The epic poem “Beowulf”, written during the 8th century when England was beginning to convert to Christianity. This poem includes references to the bible, as well as pagan traditions in order to ease pagans into the transition to Christianity. The poem is centered around the main hero, Beowulf who fights against the monsters that try to destroy harmony. Three out of the seven deadly sins, envy, wrath, and greed, are exemplified through the three battles Beowulf faces throughout the poem to show the dangers of society.
The first monster Beowulf confronted was Grendel, who characterizes envy. “So Hrothgar’s men lived happily in his hall till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel … and made his home in hell, not hell but earth” (Unknown 100-104). Grendel was envious of all the joy and fun the Danes were having because he was living a dark, miserable life. Since he was unable to experience that joy he had no choice but to destroy it. Grendel’s envy toward the happiness of Hrothgar’s men brought death and fear to many Danes in what they thought was their safe haven. Envy is an inevitable trait that society will face every day. It is not something people can just get rid of or escape from. Just like Grendel did with the Danes, envy has the power to disrupt society and tear apart relationships with people. The feeling of wanting to bring another person down, thinking they have it better, will only hinder the ability of a society to prosper. “Grendel’s hatred began…seeking no peace, offering, not truce, accepting no settlement, no price…paying the living for one crime with another”(Unknown 154-157). Killing the Danes was the only thing that satisfied Grendel. No gold or land offer could make him feel the same. That is the reason why he kept tormenting Heorot for twelve years. The feeling of envy cannot be satisfied easily. People in society will always find something to feel envy towards. People will always want more and more making them unable to be satisfied with anything. Envy that seeks to destroy others’ happiness is capable of destroying a civilization.
Beowulf’s second Battle was against Grendel’s Mother who represents wrath. ‘But now it is known that a monster had died but a monster still lived and meant revenge” (Unknown 1256-1257). Grendel’s mother was infuriated when she learned that Beowulf had killed her son. Without hesitation, Gredel’s mother went to the hall of Heoriot to take revenge for her dead son, Grendel. Wrath, being such a strong emotion, can blind people from making reasonable decisions. The decision that Grendel’s mother makes, which was to go to Heorot Hall without a proper plan, just shows how much influence our negative emotions have on decision-making. If people just acted out based on how they were feeling, there wouldn’t be any order in society. “She’d taken Hrothgar’s closest friend, the man he most loved of all the men on earth…” (Unknown 1296-1298). In society, most people’s first instinct is to retaliate against people who did them wrong. In this case, Grendel’s mother took the most important person to Hrothgar just like he too the most important person to her. In this time period, people believed the saying “ An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Wrath will only lead to people negative consequences in society. Problems would never be resolved using this method. It would just make room for more negative emotions to enter someone’s heart. The wrath that is used as an excuse to harm people will inevitably cause chaos in a civilization.
The third battle Beowulf faces is with the dragon who illustrates greed. “Vomiting fire and smoke, the dragon burned down their homes. They watched in horror as the flames rose up: the angry monster meant to leave nothing alive” (Unknown 2312-2315). The dragon becomes a danger to the Geats after one of his treasures were stolen from it, however, in the real world, greed can be a danger to society as well.