Time Of Change
The amount of bravery and courage displayed by Beowulf in his fights with three different fiends surpasses that of most. Victories over his enemies demand massive power and strength, traits only evident in Beowulf. Each battle appears similar to the others in that Beowulf succeeds in killing his enemy, yet differences exist between the three confrontations. Each of the three battles differs from one another in the preparation leading in to the fight, the means of warfare, and its effect on Beowulf.
The preparations made by Beowulf before each of his battles includes different strategies and plots. In preparing for his first battle, Beowulf lures the wretched monster Grendel in to Hrothgar’s hall. In order to direct Grendel into a favorable location for the fight, Beowulf sacrifices a Geat soldier. A helpless, despairing soldier perished when, “Grendel snatched at the first Geat he came to, ripped him apart, cut his body to bits with powerful jaws, drank the blood from his veins and bolted him down, hands and feet” (739). Prior to the clash, Beowulf calculated the importance of good fighting grounds. This brutal sacrifice granted Beowulf a favorable location to attack Grendel. To prepare for the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf armored himself with chain mail and trudged out to the marsh of Grendel’s mother’s residence. He ventured to find the “greedy she-wolf who’d ruled those waters for half a hundred years” (1511). Rather than allowing Grendel’s mother to search for him, Beowulf splashed down into the water with fearful Geats looking on. Beowulf chose to attack Grendel’s mother, opposed to allowing her come to him. A more aggressive approach gave him an early advantage in the fight. Old age crept up on Beowulf, the most experienced warrior of all, yet he placed aside his age and pronounced he would battle The Dragon, with his sights set on winning treasure. These fortunes included those discovered at Sutton Hoo, which were “a helmet, gold coins” and “silver bowls” (Sutton Hoo 34). Beowulf’s courage and valor surface when he says, “I’ve never known fear; as a youth I fought in endless battles. I am old, now, but I will fight again, seek fame still, if the dragon hiding in his tower dares to face me” (2511). Death seemed a likely possibility for Beowulf in the confrontation with The Dragon. This dual presented him with three main threats. In the Anglo-Saxon work “The Seafarer”, the old sailor identified these three threats when he says, “No man has ever faced the dawn certain which of Fate’s three threats would fall: illness, or age, or an enemy’s sword, snatching the life from this soul” (Seafarer 68). Knowing this battle would be the toughest he had ever faced, Beowulf prepared himself with armor, a shield, and a sword. The challenge of The Dragon surpassed any other previously presented to Beowulf; therefore weapons and protection were necessary. Each fight involving Beowulf saw him presented with different problems and challenges, therefore preparation for these fights altered between each.
The means and methods of warfare differ in the battles involving Beowulf. In the fight with Grendel, Beowulf insisted on using no weapons other than his bare hands. Beowulf’s mentality becomes evident when he says, “This fiend is a bold and famous fighter, but his claws and teeth scratching my shield, his clumsy fists beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him with my hands empty” (679). Beowulf takes pride in winning fair battles. Using weapons would, in his mind, give him an unfair advantage against the man-eating beast, thus making a victory dishonorable. The means of warfare in the clash between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother involved weapons, rather than sheer power. Grendel’s mother uses swords, and Beowulf uses chain mail and a helmet to protect himself. Beowulf “swung his sword, his ring-marked blade, straight at her head; then iron sang its fierce song, sang Beowulf’s strength” (1543). Battling Grendel’s mother required much more protection than fighting her son, due to her immense strength and power. Even the sharpest and most deadly of Beowulf’s weapons failed to penetrate the hide of her neck. The means of warfare used by The Dragon and Beowulf in