Anglo Saxon Values in Beowulf

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Grendel an Anti Hero

Throughout the novel, Grendel criticizes and attacks many Anglo-Saxon values. In some cases, Grendel uses his observations of Hrothgar and his people, and their hypocrisy surrounding their values, as justification for his actions. Grendel attacks the Anglo-Saxon value, boasted by Beowulf, of heroism.

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Grendel attacks the Anglo-Saxon value of heroism when he hears the stories told by the Shaper. The intended purpose of the shaper is to inspire Hrothgar and his people through stories about their past. The shaper tells many heroic stories to incite pride in their past and gives meaning to life through connecting their image of themselves to the world around them, creating an allusion of a sort of supremacy. The Shaper is described by Grendel as a falling short of representing the heroic values that the Anglo-Saxons strive for because he requires payment for his stories. His only incentive in creating his artwork is money, therefore he is selfish and the heroic stories have less meaning. The stories told by the shaper are also untruthful and they over glorifying. Some stories about kind, brave kings of Anglo-Saxon history that committed great deeds and acts of kindness are total figments of the Shaper’s imagination or are extremely exaggerated. Most stories about the histories of Anglo-Saxons do not align with Grendel’s recollection of how the events actually took place. Other stories were about Grendel and promoted lies about his background.

“It was a cold-blooded lie that a god had lovingly made the world and set out the sun and moon as lights to land-dwellers, that brothers had fought, that one of the races was saved, the other cursed. Yet he, the old Shaper, might make it true, by the sweetness of his harp, his cunning trickery. It came to me with a fierce jolt that I wanted it. As they did too, though vicious animals, cunning, cracked with theories. I wanted it, yes! Even if I must be the outcast, cursed by the rules of his hideous fable.” (Gardner)

The Shaper tells Hrothgar’s people the story about Cain and Able. Cain killed his brother and was cursed by God, beyond all possible redemption. All of Cain’s descendants are met with the same fate. Grendel is falsely described as a descendant of Cain, therefore he is cursed. Meanwhile, the Shaper spread the claim that Able and the humans were pure and inherently heroic, declaring that the humans are fated to triumph over the beast that is Grendel. Of course, Grendel initially buys into everything that the Shaper says. He begins to accept the fact that he is a monster, but yet knows deep down that all of the details of the Shapers stories have no truth to them. Grendel is left confused because he enjoys the artistic capabilities of the shaper, though can’t help but to think about the true history. Grendel begins reflecting upon the history of the humans, finding them to be extremely violent. According to Grendel, the human’s fights and wars with one another are anything but heroic. Grendel looks down on the humans for what he believed was shameful acts of vengeance and fighting, and is frustrated at their attempts at falsifying history to fit their narrative and values of heroism. Grendel only saw the violence in the human’s behavior and could not connect with the heroic aspects.

Grendel attacks the Anglo-Saxon value of heroism when he reflects upon the need for humans to kill. Hrothgar’s people celebrate killing their enemies as being heroic. Grendel questions this judgement because he is viewed as a monster for killing humans, creating a sort of double standard. Grendel realizes that he kills less humans than the humans do, yet he is condemned for his behavior while humans are rewarded and praised for “bravery”. Grendel views the humans as being more of a monster than he is and believes that killing others does not make a person heroic. Grendel also notes that humans are wasteful and they are killing for the wrong reasons, while he has justification for his own actions. Humans are killing and attacking each other for glory, fame, wealth, gold, greed, etc., a wasteful and unheroic reason to kill others. Meanwhile, Grendel sees himself as being resourceful and thinks his actions are excusable, since he is getting a meal out of humans to satisfy his need to eat.

Grendel attacks the Anglo-Saxon value of heroism when he is challenged by Unferth. Unferth attempts to showcase his bravery and heroism by attempting to provoke a fight with Grendel. Grendel realizes that Unferth is not strong enough to have a chance at a fight.

“It will be sung,” he whispered, then paused again to get wind. “It will be sung year on year and age on age that Unferth went down through the burning lake—” he paused to pant “—and gave his life in battle with the world-rim monster.” He let his cheek fall to the floor and lay panting for a long time, saying nothing. It dawned on me that he was waiting for me to kill him. I did nothing. I sat down and put my elbows on my knees and my chin on my fists and merely watched.” (Gardner)

Grendel takes this as an opportunity to undermine the Anglo-Saxon value of heroism. By refusing to fight Unferth, he is mocking heroism of the Anglo-Saxons. Many of Hrothgar’s people believe that it is heroic to attack and fight Grendel; consequently, Grendel does not want to give them the satisfaction of fighting him. When Grendel rejects Unferth’s requests for a fight he causes him great embarrassment by turning him into a joke and denying him a heroic death. Grendel would not allow Unferth to be given stories by future Shapers in which he is portrayed as a hero. By doing this, Grendel exposes the meaninglessness of their ideas of heroism.

In conclusion, values boasted by Beowulf, such as Heroism, are attacked by Grendel. Grendel attacks heroism in Shaper stories, in human’s crave for blood and war, and in the Anglo-Saxons/Unferth’s belief in fighting (fighting Grendel). Grendel is truly an Anti-Hero.             

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Anglo Saxon Values in Beowulf. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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