Beowulf @ Ellis

Julia R.


Painting of Good and Evil in Beowulf: Analysis

            My Beowulf project is a picture which incorporates different events and important aspects of the poem as told by a bard.  The bard’s stories include Grendel’s attacks, the fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf’s and Wiglaf’s battle against the angered dragon, and Beowulf’s cremation. The whole picture shows that good triumphs over evil in the poem Beowulf.  
            One of the scenes in the painting shows a bard playing a lyre; from the strings of this lyre come the different tales of Beowulf’s life. The bard shows the importance of storytelling and of recounting tales of good and evil, of God and those apart from God.  Also, because the poem Beowulf and other tales were told by a scop accompanied by a lyre, I chose to show parts of Beowulf’s life coming from the bard’s lyre as would have really happened in Anglo Saxon times. The bard’s stories that are illustrated in this picture show that good triumphs over evil. Beowulf prevails over Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the dragon and even goes to heaven, not hell.
            The fight with Grendel is the first story in the chronological order of the bard’s tales about Beowulf’s life.  The reason Grendel is drawn with black hair, fur, black nails, and red eyes is to convey that he is considered evil and God forsaken, and that he has hideously receded back into being more of an animal.  One can see this in the poem when it tells of Grendel saying that he was “[c]onceived by a pair of these monsters born/ [o]f Cain, murderous creatures banished/ [b]y God, punished forever for the crime/of Abel’s death” (105-8). His evilness is shown by his degraded human form that is partly turned into an animal with the shaggy hair, hairy body and marsh muck in his fur. The grey hair represents that “[h]e was spawned in slime” and that his mother lived in a murky lake (104). The dark floor and gold wall show the importance of light and dark which represents good and evil.  The rim of black around this section of the picture shows that the monster is one of the evil ones in the poem, and that he is more bad than good. This is also illustrated in the black hair and nails.  The door fallen off its hinges and broken, shows the damage brought to Herot by Grendel. Not only does it show open attacks on Herot, but it also shows that the one who fatally wounds Grendel, Beowulf, is open and confident, even more so than Grendel.  The first scene in the picture shows that Grendel is portrayed as an evil, damaging monster.
            The next event in the chronological order of the poem is Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother. Grendel’s mother is shown somewhat like her son in that she is hairy and anthropomorphic for the same reasons. Her hair is brown, green and black to show that she is a being of the darkness or bad. The green hair reflects the murky lake in which she lives. The black hair and pointy black nails show that she is evil and God forsaken. In this section of the painting, Beowulf is also present, clothed in armor. The armor is gold and silver not only because that color is most realistic, but because they are light-filled colors, showing goodness. His sword is silver with gold while Grendel’s mother’s dagger is colder – silver with red - showing the contrast between good and evil once again. Beowulf is temporarily trapped by Grendel’s mother and distracted by the discovery of a magic, stalwart sword. Although the ancient sword was made by giants, God’s light shines on it. God’s light is represented as a candle because this light is mentioned as “Heaven’s Own candle” (1572-3). Good triumphs over evil in this section of the picture, because there is more brightness in it and Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother in the end.
            The background colors of this section of the bard’s story show good and God with Beowulf and darkness and death on the side of Grendel’s mother. First, this is shown in the darkness of the sand on the right and the lighter sand on the left. This is repeated in the water as well. The dark blue is behind Grendel’s mother and the lighter blue is behind Beowulf. The candle and the sword are on the side of Beowulf, which shows the position of Fate or God. Even the plants that grow in the water are affected and show the contrast between good and bad. The ones on the good side are fruitful and light filled, so light filled, in fact, that they are blossoming gold. The vines on the side of Grendel’s mother are weighed down with the burden of evil and being hated.
            The next picture in the sequence of stories is the fight between Beowulf, Wiglaf and the dragon. The armor on Beowulf and Wiglaf, as mentioned earlier, is gold and silver to represent goodness through the brightness of the colors. The gold and silver also symbolizes the treasures that can be won in the battle and shared or hoarded with loyal followers. Wiglaf (on the left) is one of these stalwart companions. The color of Beowulf’s and Wiglaf’s hair shows that Wiglaf is still young while Beowulf is getting older. In the poem, after Beowulf’s attempts to kill the dragon single-handedly and calls for help, the young and old fight together against the dragon in real comitatus, or friendship.
            The dragon is fighting against Beowulf and Wiglaf to protect the treasure he kept for many years. In the poem, he is described as, “the beast . . . [with] claws…[and] wings...[and] flaming [j]aws” (2348-9). The dragon’s wings in the picture not only show that he can fly, but illustrate through their purple, intertwined veins, the complexity of darkness and its long history and journey. The black in his nails, around his eyes, in his horns and on the very tip of his tail show that he is evil. The reason he is purple and green is because these colors are neither completely dark nor light. This is because the dragon was not known as good or evil until disturbed, but then becomes a known enemy. These colors show this change. However, with the accents of black it illustrates that he ends up being portrayed as bad. The dragon’s tusks, that are silver with an accent of black, not only end up fatally wounding Beowulf, but also represent the treasure the dragon hoards in the tower. The dragon, as mentioned earlier, breathes fire. Ironically, it is a fire that Beowulf is cremated with and a fiery monster that kills him. The dragon’s fire is also reflected in the iris of his eyes. The picture of the dragon is an example of evil in the poem Beowulf.
            Not only do the figures in the picture of the fight with the dragon relate to the poem, but the background design and colors do as well. The grass is basically the same color except for directly in front of Beowulf where it is greener. This shows the importance put on Beowulf throughout the poem. The sky is a purplish blue color that is somewhat washed out in places. The green and purplish blue is similar to the colors of the dragon but not quite the exact colors or shades because neither Beowulf nor the dragon is the victor. These colors convey that it is neither all good nor all bad, but that there can be a vague line between winning and losing. The tower is painted in dark brown and black. The tower is dark because the tower has been inhabited by the horrible dragon and its “heathen silver and jewels” (2276). The black windows represent that the inside of the tower is blocked from the light of the sun and God, showing the dragon’s evilness. In this picture, even though it is hard to tell who wins because they both die, one can see that good wins by looking at the broader outcome. This is because Beowulf goes to heaven and the dragon does not, even though they both die.
            The last scene that the bard describes in Beowulf’s life is his funeral. In the flames of his funeral pyre one can somewhat see Beowulf’s brown coffin. On the top of the coffin there is a gold harp. This harp represents the good times of Beowulf’s life when he was not fighting, because the harp was played and sung to for entertainment when all was well in a kingdom. The gold of the harp shows goodness, which is a main theme in the poem. The gold and silver decorations on the lid of the coffin represent the wealth and goodness of Beowulf as a king. On the front side one can see two main parts of his life and the poem, the sword and the rings. The sword shows his prowess and strength in war and that “no man living could match him” (3100). The rings show the good relationship between the king Beowulf and his thanes through ring giving. The gold rings also illustrate the relationships Beowulf develops with Hrothgar, Higlac, and others through goodness and treasure. There is treasure being burned because it shows honor to the king and acts as a reminder of the good, bright deeds he did for the people. It also shows that he won this treasure dying and now it is leaving this world as well. The smoke that is billowing up from the pyre is not just smoke; it is Beowulf’s spirit traveling to God. The golden sun represents God because the sun is often called “God’s bright beacon” and other light filled words relating the sun to God (569). Thus, this smoke is taking Beowulf’s spirit to God in the Heavens. The background of this picture shows a dismal day because the Danes are saddened by the death of “their beloved leader, / [c]rying that no better king had even/ [l]ived, no prince so mild, no man/ [s]o open to his people, so deserving of praise” (3179-82). The stone wall around the picture represents the protection and stableness that Beowulf maintained for his people.
            The background of the whole picture is a basic landscape, which shows the variety of places Beowulf has gone to and the landscape that may have been similar to the place where he lived. The blue at the bottom of the painting represents his fights and good deeds in the sea, the green, his fights and good deeds on land and the purple, his fights and good deeds on elevated terrain, or ones that were a higher level of difficulty. As one can see from this, Beowulf’s achievements affect a wide range of people and he was victorious on many different types of grounds. The golden sky and sun at the top of the page represent God’s presence and goodness, because goodness and light are related as is God and light. God is important and influential throughout the whole poem and this is shown by the sun’s size and that it is the sky which can almost always be seen, just as in this poem God is always influencing situations, such as deciding the fate of a battle. With this background and basis for Beowulf’s life, the bard’s story can come forth as can details of his notable life. Overall, there is more brightness in the painting than dark and this shows that good prevails over evil.
            In this picture, important themes are told by the bard through major parts of Beowulf’s life.  It shows good versus evil, light against dark, an ever present God, Grendel, Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother, the fight with the dragon and Beowulf’s funeral pyre. The picture relates the main ideas of the poem in small parts as would have been told in Anglo Saxon times, just with pictures instead of written words. This picture, overall illustrates that good triumphs over evil.


            I would like to thank my family for helping me with my painting by giving advice and support. I would like to thank my dad, Ms. Dodge, and my mom for reading over my paper and helping me make it stronger. I would also like to acknowledge that I used the below website, to see how the helmets were around the time of Beowulf to get some ideas for my painting. I also Google Image searched “dragon” to get some ideas for drawing a dragon.

Work Cited:

Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York: Signet Classic, 1999.

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The Ellis School - 6425 Fifth Avenue - Pittsburgh, PA 15206