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? Well...one 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.

So....how 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, but...no. 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 reading...ie, 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.

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