Meeting Grendel at the Movie. Rewriting Beowulf in Another Place and in Another Time

Francesco Giusti


As an epic poem Beowulf is a literary space of encounters, but in comparison to the Classical models, the Iliad and the Odyssey, it does not require the extraneousness of the place where the meeting or the clash happens. The threat is at the door. The Other, the monstrous is close, very close to the human community and is genetically tied with it. This is a point of particular interest on which the Twentieth century attempts to rewrite the Anglo-Saxon poem focus so as to create new possibilities and patterns for the clash, and  to investigate the limits of the human.

The paper focuses on two recent movies: Beowulf & Grendel (Gunnarsson, Iceland 2005) e Beowulf (Zemeckis, USA 2007). These movies, notwithstanding the differences in technique, genre and intention, clearly  show some shared trends in the background, beyond the more general influence of the former on the latter. For they both re-read  the old poem as the story of the infraction of a boundary and the cultural encounter between the human community, championed by Beowulf, and that Otherness represented by the monstrous Grendel. If the religious aspect, privileged by the medieval narrator, blurs in the movies, they bring to the surface some inner fears which are latent in the poem and are tied to two dangerous spaces of possible intersection and intermingling: the ethno-anthropological and the psycho-genetic aspects of human life and story. Two fears that belong definitely to contemporary men more than to the medieval world.


Monstrosity; Beowulf; Reception; Grendel; Limits of the Human; Cinema; Zemeckis;

Full Text:

PDF (Italiano)


Bernal, Martin, Black Athena. The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, London, Vintage, 1987.

Braidotti, Rosi, “Signs of Wonder and Traces of Doubt: On Teratology and Embodied Differences”, Between Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs, Ed. Nina Lykke - Rosi Braidotti, London, Zed Books, 1996.

Buzzoni, Marina, “Sexing the epos: condizioni di coerenza ne ‘La Leggenda di Beowulf’ di Robert Zemeckis”, Le vite del testo, Ed. Eva Banchelli - Maria Grazia Cammarota, Bergamo, Sestante, 2008.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, Monster Theory, Minneapolis - London, University of Minnesota Press, 1996: 3-25.

Crichton, Michael, Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922, New York, Knopf, 1976.

Gardner, John, Grendel, New York, Knopf, 1971.

Giusti, Francesco, “La ricezione contemporanea del Beowulf”, Intersezioni, XXVI.3 (Dicembre 2006a): 383-394.

Giusti, Francesco, “Il Beowulf nel Novecento: il fumetto e il romanzo”, Linguistica e Filologia, 23 (2006b): 211-229.

Giusti Francesco, “Encountering the Other in the Middle Ages: from Ibn Fadlan’s Account to Michael Crichton’s Fiction”, Acta litteraria comparativa. Transformations of the European Landscape: Encounters between the Self and the Other (2010), prossima pubblicazione.

Greenfield, Stanley B., “A Touch of the Monstrous in the Hero or Beowulf Re-Marvellized” (1982), Hero and Exile, Ed. Stanley B. Greenfield, London and Ronceverte, The Hambledon Press, 1989: 67-73.

Huet, Marie-Hélène, Monstrous Imagination, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1993.

Kristeva, Julia, Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection, Paris, Seuil, 1980.

Lee, Alvin A., Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: Beowulf as Metaphor, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Osborn, Marijane, “Translations, Versions, Illustrations”, A Beowulf Handbook, Ed. Robert E. Bjork - John D. Niles, Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 1997: 341-72.

Paré, Ambroise, Des monstres et des prodiges, Geneva, Libraire Droz, 1971.

Todorov, Tzvetan, Introduction à la littérature fantastique, Paris, Éditions de Seuil, 1970.

Williams, David, Cain and Beowulf: A Study in Secular Allegory, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Williams, David, Deformed Discourse. The Function of the Monster in Medieval Thought and Literature, Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 1996.



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

Between Journal is published by the University of Cagliari - Maintenance for this OJS installation is provided by UniCA  Open Journals, hosted by Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo.

Between Journal is published with the funding of the Bank of Sardinia Foundation.

ISSN 2039-6597

CC-By lockssDOAJ seal SPARC Europe