Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Gryndel Grendel not so gryndel.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I cited Benjamin Slade's translation of Beowulf for the passage on the appearance of Grendel, who violently attacks the great hall of Heorot because of his envy at the sounds of men celebrating their joy of life in a civilized world of drink and song. Here's Slade's online Old English edition, with the literal translation posted interlinearly (lines 99-104):
Swá ðá drihtguman dréamum lifdon
So the lord's men lived in joys,

éadiglice oð ðæt án ongan
happily, until one began

fyrene fremman féond on helle·
to execute atrocities, a fiend in hell;

wæs se grimma gaést Grendel háten
this ghastly demon was named Grendel,

maére mearcstapa sé þe móras héold
infamous stalker in the marches, he who held the moors,

fen ond fæsten·
fen and desolate strong-hold;
Scholars are unsure where the name Grendel originates, but Slade helpfully provides a summary of their speculations.

I make no claims to expertise but merely want to note here a possible allusion to the Grendel tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which uses the word "gryndel" (i.e., "angry"), and I'm not the first to note this, by the way, for some other scholar has already somewhere made the possible connection. Here's the Middle English Gawain passage (page 64) as edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon (revised by Norman Davis; Oxford: Clarendon Press 1967), with a nonliteral, interlinear translation (page 312) by Casey Finch (Complete Works of the Pearl Poet (Berkeley: U.C. Press, 1993)):

The haþel heldet hym fro, and on his ax rested,
That lordly man lightly then leaned on his ax,

Sette þe schaft vpon schore, and to þe scharp lened,
Set its haft, as he held it in hand, on the ground,

And loked to þe leude þat on þe launde 3ede,
And gazed on Sir Gawain, that good knight, in thought.

How þat do3ty, dredles, deruely þer stondez
When he found Gawain fearless and feisty withal,

Armed, ful a3lez: in hert hit hym lykez.
He was pleased and impressed, and proceeded to speak

Þenn he melez muryly wyth a much steuen,
Words which boomed in a bold and bellowing voice

And wyth a rynkande rurde he to þe renk sayde:
And roared out richly, went ringing about:

'Bolde burne, on þis bent be not so gryndel.
"Be less bellicose, bold man, nobody has erred;

No mon here vnmanerly þe mysboden habbez,
No one here has behaved in a hostile, bad way.

Ne kyd bot as couenaunde at kyngez kort schaped.'
What our covenant called for I've carried out here."

Incidently, the Pearl Poet uses "gryndel" elsewhere in his writings, i.e., in the poem Patience after God has admonished Jonah, who is angry that Ninevah is not being destroyed, whereupon the narrator addresses us all:
Be no3t so gryndel, godman, bot go forth Þy wayes,
Therefore, fight not so fiercely, sir! Follow your path,

Be preue and be pacient in payne and in joye:
And be proven patient in pain and in joy!
This was also taken from Casey Finch, Complete Works of the Pearl Poet (Berkeley: U.C. Press, 1993), but also borrowing his English text, which he took from Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, The Poems of The Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Exeter: University of Exeter, 1987).

Is "gryndel" connected to "Grendel"? The Pearl Poet follows the Old English tradition of alliterative poetry that we find in Beowulf, his Middle-English language is closer to Old English than is Chaucer's, and both Sir Gawain and Beowulf may derive from the same geographical region of England (i.e., Mercia).

Make of this what you will.


At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But doesn't the Pearl Poet come after Beowulf? It's been a while since I've studied anything in this area, but is it possible (especially if the various works originated in the same area) that the Pearl Poet was using Grendel's symbolic rage--that is, that the name Grendel came first (for whatever reason) and the later alteration (gryndel) alluded to the character? Kind of how Shakespeare's Shylock took on universal meaning after Merchant of Venice.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I may have been unclear. I was suggesting that the Pearl Poet might have been aware of the Beowulf epic or of legends about the monster Grendel and that this could have influenced the Pearl Poet's use of gryndel to describe Gawain's anger.

Probably, though, the word gryndel in Middle English was simply a word for "anger" and was not derived from the character of the monster Grendel.

Perhaps the name Grendel itself was related to an older version of the word gryndel.

I'm far from an expert in this area.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:13 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Grendel to gryndel as from Sandwich to sandwich? Not sure about that. Another interesting speculation. One suggestion has been that Grendel connects to "green" (as I'm sure you know!) and links to the later Green Knight myth. That seems a bit fanciful to me. But if Grendel carried the Mark of Cain--anger, hatred--could that have re-surfaced in a later poet's work, one who knew Beowulf, such that "gryndel" connected to anger? Both Grendel and gryndel operate within a biblical context. Another mystery.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd wondered about "green" and "Grendel" myself and suspected that others had also wondered. But speculating on a connection does seem fanciful since the Green Knight appears to derive more from Celtic myth, given his connection to Celtic ideas of the Otherworld, than from Teutonic myth and its grim monsters.

But this blog is a place for speculations...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hodges,

My bad. I misread. I understand what you are saying now.

My own speculations are rather wild, I admit, but the waters are always murky when fishing around for the origins of ancient words.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, I think that your suggestion is possible, and it's what I was -- rather obliquely -- getting at.

I intend to note the point for my students, but simply as a speculation.

Jeffery Hodges

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