Beowulf is an epic that was told orally around the eighth century and finally written down by a monk in the tenth century. Its epic hero is Beowulf, a famous Geat warrior sent by King Hygelac to defend the Danes’ King Hrothgar and his kingdom against the threatening Grendel. The particular place that Beowulf is to protect against the attacks of Grendel is the mead hall, which was built by Hrothgar for the elite of his kingdom to enjoy. The first challenge Beowulf takes on is fighting Grendel. Beowulf does this and defeats him by ripping off the monster’s arm. There is then a party in Herot, which is repaired and restored from the beating it received in the battle between Beowulf and Grendel. Beowulf then goes on to defeat Grendel’s mother in her den and Hrothgar, in his great hall, hosts another feast. Beowulf returns to Geatland, his home, and tells about his battles with the monsters. After some years, Hygelac and his son, Heardred, fall in battle and Beowulf is announced the king of the Geats, for whom he rules for the next fifty years. Beowulf then decides to single-handedly fight a dragon that is causing trouble in his kingdom. Beowulf does defeat the dragon, but only after suffering a fatal wound. This summary of the poem would have one believing that Beowulf symbolizes the good and the monsters symbolize the evil of the world, but that belief is only partially correct. In the poem Beowulf, Herot is the epitome of all that is good in the world, and everything outside of the great hall is considered to be the evils of the world.
Herot symbolizes everything good in the world, in which everyone gets along and everyone knows, and accepts, their roles in the community. The occurrences in the hall are pleasing; in that Hrothgar allots his treasure to all the people of the hall, and that every meeting there is one filled with joy and fun. It is more than just a building in which parties are held: “It shines out over many lands, a beacon of civilization; it is the people’s place.” (Halverson 99-100) The people enjoyed this hall, but it was also built
By the hosts that Hrothgar ruled. It was quickly
Ready, that most beautiful of dwellings, built
As he’d wanted, and then he whose word was obeyed
All over the earth named it Herot. (Raffel 25, lines 76-79)
The appearance and occurrences within Herot are in direct contrast to the outside world where Grendel is located.
Grendel is just part of the natural world, which is considered the evil in Beowulf. Most reference to anything natural is related to the monsters of the poem, as opposed to the man-made Herot, and these references show the world outside of Herot as evil. This setting of the outside world and of Grendel portray the utmost in evil when the poem states,
. . . made his [Grendel] 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. . . (Raffel 25, 103-108)
Grendel has “The hostility of the natural world and its inherently antisocial aspects” within him, which bring out his rage (Halverson 100). This rage that Grendel takes out on Herot is the main struggle between evil and good in the poem.
This struggle is “The haunting of Hrothgar’s hall by the night-prowling monster, Grendel” (Kennedy xi). This deep hatred felt by Grendel is spawned by jealousy of the greatness of Herot and the way it is flaunted right before him and the rest of the outside world, as to make him angry intentionally. The people’s partying and music, also paraded in front of Grendel, make him want to destroy this hall and all the people that are able to enjoy it night after night. (Halverson 100-101)
Herot symbolizes everything good in the world today, and in the eighth century when it was first made up. It encloses all the treasures imaginable; having not only Hrothgar’s treasure, but the greatest human treasure of all: pure happiness. Outside of the hall is the opposition to all that is good in Herot. It is dark, gloomy, and desolate. Only the monsters and their lairs are contained in