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34. Grendel's Mother (Beowulf)

In today's episode, we discuss Grendel's Mother from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. We discuss cycles of violence, the subjective experience of grief, and the ways in which translation matters in the way we interpret epics.


Sources:

Beowulf—Wikipedia

Grendel's Mother—Wikipedia

Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem

Transcript

Episode 34—Grendel’s Mother (Beowulf)

[intro music]

Lizzie: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, a podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.

Zoe: I’m Zoe.

Lizzie: And I’m Lizzie. And how are you today, Zoe?

Zoe: I am tired. I did manage to give my notice at my job.

Lizzie: Great.

Zoe: However, I still have to work out my two weeks, which means working this past weekend, which was some holiday or something. I don't know. Anyway—

Lizzie: Perhaps.

Zoe: —it was. Yeah, I don't know. Anyway, it was super busy. And it was so busy, like, Oh my gosh, like unreal. And so that sucked. And we were also understaffed. So it was very stressful, and I am tired and my feet hurt. But hopefully, it'll be less- that means that the rest of my time working there will be less stressful. So that's good.

Lizzie: That's true.

Zoe: Yeah. So yeah, that's what's happening.

Lizzie: Great.

Zoe: How about you? How are you doing?

Lizzie: I'm doing literally nothing with my time, because I'm like, in between finishing my degree and finding a job. So I literally do nothing with my day, which is great.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: I might go to IKEA at some point. And that's it.

Zoe: Are you gonna get a couch?

Lizzie: I mean, I don't have my apartment yet. [pause] Oh, I get your joke now. [both laugh] I won't be getting a couch. Maybe some candles.

Zoe: Ooh.

Lizzie: Anyway, yeah, that's what's going on in my life.

Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, before we begin with our podcast with our lady today, we want to give a special shoutout to TikTok user bastardfroggy, who mentioned us in multiple videos talking about listening to our podcast at the gym, and then talking about us in a video about podcast recommendations. So that was super exciting to see someone we don't know talking about us. Like—

Lizzie: Yes!

Zoe: —out of the blue. It was super. It was It was great. It was super cool.

Lizzie: It was very exciting for us.

[both laugh]

Zoe: It was really exciting. So yeah, thank you so much for that shoutout. Really glad you enjoyed the podcast.

Lizzie: Yes. And to be honest, we're still like a pretty small podcast. So all the, you know, word of mouth really helps us.

Zoe: Yeah. Yeah. Tell your friends tell. Tell your followers.

Lizzie: Exactly. Help us out if you enjoy the podcast.

Zoe: If you enjoy us. Let them know. Yeah.

Lizzie: Yes. So, Zoe, today's your episode. Who are we talking about?

Zoe: Alright, so today we are going to be talking about Grendel's mother—

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: —from the epic poem, Beowulf.

Lizzie: That is exciting. I was- I didn't see that coming, honestly.

Zoe: Really? Yes. I'm really excited about this one. So, do you know anything about Grendel's mother?

Lizzie: I have read Beowulf.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: I read it in high school. Do I remember anything about it? Like not really.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: So, no.

Zoe: Okay. Yeah, I'm gonna go over anyway, because, like, I'm sure there are people listening who have not read it. So. Yeah, so first of all, Beowulf is an old English epic poem of 3,182 lines, which honestly is kind of short for an epic poem, but I digress. And it describes the exploits of a hero of the Geats, or sometimes known as the Goths, named Beowulf and he defeats several monsters and becomes a king. So the first monster is Grendel, who is besieging a mead hall called Heorot, under the control of King Hrothgar, and—

Lizzie: Where does this take place?

Zoe: So it takes- so that takes place in Denmark.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: And it's- and Beowulf lives in like Sweden. Basically, that's where his kingdom is.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: So he basically travels across the ocean from Sweden to Denmark to like, defeat this monster and make a name for himself. And so yeah, the first monster is Grendel. And then we'll get into the other monster. And then there's also a dragon, which we're not really going to talk about. But anyways—

Lizzie: That's pretty fun.

Zoe: Yeah. So the creation of Beowulf is shrouded in mystery. It's not known exactly when it was written. And that's actually hotly debated by scholars, you know, and it's unknown who wrote it, so the author is generally referred to as the "Beowulf poet." The manuscript's dated between 975 and 1025. However, it's not super well-preserved, like, it was damaged in a fire in 1731 and there are places where there are holes and letters missing.

Lizzie: Wow.

Zoe: And there's like, yeah, so there are like places where literally people just don't know what the word is. And they just kind of guess, which is fun. And there's debates over whether or not it's like, you know, written down oral tradition story or not. Probably it is, I would say, as my very expert opinion. Most epic stories are based in oral tradition. So.

Lizzie: That’s true.

Zoe: Who knows how old it actually is. And it wasn't translated until the 1800s. And for a while, after it was translated, people were like, pretty underwhelmed by the poem as a whole. They were kind of like, that's it? Like, oh, that's the poem? Like, okay.

Lizzie: I feel like I thought that it had been passed down from then, like, continuously.

Zoe: Yeah, no—

Lizzie: Was it just like stumbled upon, or?

Zoe: It was literally like forgotten. It was like, in the back of like, some library or private collection or something until someone found it and was like, hey, this might be cool. And then someone translated it. Yeah. And then people were like, this is lame. Until the 1900s, when a little-known English professor named J.R.R. Tolkien did a massive presentation on how it was a great work of English literature, and the English epic that everyone wanted. And now it's super critically revered and everyone studies it and it's got a ton of cultural influence and, yeah, so we have Tolkien to thank for that.

Lizzie: I had no idea that Tolkien had anything to do with Beowulf.

Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, Tolkien loves Old English stuff.

Lizzie: That's true.

Zoe: Yeah. So he also talked about, as part of his presentation, actually, I think it was the focus of this presentation, the monsters of the story and what they represent, except he left out a notable exception.

Lizzie: Was it Grendel's mother?

Zoe: It was Grendel's mother! So, in the story of Beowulf, Grendel's mother is the second monster Beowulf kills in the poem after her son Grendel. As I said before, Beowulf kills Grendel by ripping his arm off and displaying it triumphantly, and the entire hall celebrates because Grendel's literally been besieging the hall for years, and like killing hundreds of men and everyone's like, oh my gosh, thank god he's dead like oh my gosh. So it's like a huge deal. And this display, though, enrages Grendel's mother and she comes out of like the, the fen, like, swampy, watery area surrounding the castle and comes at night when everyone's like asleep or passed out, and captures and kills Æschere, who is Hrothgar, the king's, most loyal and devoted fighter. And so Beowulf tracks her to her lair, which is under a massive lake and descends into the water to fight her. And when he fights her in this like giant underwater cave, she prevails at first because Beowulf's sword Hrunting does not hurt her. However, he sees a sword hanging on the wall of her lair, and it's one that's made for fighting giants and he's able to seize it and kill her. Her blood is hot, and it melts the blade of the sword until only the hilt remains. And then Beowulf returns triumphantly to his men on the surface nine hours later with the sword hilt, and also Grendel's head, which he cut off at that point. And that's really it. That's her role in the story.

Lizzie: I have a question.

Zoe: What's your question?

Lizzie: What kind of monster are Grendel and his mother?

Zoe: That's- that's a good question. I'm going to talk about that.

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: But, first, do you have any other preliminary thoughts about her story?

Lizzie: My main thought was that I really remember nothing from Beowulf [laughs] which, I literally did read it, but this was, who even knows how long ago, like, 9 or 10 years? What I do remember from Beowulf is that I had a debate with my friend about what gender Grendel was because I thought that Grendel was a woman.

Zoe: Oh! that's really interesting.

Lizzie: But I think I was just wrong.

Zoe: Well, that's a fun idea. [Lizzie laughs] But I think scholars generally recognize Grendel as a male creature.

Lizzie: I think I googled it and it said, sometimes- sometimes it was unclear, but um, anyway.

Zoe: I don't know. I'm not an Old English scholar. If there are any Old English scholars listening to this podcast, let us know.

Lizzie: Yeah. [laughs] But, yeah, like, that's not that much to go off of. But I do think it's quite a cool statement of her to be like, you guys are like celebrating the death of my son. That's like, so cruel. And then she like takes her revenge.

Zoe: Yeah, absolutely.

Lizzie: Like, we've talked a lot about women's grief and how it can be very powerful on this podcast. We've mentioned that many times. So I always really like that theme. And I also think it's cool that her blood melts the sword.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: That is such a fun detail. That's a cool trick, honestly.

Zoe: Yeah. Absolutely.

Lizzie: Like... you know those insects that like, if you try to eat them, they'll kill you.

Zoe: You mean like just a poisonous insect?

Lizzie: [laughs] I guess so. Yeah. [both laugh] So it's like that. It's like a defense mechanism. It's like if you kill me, like, you know, you're not gonna just get nothing.

Zoe: Yeah, yeah, you'll get scarred as well. You know.

Lizzie: Exactly. It's a really neat trick.

Zoe: If you- yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, so like the text she's found in, Grendel's mother is one shrouded in mystery and scholarly debate.

Lizzie: Ooh. Is she only in a couple of scenes or?

Zoe: Yeah, so that's really the section. Yeah, so she comes out after Grendel dies, kills that one guy Æschere, and then goes back into the like the swamp or the lake basically. And then everyone wakes up and is like, Oh my gosh, like it's not over. And Beowulf, also Æschere is the most like, loyal and devoted. He's like, Hrothgar's right hand, man, you know. And so he's really upset. And so Beowulf's like, okay, I'm gonna- I'll go and kill her too. And so he goes into like, the lake and then he kills her. And then that's, that's pretty much it.

Lizzie: I just think it's a cool like statement of her to be like you thought this was over?

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: But I'm gonna take my revenge on you now.

Zoe: Absolutely.

Lizzie: It's very cool.

Zoe: So one of the really interesting things that you actually alluded to is we don't really know what she looks like or what she's meant to look like. Or her son Grendel. So Grendel is said to be descended from Cain, who is known as the biblical first murderer of his brother Abel. And so that implies some humanoid appearance. However, her monstrous depiction also implies the image of something beyond human. So art depicting her she has a wide variety of interpretations of her appearance. There's some where she's like, complete- literally just looks like a woman. And there's some where she's like, kind of reptilian or scaly. You know, like, cuz she comes out of the water. And, yeah, so, yeah, we like really, there's not really a ton of description of what Grendel or his mother look like. But it's- they are said to be descended from Cain. So it's like, are they human? Do they look human? Are they like, demonic? You know.

Lizzie: Are they half?

Zoe: Yeah, it's unclear. But it's, it's fun. I think.

Lizzie: It is kind of fun. I also think it's fun with the detail that like not every single word of Beowulf has actually been, like, figured out.

Zoe: Oh, yeah.

Lizzie: So it's like, you never know, maybe it was actually written somewhere.

Zoe: Yeah, I mean, we don't even know when it was written. Like when it was written.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Like, we have a vague time period. But it's like people debate they're like, well, these types of ships described weren't invented in this time. So it couldn't have been read written here or something like that, or they're like, well, we don't know if these are actually the ships that are being described here. So maybe it could have been written that time, you know.

Lizzie: It's kind of cool that there's so much mystery around it.

Zoe: Yeah. So, there's also much debate over the language used to describe her in the original text. She is described using the term ides, which means lady, so that implies that Grendel's mother is a woman of noble status. The term is also a cognate for the name idísi, which refers to the Valkyries in the Old High German texts, the Merseburg Incantations and also the dísir who are Norse spirits of fate. Some scholars believe that Grendel's mother directly references figures from Norse mythology, such as the Valkyries, and also Gefion, who is an early Norse goddess known for turning— do you know her?

Lizzie: I just know the name vaguely but [laughing] continue your sentence because I didn't know the rest of it.

Zoe: Yeah, so basically, what she's known for is she turned her sons into oxen and plowed the Danish island of Zealand. So basically what she did was she plowed the land between like the island and the rest of the country so deep that it was filled by the sea and it became an island.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: That's what she did. And so she's, so that's like, she's associated with Gefion. And she's also considered to be an extension of Frigg or Freyja. Frigg is like a goddess of motherhood, fertility and Freyja is a goddess of fertility and war in Norse mythology.

Lizzie: It makes sense that they would be like, that she would be compared to Norse figures because it takes place in Scandinavia.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: I mean, it was written in Old English. So it was probably—

Zoe: It is. Yeah, so it's an Anglo-Saxon text, but like, the Anglo-Saxons were invaded by the Vikings, like there's a ton of cultural influence there for sure. And like this, this text, like I'm not going to talk about this a ton, but there's a ton of tension between like, Christianity and older religions and older stories and stuff. And like the Beowulf Poet's like trying to straddle the line between the two and find an ending that makes everyone happy or like make like the, you know, the Christian ending, but kind of goes back to like the older like, pagan endings at the end. So yeah, this is interesting, because they're like, those are all like mother or fertility figures. And she's a mother, as we know. And also Gefion's story of straddling the line between land and sea could be reflected in Grendel's mother's amphibious nature. She comes ashore, but she also lives underwater. So.

Lizzie: That is interesting. But, you know who also lived in a lake?

Zoe: The Lady of the Lake.

Lizzie: Yes, yeah.

Zoe: That's- that's interesting.

Lizzie: Because she's- but she was able to live under the lake because it was like not a real lake, you know?

Zoe: Yeah—

Lizzie: She was like magical.

Zoe: Yeah, it was like the fairy world or something, right?

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Yeah. It is interesting though, because—

Lizzie: So she could like, not be a swamp figure. She could be anything.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Or she could be a swamp figure.

Zoe: Mm hmm. She could be. So, another term used to refer to is aglæc-wif. So, in his 1922 translation, scholar Frederick Klæber, translated this to mean "wretch or monster of a woman." So, most translations of Beowulf have followed this translation, including Seamus Heaney's translation of "monstrous hell bride," Richard M. Trask's "ugly troll lady" and Charles W. Kennedy's "monstrous hag”.

Lizzie: Monstrous hell bride. She is so cool.

Zoe: Yeah, Seamus Heaney is great.

Lizzie: I really like that phrase, monstrous hell bride. That is just a ton of fun.

Zoe: Yeah. However, in her 1961 essay, "The Use of the Term ‘Æglæca’ in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592," Doreen M. E. Gillam notes that the term is simply used to refer to inhuman and supernatural qualities alongside hostility towards other creatures. So in fact, the term is also used to refer to Beowulf and the legendary Germanic hero Sigmund in the poem.

Lizzie: So, like, the 'monstrous hell bride' didn't necessarily denote not being human?

Zoe: So it just, it wasn't like a word specifically to refer to like a monstrous woman, it just refers to like someone with like, these supernatural, hostile qualities.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So it's not necessarily like a positive thing. But what's notable for me, I think, and what what we're going to talk about in a bit, is that it's, the term is also referred to, used to refer to Beowulf and also Sigmund, who is this really famous Germanic hero.

Lizzie: But in that way, it's more like, positive?

Zoe: It's not- I think it's less about whether or not it's negative or positive. It's just that its connotations are used in both contexts.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: Yeah. So Gillam suggests that Beowulf, the champion of men against monsters, is almost inhuman himself. And then later, in 1979, scholar Sherman Kuhn suggested that Frederick Klæber mistranslated aglæca and proposed that the term should be translated as "a fighter valiant warrior dangerous opponent, one who struggles fiercely" instead. When discussing how the term is used interchangeably to refer to both Beowulf and Grendel, he says, “if the poet and his audience felt the word to have two meanings, 'monster', and 'hero', the ambiguity would be troublesome; but if by áglæca they understood a 'fighter', the ambiguity would be of little consequence, for the battle was destined for both Beowulf and Grendel and both were fierce fighters.” Therefore, Grendel's mother was an aglæc-wif, a female warrior. There's no reason to introduce the idea of monstrosity or misery here than there is in line 1519, when she is called merewif, defined simply as "water woman" or "woman of the mere." So basically, like, first of all, he's saying it should be just translated as a fighter, someone who's fighting so it's like, Beowulf is a fighter, Grendel's mother's a fighter, Grendel's a fighter. They're all fighting each other. Like, this poem is about fights between Beowulf and other creatures, other beings. And he's basically saying that like, you know, if the poet, if the word has two meanings, like, the ambiguity would be like, weird, between referring to Beowulf and Grendel's mother as like the same term, but if it just means someone who's like a fighter, it's like, yeah, they're both fighters.

Lizzie: They're fighting each other.

Zoe: Yeah. And so the idea is like, that's not necessarily, we're not, there's no reason to stress that it's a negative thing in your translation.

Lizzie: When it's kind of irrelevant.

Zoe: Yeah, it's just kind of a descriptor. It's not like, oh my gosh, this horrible, this horrible monster, you know, like, yeah. And Eric Stanley adds to this by saying, “as we assemble the many uses including compounds [...] it becomes clear that it is not pejorative in force. We must not follow Klaeber's distinction of 'wretch, monster, demon, fiend' for Beowulf's enemies, and 'warrior, hero' for Beowulf himself; and we must not abuse Grendel's mother when she is called aglæcwif by translating the word as Klaeber does, 'wretch', or 'monster, of a woman'. We must never forget that she is called there ides aglæcwif (1259) and ides, 'lady', is not a term of abuse [...] the poet does not speak of his monsters abusively.”  So, yeah.

Lizzie: I mean I also think that it's really fun calling her a monstrous hell bride, but I do see the point.

Zoe: Yes. Okay. Sorry- sorry to break your heart there, Lizzie. [Lizzie laughs] But you can still read all the translations that call her that. They still exist.

Lizzie: I mean, it's probably for the best that she's not being... people aren't criticizing her. Well, I don't know. You know what I mean.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: But also, I think it's a bit fun.

Zoe: Yeah. I mean, it is fun.

Lizzie: She's a mytholady.

Zoe: She is a mytholady through and through. So what do we do with all this? Why did I just read a bunch of quotes from scholarly debates about the use of language and—

Lizzie: Well, I enjoyed it.

Zoe: I know I mean, I knew you would enjoy it. [Lizzie laughs] You know. So basically, I think this plays a really important point in the analysis, which I got from my class on epics I took this year where we read Beowulf and my professor talked a lot about Grendel's mother. And so, basically all the monsters in Beowulf, as Tolkien argues, are symbolic. They represent a greater force in society than just like, oh, a demon that's coming in and like killing a bunch of men and eating them. Like, there's something more to it, which like, makes sense. I think most people who are interested in literary analysis understand that monsters are allegorical.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: But, anyway. So Grendel and his mother are representative of what's wrong with humanity. They're both humanoid, so they're meant to be closely associated with humans. So Grendel as analyzed by Tolkien represents tribal hatred between humans, the force that causes incessant warfare between different groups as they try to conquer each other and prove themselves as superior to other. So we have the Anglo-Saxons fighting the Geats, fighting the Danes, fighting, etc, etc, always fighting each other. Like, this time period when the poem was probably written had constant state of warfare in between different groups. And so these groups are separate from each other and justify this violence by the idea that anyone who's not them deserves to be hated and conquered, and again leads to a cycle of constant violence in this time period between different kingdoms and leaders. And the poet condemns this. However, as stated before, Tolkien does not analyze Grendel's mother and his great presentation on Beowulf. Why?

Lizzie: He hated women.

Zoe: Probably that too. That was a little rhetorical, but I gave you a chance to respond anyway.

Lizzie: I mean I do think he was kind of a misogynist, but anyway.

Zoe: He was, I mean, he was a misogynist. I mean, he also created like, some fem- he was a misogynist.

Lizzie: [laughing] It's okay, we can say it. He's dead now.

Zoe: This isn't the time for me to discuss the female characters of Lord of the Rings. Anyways. Okay, as the language debate shows, Grendel's mother might reveal some uncomfortable truths about Beowulf as a protagonist and hero. But, first, a brief interlude. So, after Beowulf, slays Grendel's mother, he returns to the Geats, and is heartily welcomed by his beloved uncle, Hygelac, who is the king of the Geats. Then 50 years later, we sort of do a time jump. Beowulf is now king of the Geats. But what happened to Hygelac? So, a flashback reveals that Hygelac was killed in a raid on Frankish territory, and Beowulf ended up watching the entire massacre helpless to stop it. Enraged, yeah. Enraged and grieving, he immediately hunted down and killed Dæghrefn, the Frankish champion and potentially his uncle's murderer. Most significantly, he kills him by strangling him with his bare hands, as he killed Grendel with his bare hands. Now, why is this significant? Grendel's mother does not attack like Grendel does, as I said before. So Grendel like, massacres the entire hall when he attacks. He kills and eats every man in sight without mercy. Like, if you're there, you're dead, like everyone's gone. But his mother only kidnaps and kills one man: Æschere. And so what's significant about him? He is Hrothgar's most loyal and devoted fighter. His right hand arm. Man. His everything. [both laugh] I do have that in my notes. Anyways, [both laugh] Anyways, he's the person she knows Hrothgar will miss the most and that's why she kills him. So Grendel's mother is not attacking out of bloodlust, out of mindless hatred or rage and hunger. She's attacking in a calculated way to hurt Hrothgar and his men and family exactly how she has been hurt by having her son taken away from her.

Lizzie: Exactly. That makes sense.

Zoe: And so she kills in a way that is identical to how people in this society killed at the time, an eye for an eye, vengeance, blood price. And I've discussed this and the Icelandic sagas episodes, and it's basically a pretty similar society. As I said, there's a lot of, you know, cultural influence. I mean, the Vikings conquered England and- multiple times and stuff. Basically, your family is your wealth. And if someone kills one of your family, particularly a son, they're basically taking away your- a family member, but also like, resources from you. And you're expected and encouraged to pay the murder back in kind as a reparation for the harm caused to your family, or otherwise receive some form of monetary compensation. Yeah, so basically, there's this expectation and encouragement that if someone in your family dies, there's this culture of revenge that's like you need to repay that violence, you need to pay it back. And that's like the way you can like, get repayment for the harm that's been caused to you and your family. So. Grendel's mother is frightening because she represents the monstrousness of the social order at the time. The idea that violence is so normalized and cyclical and that society encourages the violence to continue.

Lizzie: Yeah, that's very interesting.

Zoe: Yeah. And I have a line from Beowulf, where- this happens right after Æschere is taken by Grendel's mother. And Beowulf is like encouraged to go and kill her. And the poet says, "’twas no happy arrangement / In both of the quarters to barter and purchase / With lives of their friends." And so the poet's basically saying, like, this system sucks, like, don't- stop.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: You know, like—

Lizzie: And then it continues after with his uncle.

Zoe: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, that's a different- yes, yeah, he does the same thing. So the poet is condemning the system of order through the character of Grendel's mother, who is taking revenge for her son being lost to her by taking the king's like, you know, right hand man, and—

Lizzie: Also she doesn't just kill like everyone. Like, she could- like, instead of killing, you know, the king, she chooses one individual person. But also not like a whole array of people. Just one person.

Zoe: Yeah, she's taking exactly what's owed her.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Through like, the blood feud system.

Lizzie: Yeah, like you said, it's not just killing people by like, you know, evil, like bloodlust, like, it's very specific.

Zoe: It's very calculated, it's very specific to the order. And it's also like, she has a very solid understanding of the order of the—

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: —of the castle and how it works. And it shows how Beowulf enforces the system himself by killing Grendel's mother, sort of in revenge for Æschere's murder, and then also killing his uncle's murderer or the person he blames her his uncle's death, in repayment. And so, and in that moment, he has like the same rage and fury and grief that Grendel's mother experiences when she- when her son dies. When his his uncle dies and he goes to commit that murder. So he and Grendel's mother are not opposite, but different sides of the same coin. They're both aglæca. And Grendel's mother shows ultimately, what's at the core of human rage and grief, which is love. So, yeah, that is Grendel's mother. Love to h- any thoughts?

Lizzie: No, I think it's cool the way that it shows like, this, like, cycle of revenge could go on literally forever. Because if somebody, you kill someone, somebody takes their revenge for that, someone else take the revenge for that death, you know, etc, etc. It just keeps going. So that commentary is very interesting. And it's also interesting that, like, we know, like, all this commentary, but we know like literally nothing about the author, like.

Zoe: Yeah! You know, ideas live on, but the man does not.

Lizzie: Yes. And I mean, it would probably lend itself to the interpretation if we knew literally anything about the context it was written in, but oh well. But, yeah, she's very cool. I actually don't remember her at all from having read Beowulf, but I basically remember nothing from Beowulf. So that's fine. But yeah, and I also think it's cool that she- because I was like, thinking of her as like a swamp monster, but she was actually probably human or like, more human than that.

Zoe: Yeah. And I think that's really interesting. And I think that also makes like the imagining Beowulf's battle with her a lot more interesting and compelling to imagine. And Beowulf's battle with Grendel, too, is if you think of them as human, like, it becomes a very sort of different image in your head, I think. As opposed to like, this giant creepy monster that is generally what illustrators do with it. Like I read this really abbreviated translation of Beowulf back when I was a freshman in high school, and it had illustrations they were they like these big, like, bog monsters that look kind of like Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars—

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly.

Zoe: And, like, you know, looked, didn't look anything like they were human. But the whole point of the poem is that they do look human. I mean, not the whole point. But like—

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Their characters- that's a big part of their characters.

Lizzie: Yeah, like they're not- like they go along with the whole humanity like, lesson. You know what I mean?

Zoe: Yeah, and I think it's like, I really do find it interesting that the poet created a female figure to demonstrate this idea. Like this condemnation of revenge. Because like, most of the time in this society, it wasn't, women weren't doing that, like women weren't the ones murdering for revenge.

Lizzie: That's true. It was more of like a manly pursuit.

Zoe: Yeah. Which, yeah, which we like talked about again in the Icelandic saga episodes, especially in Gudrun's episode. But, like, so it's very interesting that he chooses a woman and it's also interesting that I think he chose chooses a mother and I think that, I mean, also I'm using he/him pronouns for, for the poet, like, we don't know.

Lizzie: That's true.

Zoe: Probably- it probably was like some monk somewhere but like, we don't know. Anyway.

Lizzie: Who's to say?

Zoe: Who's to say? Anyways. But yeah, like, I think it really shows that the, I think the love thing because again, this poet is Christian. And obviously one of the big forces in Christianity is Mary's love, and mother's love and all that stuff. And so depicting a mother figure as like this force of violence and revenge and anger is, I think, very powerful and also really just shows how like this is about love. Like, I mean, she's hurting people, she's hurting someone and she's like, you know, committing murder, but she is also experiencing grief and anger and sadness. It's because she loved her son. Even, even, even Grendel has a mother who—

Lizzie: Yeah, it kind of humanizes Grendel.

Zoe: We should have done this one for Mother's Day.

Lizzie: Oh yeah! But, yeah, it shows that like Grendel has someone who cares about him, even if he is like a big villain.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: And like, even if you are like, even if you like terrorize tons of people, someone's still gonna grieve for you.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Grief is very subjective.

Zoe: Absolutely.

Lizzie: 'Cause people were like, celebrating his death. And then she's like, Well, no, that's my son.

Zoe: She's like, yeah, that's my son. You're parading around his arm like a trophy, like that's not cool.

Lizzie: Yeah. Exactly.

Zoe: And then sh-. Again, like, so obviously, again, I've said that she exists to like, critique the system, but then also, like, we have her being condemned for participating in the system that already exists, you know, so like, it's really, it's interesting. Because like, we see Beowulf participating in the system. And I guess, I mean he- I'm not, yes. Beowulf dies at the end. That's not a spoiler. It's, it's—

Lizzie: It's been like a thousand years.

Zoe: Yeah. Okay. No, I'm gonna say that. Yeah. Beowulf does die at the end. So. But I don't know if that's necessarily repayment for him doing revenge.

Lizzie: I mean, everyone dies.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: But, then again, I don't know. I don't- I haven't read the context in which he dies. So I have no idea.

Zoe: He dies in the dragon fight.

Lizzie: Oh, wow. Does the dragon die?

Zoe: The dragon also dies.

Lizzie: Everyone dies.

Zoe: Yeah, but anyways.

Lizzie: There you go. It's all about violence. Cyclical.

Zoe: I think that- I think the dragon- yes, cyclical violence. That's what he said. It's bad.

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: End the cycle of violence.

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: That's what this is all about. And love is powerful. And grief is powerful. And Grendel's mother's cool.

Lizzie: Yes, that's exactly what it's about.

Zoe: Also, I just find it so funny that Tolkien like, was like, I'm going to tell you all about how great Beowulf is and just like, ignored, like, a significant, like a section of it. Like, I guess it is a pretty short fight compared to the Grendel or the dragon—

Lizzie: But it's still significant.

Zoe: It's like, there's three monsters. And he just like doesn't talk about one of them. I don't know. Anyway, yeah. That's Grendel's mother.

Lizzie: I thought she was very cool.

Zoe: Thank you.

Lizzie: So, thank you, Zoe, for teaching us about Grendel's mother. And thank you for listening. Please feel free to subscribe, listen to our other episodes, leave a review. And we will see you again in two weeks.

Zoe: And tell your friends. Tell everyone that you like us.

Lizzie: Please do.

Zoe: All righty, thank you so much. Goodbye!

Lizzie: Thank you!

[outro music]

Lizzie: Mytholadies podcast is produced, researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter at Mytholadies and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening, see you in two weeks.