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;

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