Grendel's Mother

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Researched by: Boratz

Grendel's mother ( ) is one of three antagonist (along with Grendel and the dragon) in the work of Old English literature of anonymous authorship, Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD). She is never given a name in the text.

The nature of Grendel's mother in the poem is the subject of ongoing controversy and debate among medieval scholars. This is due to the ambiguity of a few words in Old English which appear in the original Beowulf manuscript. These words, particularly "ides, aglæcwif" (ll.1258a-1259b), appear either in conjunction with Grendel's mother or with her place of dwelling (a lake). Some have a specific significance within the context of Germanic paganism.

After the monster Grendel is slain by the hero Beowulf, Grendel's mother attacks the mead hall Heorot to avenge his death. Beowulf is tasked with destroying her, and ventures into her lake-based home, Grendel's Mere. When Grendel's mother senses his presence, she immediately attacks Beowulf and drags him into her home. They then engage in fierce combat. Grendel's mother is about to defeat Beowulf when he sees a sword in the "mere." He uses the sword to decapitate Grendel's mother and to behead the corpse of Grendel which came back to life when Beowulf strangled Her. Beowulf then returns to the surface and to his men at the "ninth hour" (l. 1600, "nōn", about 3pm).

Some scholars have argued that the female characters in Beowulf fulfill certain established roles such as hostess (Wealhþeow and Hygd) and peaceweaver (Freawaru and Hildeburh). Grendel's mother and Modthryth (before her marriage to Offa), who challenge these roles, represent "monster-women." In this context, Jane Chance Nitzsche (Professor of English, Rice University) argued for similarities between the juxtaposition of Wealtheow and Grendel's mother to that of the Virgin Mary and Eve (1980, 1986).

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