Grendel says that he didn’t decide to be Hrothgar’s enemy because of the axe he threw, and only decided to take that role once Hrothgar was already an old man. He remembers how, from the edges of the forest and up in the trees, he observed Hrothgar and his men going about their business. First, bands of hunters would occasionally fight each other and tell their comrades about the fights.
Grendel’s emphasizing that he did not begin attacking the humans right away underscores the fact that he originally approached the humans as a friend, searching for people to talk to.
Eventually, the humans settled down and built houses, decorating the interiors with tapestries. They developed farming and the women worked the land and tended to animals while the men hunted. The men would drink and brag about their fights with other bands of men. Grendel was amused by the humans, observing of their violence that “no wolf was so vicious to other wolves.”
As Grendel observes the progress of human history, he notes how violent humans are. His view of humans’ undignified fighting will later contrast greatly with the mythologized, heroic version of their own history that the humans develop for themselves later.
Grendel describes how humans would gather around meadhall tables and boast. Occasionally an argument would break out and one man would kill another. The killer would be put on trial and either executed, excused, or exiled. Grendel first tried befriending such exiles, and then ignoring them, but ended up eating them. But at this time Grendel would not usually murder humans. Rather, he would steal their cows while they slept.
Grendel continues to be fascinated by the customs of the humans. His attempts to befriend the exiles show his desire for some kind of companion. As, at this time, Grendel seems to kill fewer humans than the humans themselves do, their behavior begs the question: are the humans or Grendel more of a monster?
One spring, Grendel noticed a change in the humans’ behavior. Groups of men would shout that they were going to steal another community’s gold and burn their meadhall. Though frustrated with himself at his compulsive need to spy on the humans, Grendel continued to observe them.
As the humans’ random feuds begin to develop into organized disputes, Grendel feels an increasing need to watch them. He begins to feel a strange, voyeuristic bond with them.
One night, around midnight, Grendel found a hall in ruins, the community’s cows slaughtered but not eaten, the humans burned and killed, and all of the gold stolen from the hall. Full-scale wars began amongst the humans. According to the songs of the men, war had always been around and the tranquil period Grendel experienced was merely a temporary peace.
Grendel learns about war. The humans are just as destructive as Grendel—and more wasteful. He at least kills to eat. They kill for all sorts of reasons. The singers claim that war has always existed, shaping history to fit and justify their present actions.
From his place up in the trees, Grendel could often hear the singers in the meadhalls singing of glorious deeds of dead kings, to the delight of their drunken human audience. Grendel would occasionally see enemies arrive and watch the men fight. They’d stop twenty feet apart and yell at each other, boasting and threatening, talking about honor and justice, before finally fighting. Sometimes the aggressors would be repelled, and sometimes they would win and destroy the meadhall or capture the king and ransom him for gold and other goods. Grendel was frightened and confused by this behavior.
The humans continue to war with each other, claiming that they fight for honor and justice. But, from Grendel’s perspective, they simply attack each other for gold and other goods. Grendel is frightened by the humans, who seem in many ways crueler than Grendel.
Grendel felt safe from the humans’ wars up in the trees. Though he and the humans spoke the same language and so were somehow related, the men were of little importance to Grendel. He was sickened by the waste of their wars, all the animals killed but not eaten. He tried to collect some of the waste and store it in his cave, but his mother didn’t like it.
Although he feels related to the humans, Grendel still sees them and their behavior as not really impacting him. He is disgusted by the wasteful destruction of their wars. When he kills animals, it is to eat.
As wars continued, some groups of humans formed alliances (though some allies betrayed each other). Grendel watched season after season, sometimes from the high cliff wall near his den, as Hrothgar gradually rose above the other men in power. Hrothgar collected tribute from nearby groups, who pledged to fight for him. His messengers and their carts often got stuck in the soft earth and the men would whip and hit the oxen until they bled and sometimes ran away. Carts would often get irretrievably stuck and had to be destroyed.
Grendel continues to observe the development of the humans, who appear not only violent but also treacherous. As Hrothgar’s power grows, notice how his men begin to act cruelly toward their animals. They are separating themselves from nature, seeing themselves as above it.
Hrothgar met with his council about these problems and decided to build roads throughout his realm. Now his men could easily go to the aid of their subjects and Hrothgar’s large army could easily defeat most bands of attackers. New roads were built as Hrothgar’s kingdom expanded and amassed more treasure. His meadhall became piled high with gold and other treasures.
Roads tame nature. Hrothgar’s kingdom grows in power, but the most apparent indicator of his success is his selfish amassing of treasure. He is like the dragon in this, hoarding gold.
Men hacked down trees and thinned forests, hunted large amounts of game, and killed birds for sport. Their own animals grazed and cleared hedges. Grendel says that “there was nothing to stop the advance of man.” He began to feel a vaguely violent unrest.
As Hrothgar’s kingdom expands, his people abuse nature more and more, causing Grendel to become angry toward them and their reckless treatment of plants and animals.
One night, watching from behind a cowshed, Grendel saw a blind man arrive at Hrothgar’s meadhall with a harp and a young companion. The harper went inside and talked to Hrothgar, and then played his harp and sang of old kings’ glorious deeds. Men became quiet, and Grendel says that the very landscape hushed “as if brought low by language.” The harp-player, known as the Shaper, offered to sing of Hrothgar’s glory for pay.
The Shaper’s music is extremely powerful. It seems to change the entire natural world surrounding him and also creates a glorified, heroic human history. Grendel is in awe of the power of the Shaper’s language. The fact that the Shaper sings for money, though, seems to undercut the heroism of his poetry, as it means he is creating this art for selfish ends.
Grendel was swept up in the song and music of the Shaper even though he knows that the Shaper’s version of a heroic history is false. Grendel felt as though the Shaper had changed the world and the past. Grendel remembered the true past, with random bands of men slaughtering each other, but could now also remember the version of the past the Shaper invented as if it were true.
Grendel feels very conflicted about the Shaper. He is fascinated by the beauty of his songs, but is frustrated at its falseness and lies about the past. He is confused by the power of the Shaper to alter the past through the beauty of his fiction.
Grendel fled from the meadhall crying, feeling ridiculous and pained by the Shaper’s poetry. He attempted to reason about how true or false the Shaper was. From the top of the cliff overlooking Hrothgar’s realm, he screamed loudly. The scream sounded ugly compared to the Shaper’s beautiful music. He screamed again and ran back to his cave.
The Shaper’s art not only confuses Grendel, but also causes him pain. The beauty of his music makes Grendel more aware of his ugliness as a monster, which makes him both angry at the Shaper and jealous of his ability.