Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wife of Cain

Okay, first of all, the suggestion that Grendel's mother is Cain's wife is a ridiculous one (but hey, what can we expect from yahoo answers), but I have decided that if in the very unlikely event I start a death metal band, it will be called Wife of Cain. WIFE OF CAAAAIN.

And yes, I downloaded a font to make my dreams more solid. It's a slow study day. It's almost as illegible as some Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. 

Back to the issue at hand then... well first things first, Cain is obviously not Grendel's wife because...well...time. For us measly human beings, we perceive time as linear, and Cain could not have existed both for numerous generations before the Flood and the many many years after the Flood that Beowulf is set. Cain, you are NOT the father! If that's not a condescending paragraph then I don't know what is! Please accept it as the lowest form of humour. But you must admit, that would make for a great Jeremy Kyle episode, eh? I think it could even push for a two hour Christmas special.

*facepalm* Cain by Henri Vidal

As a side note, do you know how hard it is to find a decent artistic depiction of Cain where he's not bating the shite out of Abel or walking into exile? 

Now, to start taking things a bit more seriously. The issue on the table today is Grendel's relationship to Cain, and whether or not she is descended from him as Grendel is. 
Firstly, Grendel's mother is never described with such devilish language as Grendel is. Grendel, throughout the poem, is called Godes andsaca ("God's adversary"), a feond on helle ("enemy from hell"), he is fag wið God (not what you're thinking, but "hostile with God"), he is helle hæfton (a "captive of hell"), and when he finally dies, him hel onfeng ("hell received him"). I mean, he has a pretty strong connection with hell here, and it seems he's not on the very best of terms with God (although I imagine raping and pillaging put the Danes not too far down the naughty list also). Grendel is a bad guy, he commits serial murder for no exact reason, except that he was possibly feeling a bit left out or the scop's mainstream music choices just weren't to his taste, but basically he is like Historic Denmark's high school shooting perpetrator. 

The story of a mother's struggle to control her son, spawn of Cain, eotan

On the other hand (not Grendel's other hand anyway, harharr), such language is never used of Grendel's mother - she is called sinnige ("sinful, guilty"), sure, but that's about as far as the narrator calls her that has any relevance to God. She doesn't commit rampant murder like her son does, and her only crime is to avenge him...which in Old Norse society was not a crime - she follows the rules of wergild, an eye for an eye sorta thing - but that's about it. 

As to her relation to Cain...well, we know Grendel is related, because it is said twice in the poem, and referenced once more. Whereas Grendel's mother, although we are told se þe wæteregesan wunian scolde cealde streamas siþðan camp him wearð to ecgbanan angan breþer fæderenmaege ("She who dwelt in terrible waters and cold streams since Cain raised the sword against his brother, his father's kin"), once Cain is mentioned, the narrator says þanon woc fela geosceaftgasta wæs þaera Grendel sum ("from him awoke many spirits, Grendel among them"). Edward B. Irving argues, “the total effect of this passage, illogical as it may seem, is to suggest that Grendel is a lineal and faithful descendent of Cain in a way that his mother is not . . . she appears in no theological context” (Rereading Beowulf 71). Of course, this is up for speculation, but it does seem rather odd that the poet says Grendel was among his descendants, yet doesn't say his mother is. 

Again on line 1352, when we are told that the Danes knew about two figures mooning about the marshes, Hrothgar tells us of Grendel's mother, then of Grendel, and only says Grendel walked in the tracks of the exile (Cain). If he meant for Grendel's mother to be related to Cain, could he not have just said so, the way he is constantly telling us that Grendel is? Come on, man, stop beating around the god-damn bush!

Sticking to this paragraph, WHY THE HELL DID HROTHGAR FAIL TO MENTION ABOUT GRENDEL'S MOTHER? possibility is because she was not a monster and therefore not a threat to Heorot. Either that or Hrothgar is a fucking dope. But I am going with the former, because hey, let's give him a bit of credit. Sure, the poem is full of some unbelievable things, but I think Hrothgar's a guy I could trust. is Grendel related to Cain? Well...there's quite the possibility that there is a father. I mean, that's how reproduction works right? And seen as all the evidence (in my humble opinion) points towards Grendel's mother being human, then I don't see how there couldn't be a father....except...if...wait.. maybe it's an immaculate conception... and Grendel is Christ, and Beowulf represents the Jews. Oh god, I think I'm definitely onto something here, shove over Frederick Klaeber. On a more serious note... no, she isn't analogous to the Virgin Mary, and no, I don't think she impregnated herself (unless she's a komodo dragon). So yes, I think there's quite the possibility that a father exists. I know Seamus Heaney calls them "fatherless creatures" whose "ancestry is hidden in a past of demons and ghosts", but if there's one thing I try to express in my blog-posts it's "ixnay on the anslatorstray", because what is said is:
no hie fæder cunnon, hwæþer him ænig wæs acenned dyrna gasta
Which I will now use my super translating skills (yep, don't trust me either, I'm one of them *theme music to The Twilight Zone*) as "They do not know the [or 'a'] father, or whether any mysterious spirits were born before him". So, it's possible. This, coupled with the fact that Grendel's mother is never explicitly mentioned in any theological contexts, suggests that a paternal link to Cain could well exist.

See, Grendel has a hunk of a daddy in Gunnarsson's adaptation

Then, on top of all that (yes, even more is coming, God hilpeþ þu), there's the whole thing about the melting of the giant-sword. Well, it only melts after Beowulf beheads Grendel. It could have just conveniently been waiting for him to behead him before Grendel's mother's blood decided to set in, No? 
On top of this, after Grendel is beheaded, the water in the mere goes a bit 2012 apocalyptic on us - the water turns bloody and turbulent - ". . .the turbulent water saw blood drifting up, a churning foam; the spreading stain was dark, lake-wide" (Chickering) - much like a scene from Jaws. And yes, this is sometimes attributed to Grendel's mother's death also, but good woman herself, M.W Hennequin notes that the mere does the same thing the night Grendel returns home to die“There the lake water boiled with blood, terrible surgings, a murky swirl of hot dark ooze, deep sword-blood". 

And one last thing (I promise....for any of ye still left, nobody), she is never described as an eoten ("giant", or possibility of "blood-thirsty one" - see Signe Carlson). Both her and Grendel are called micle, "large" or "great" (literal or metaphorical), yet a few lines later Grendel is described as being the one who is "bigger than any other man" and "misshapen/ wretched-looking" and it is only about Grendel that it is wondered hwæþer him ænig wæs acenned dyrna gasta. 

Just saying.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

In which I continue to defend the mihtige grundwyrgen

Grendel's mother by Virgil Burnett

Yes, I'm back at it, back to defend Grendel's mother's glory - DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR.

In my last defence of Grendel's mother I didn't go into very much detail about a number of terms (partly because of mid-post fatigue and partly because I probably didn't have that much evidence - yet in my heart I knew, I knew, I was right (this is up for speculation of course)).

In general the only scholars who have really looked into Grendel's mother's character and questioned her monstrosity and some of the outlandishly wrong translations that were applied to her (such as "most evil monster" for secg (warrior/hero) by Crossley-Holland - like, wut?), are limited to Christine Alfano, M.W Hennequin, and Signe M Carlson (although she (/he? - someone please confirm this for me!) focuses more on Grendel's character). Sherman Kuhn in his study of aglæca also helped to clear up issues surrounding the monster/hero/formidable one/blahblah disaster there (something I wish to return to again, despite the fact that it has been DONE TO DEATH). 

Anyway, a few terms haven't really been given so much attention as brimwylf, grundwyrgenne and secg so I kind of wanted to return to those words and try make a convincing case for how they are not monstrous terms, despite what translators keep telling us (BTW I found three translators who translated  aglæcwif as it should be - George Jack, Dobbie and Wrenn - unfortunately, all these are glossaries and not full translations - booo). 

I will begin at the point where I began to slack off in this blog post with . . .

wif unhyre (2120) - A few examples of this terms translations are as follows: "ghastly dam" (Heaney), "monstrous woman" (Chickering), "the gruesome she" (Alexander), and "inhuman troll-wife" (Tolkien). Inhuman troll-wife? Really, Tolkien? Not that his dismissal of her is very surprising seen as he completely forgets about her in Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. 
But if we look at wif unhyre and split it up, we have wif, which is “i. woman, a female person . . . iii. a married woman, a wife . . . iv. a female” (Bosworth-Toller). Of course this dictionary also adds a separate entrance for wif , "a being in the form of a woman", under which we find Grendel's mother as an example, along with a reference to Bald's Leechbook for the charm "For a Sudden Stitch". These wif however, are not actually physical beings, but metaphorical wif. I don't think Grendel's mother really belongs in the same category as beings that don't even have a physical form, and more so beings that do not even exist except in a cute "oh sure that sudden stitch you have is just some little women throwing spears at you", especially when there's not enough evidence for her being something other than human (in mine own opinion). 

Anyway, if we take wif as what it means for every other sense of the word (ie WOMAN), we can move on to unhyre, which is shit tons more complicated. 
It is often used in this case (and other cases) to imply monstrosity, but I believe it actually means "terribleness" or "cruelty" or "ferocity". Because there are many instances where it just would not make sense if it were to mean "monstrous". Unhyre appears in Genesis A to describe Ishmael - Se bið unhyre, orlæggifre, wiðerbreca wera cneorissum – “He shall be rough, warlike, hostile to the races of men” (2287 Mason), or alternatively “He shall be fierce, battle-greedy, and an enemy to the men of his generation, his own kin” (Hostetter). Wouldn't it be fierce feckin' odd if the author of Genesis A was to describe Ishmael as monstrous or ghastly or inhuman or gruesome? Eh, yeaah, it would. 
Aaand, it appears in An Old English Martyrology as unhyran cwelres, cwelres beaing "executioner" - Cruel, terrible, grim, (anything besides monstrous) fits way better here. Unless they were a very open-minded culture and perhaps hired a panotti or maybe even a sciopod. Because yes, although it could mean "monstrous" in the sense that murderers are monstrous, then that also applies for Grendel's mammy. 
Again, the word appears in The Meters of Boethius in Meter 29 – on wintres tid, weder unhiore, “in time of winter, when fierce is weather” (61), as it is translated by Sedgefield. Again, rough, fierce, terrible makes much more sense here.

A page from the OE Genesis in the Junius MS 

It is also handy to look at Icelandic and Old Norse and all the languages that share similarities with Old English, and the Icelandic word uhyrr stands out as a possible relative, itself meaning "frowning" or "unfriendly looking". 
And it's also great to look at its possible antonym, heoru, hyre, or heora, defined as "pleasant gentle or mild" (B-T). It appears in Beowulf on line 1372 (Nis ðæt heoru stow – “that was not a pleasant place”), in Genesis A (Culufre fotum stop on beam hyre – “the gentle bird stepped with her feet on a tree” (Hostetter)). Surely the antonym of "pleasant" or "gentle" would be "unpleasant", "cruel", "awful", "grim" and not "monstrous". 

I think I wrote enough there to last at least however long it takes me to build up the motivation for another post. 'Til then, here are some great medieval manuscript images