Parallels between Grettis Saga and Beowulf

The Grettis Saga is one of the Icelandic sagas that contains literary analogues, which is a story that bears similarities to another story, of the epic Beowulf. It is clear that there are parallel sections from both Beowulf and the Grettis Saga. These sections portray Beowulf and Grettir’s meeting with their respective monsters and the subsequent fights that take place afterwards.

Glam and Grendel can also be seen as parallel’s of each other. Both Glam and Grendel are depicted in monstrous terms. Glam is characterized as,

“a huge man and very strange looking, with glaring grey eyes and a head of wolf grey hair.”(The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

When he is killed his body is described as,

“dark blue in colour and swollen up to the size of an ox.” (The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

In both life and death we are given the image of a hideous and monstrous individual. This outward monstrous appearance could be seen to epitomize his inward resentment and malice. Grendel is also portrayed as a monstrous outcast. The reader is never given a full physical description of Grendel. Although as the poem progresses the reader comes across ways in which he is referred to, such as,

“a fiend….ghostly demon….creature….wicked ghoul…”(lines 101, 102, 105, 133)

These words reflect on how the people of the society in the poem viewed Grendel. It is obvious that he was seen as a monster in their eyes, not one of them.

Both Glam and Grendel are outcasts from the society in which they live. This stems from their anti-Christian attitude. In relation to Glam, he never attends church and makes it clear that he prefers the pagan traditions rather than the Christian ones. Even in death he resists the Christian tradition as ever time they try to move his body to the church it becomes so heavy that they are unable to move it. Even when they attempt to bring him to bring the priest to see the body it disappears. While Grendel is considered an outcast as he is supposedly the descendant of Cain, the first evil human.

“ruled for a time, since him the Creator, had condemned with the kin of Cain;”(lines 105-107)

As a result of being affiliated with Cain, Grendel is considered to be a damned individual who is cast out from the society.

There is also the parallel between the hero’s first meeting with the monster’s and the subsequent fight that follows. Both monsters terrorize the Hall in Heorot and Thorhall’s Farm in similar ways. Grendel terrorizes the Geats by showing up in the night and stealing men away.

“He then went to visit and see –when night came–……from their rest seized thirty thanes”(lines 115, 122-123)

While Glam also comes in the night to attack the men, furthermore he sits on top of the farmhouse roof making disturbing noises.

“Glam has been in the habit of straddling the roof or breaking the doors every night.”(The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

Perhaps the reason behind these nightly attacks by both monsters is in revenge for what they believe to be their unjust expulsion from the society.

It is clear in the details of the battles between both Glam and Grendel where we can see that the stories in this area are almost identical. The battles begin with the monster tearing the door off its hinges. Beowulf and Grittir demonstrate their superhuman strength throughout the battles, never lessening their advance on the monsters attack. Both monsters try to escape out of the halls so that they may gain the upper hand outside. However, it proves useless as the strength of the hero’s overwhelms the monsters, leaving Grendel fatally wounded and Glam has his head taken off by Grittir. By taking both battles and listing out how it progressed like I have here you can see that each stage is exactly the same in each case. The suggestion has been made that since these types of stories are associated with the oral tradition that it is possible that the authors would have been aware of the other story and that is perhaps why they would have similar scenes and characters.

Sources: (Chapter 32)


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