The Origin of Revenge


“Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but earth. He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God, punished forever for the crime of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove those demons out, and their exile was bitter shut away from men; the split into a thousand forms of evil – spirits and fiends, goblins, monsters, giants, a brood forever opposing the Lord’s will, and again and again defeated” (Raffel, Lines 101-114) Cain is noted as the first murderer in history for killing his brother Abel over jealously and greed. Many critics would like to conclude that Grendel portrays Cain-like attributes. From this paragraph it is noted conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain. Cain is perceived as a monster because of his horrendous act of murder, whereas Grendel kills King Hrothgar’s people out of jealously. Grendel was isolated in his swamp and forced to listen to the sounds of the town people enjoying themselves while he sat in his own despair. He was forced there because he was a decendent of Cain, who like Cain was depicted as a murderous monster.

Every mother morns the loss of her child. Grendel’s mother not only mourned the loss of Grendel who was slain by Beowulf, but sought out the revenge on the murder. “But a monster still lived, and meant revenge. She’d brooded on her loss, misery had brewed in her heart, that female horror, Grendel’s mother, living in the murky cold lake assigned her since Cain had killed his only brother, slain his father’s son with an angry sword”  (Raffel, Lines 1257-1263). Her revenge makes her more of a reasonable murderer because while Grendel enjoyed his acts of murder, Grendel’s mother did not. “Snatched up thirty men, smashed them unknowingly in their beds and ran out with their bodies, the blood dripping behind him, back to his lair, delighted with his night’s slaughter” (Raffel, 122-125) As noted in this quotation from the story Beowulf, Grendel was delighted with his night of slaying; therefore,  putting to rest his own agony.“His mother’s sad heart, and her greed, drove her from her den on the dangerous pathway of revenge” (Raffel, lines 1276-1279) Grendel’s mother murdered mearly out of revenge and grief of her only son. Her motifs were much more reasonable because had her son not been slain there would have been no reason for her attacks on Beowulf.

Kin-slaying is a major theme throughout Beowulf. “He told them of Finn’s people, attacking Hnaf with no warning, half wiping out that Danish tribe, and killing its king. Finn’s wife, Hnaf’s sister, learned what good faith was wroth to her husband: his honeyed words and treachery cost her two beloved lives, her son and her brother, both falling on spears guided by fate’s hand. How she wept!” (Raffel, Lines 1068-1075). Hnaf was the king of the Danes. Finn was the King of the Frisians,  a neighboring tribe of the Danes. Finn was married to Hnaf’s sister and they beared a son. During battle, Hnaf murdered Finn’s son, thereby prompting Finn to slay King Hnaf. This cost Finn’s wife the loss of her brother and her beloved son. These acts of kin-slaying can be compared to Grendel’s mother’s loss of her own son and Cain’s killing of his brother, Abel.

“Neither he nor you can match me – and I mean no boast, have announced no more than I know to be true. And there’s more: you murdered your brothers, your own close kin. Words and bright wit won’t help your soul; you’ll suffer hell’s fires, unferth, forever tormented.  (Raffel, Lines 585-590) Unferth was boasting that he was better than Beowulf. Beowulf then noted to Unferth that he is better than Unferth because he hasn’t murdered his kinsmen.

The origin of revenge started with Cain killing Abel. Had Cain not murdered Abel then there would be no justicifed reason for revenge.


Beowulf. T.S. Burton Raffel. Ed. Roberta Frank. London: England. Penguin Group. 2008.



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