on killing Grendel that I felt as if his desire to do so was almost more to prove himself as a hero than to help the Danes. Dr. Comber had said that to be a hero, you have to have an enemy, and to recognize Good, there has to be the recognition of Evil. This is clearly shown in Heaney’s version in that Beowulf’s sense of Grendel’s evil is what justifies his own sense of his goodness. Heaney also characterized Grendel in a less devilish way. In my opinion, Grendel is depicted here as if he were more like a beast that can feel pain and is only operating on his animalistic instincts as opposed to just pure demonic evil. For example, when Heaney writes about when Beowulf tore Grendel’s arm off, Grendel expresses horrendous pain and screams in agony. Even though Grendel is still very evil in this version of the text, I felt some sympathy for his at this point.
I have learned very much about the Medieval Era just from this last week. I am looking forward learning even more about the Middle Ages, especially from the PowerPoints we’ve been viewing.