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Beowulf | Symbols

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Epic poems were often used to spur warriors on in battle, and Beowulf is likely no exception. The symbols in this poem clearly present a good-versus-evil relationship that could be interpreted to inspire warriors in a variety of situations.

Grendel

Grendel symbolizes evil and jealousy. He is a descendant of Cain, the biblical character who jealously murdered his brother Abel—a crime for which his descendants (including Grendel) were banished. Grendel lives with his mother in a bloody swamp—the harrowing setting for their banishment—where he jealously fumes about the "din of the loud banquet" in Heorot Hall each night. He feasts on Danish warriors, proving his strength over the celebrated "heroes." When Beowulf defeats Grendel, it is a classic literary example of good triumphing over evil.

Dragon

The dragon symbolizes greed. He hoards gold and treasures in his lair, which represents the opposite of the Anglo-Saxons' accepted practice. As demonstrated in Beowulf, gold is to be used by the ring-givers (kings) to reward the deeds of heroes, particularly successful warriors returning from conquest. The dragon, having seized the treasure left behind by the Last Survivor, does nothing with the gold, simply hoarding the riches instead. (The Last Survivor could himself be seen as a hoarder; he collected the treasures of his dead civilization and put them to no use.) Another example of the dragon's greed is demonstrated after a runaway slave steals a single golden goblet from his lair. Searching for the thief, the dragon burns Beowulf's home and whole villages in his kingdom—all in vengeance over the theft of a single cup.

Heorot Hall

Heorot Hall is a symbol not only of happiness and pride, but also of distress. The great hall is Hrothgar's legacy, built to honor great warriors and their accomplishments. It is meant to be a refuge where members of the court and the realm's warriors can gather to feast and celebrate. That Grendel has held Heorot Hall under attack for 12 years represents a case of situational irony: the people's safe haven has undergone a "reversal from bliss to grief."

Flashcards for Symbols

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Term:

dale

Definition:

valley

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Baleful

Definition:

Evil

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garm

Definition:

hound

Term:

loathsome

Definition:

Disgusting

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