Strength and Skill Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Be acclaimed for strength, for kindly guidance
to these two boys, and your bounty will be sure." (1219-1220)
In this passage, Queen Wealhtheow praises Beowulf for defeating Grendel and asks him to remember the rights of her sons in the Danish kingdom. It's particularly interesting that Wealhtheow equates "strength" with "kindly guidance" – apparently being a strong man and being a wise one are pretty closely associated in this culture.
She came to Heorot. There, inside the hall,
Danes lay asleep, earls who would soon endure
a great reversal, once Grendel's mother
attacked and entered. Her onslaught was less
only by as much as an amazon warrior's
strength is less than an armed man's
when the hefted sword, its hammered edge
and gleaming blade slathered in blood,
razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet. (1279-1287)
Although the usual pattern of a three act plot suggests that Beowulf's second battle should be more difficult than his first, Grendel's mother is actually a little bit weaker than Grendel himself. Still, the narrator reminds us that she's a vicious, violent, unbelievably strong opponent. She's compared to an Amazon, a member of a mythical tribe of female warriors in Greek mythology. Fighting Grendel's mother is like fighting an Amazon, whereas fighting Grendel is like fighting a male warrior. What's the difference? Well, the Amazon might be slightly less strong because she doesn't have the same physical build as a man – but when a bloodthirsty warrior slices the crest off your helmet with a sword, you don't really stop to think about the warrior's gender, do you?
"I would rather not
use a weapon if I knew another way
to grapple with the dragon and make good my boast
as I did against Grendel in days gone by.
But I shall be meeting molten venom
in the fire he breathes, so I go forth
in mail-shirt and a shield." (2518-2524)
Beowulf is careful to explain why he allows himself the advantage of armor and weapons in his battle with the dragon: it's because the dragon has its own special advantages: poisonous venom and the ability to breathe fire. It's not enough for Beowulf to battle the dragon. He has to emphasize that, in doing so, he really is meeting the creature on a level playing field, demonstrating his own strength and prowess, not just using better weapons.