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

  • Francesco Giusti University of Rome "Sapienza"
Keywords: Monstrosity, Beowulf, Reception, Grendel, Limits of the Human, Cinema, Zemeckis,

Abstract

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.

Author Biography

Francesco Giusti, University of Rome "Sapienza"

Francesco Giusti is a PhD student in European Literature and Culture in the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane at the University of Rome "Sapienza”.  His main fields of research are: history and theory of lyric poetry, inspiration and experience, death and poetry. Narration, characters and time in lyric poetry. Italian, English and American poetry of the Twentieth Century. And also the recept ion of Medieval Literature in contemporary Arts: Literature, Cinema, Music and Comics (the rewritings of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf). He has published on Dante, Petrarca, Leopardi, Montale, Walcott and others. He is publishing a book: Dare voce all’assenza. Dare voce all’assente. Il ‘canzoniere in morte’ come genere della lirica moderna (il Mulino, 2011).

References

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.

Published
2011-05-30
How to Cite
Giusti, F. (2011). Meeting Grendel at the Movie. Rewriting <i>Beowulf</i&gt; in Another Place and in Another Time. Between, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/175
Section
Writing and Visions: Threshold Crossings