After the party the warriors go to sleep. A bit foolhardy, if you ask me, taking into account that they know perfectly well the hall is visited nightly by a flesh-eating monster. But they don’t expect to get out of this alive, so why lose any sleep over it? Still, I don’t think I would be able to sleep under the circumstances. That must have been some strong mead/beer. Grendel arrives and is observed by Beowulf, who didn’t fall asleep and now is waiting for him to make his first move. His first move is to eat a guy who was closest, then moves over to Beowulf and is for a nasty surprised when Beowulf atttacks him. They fight so hard that they almost wreck Heorot to pieces, finally Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm and the monster skulks off to die.
A few points here. First of all the author (and he is almost certainly a clergyman, since in these times they were about the only literate people) does his best to make all his characters Christian, perhaps retroactively. There is a lot of talk about God and how Beowulf wins not only thanks to his supernatural strength, but also because it was God’s will. Now, I don’t think it was just the matter of the author/scribe scratching out “Odin” and writing “God” instead. I’d love to hear from an expert on Germanic religion, should anybody like that ever come by this post, but my impression is that Germanic gods were not as involved in people’s lives as the Judaeo-Christian God. They were also themselves subject to “wyrd”, i.e. fate, while the Christian God is its master.
This, however, creates some head-scratcher moments, like with the first Geat who is devoured by Grendel. He is basically a Red Shirt, and while I understand that waiting for your opponent to make the first move makes sense tactically, the guy might prefer Beowulf would have stepped in earlier. And of course that doesn’t put God’s providence in such a good light, but that brings the whole question of theodicy, over which theologians and philosophers argued for centuries, so let’s not be too critical of the author of Beowulf for not solving it.
Another head-scratcher is that while Beowulf announced twice that he is not going to use any weapons in his fight with Grendel, his warriors try to help him by trying to wound Grendel with their swords. They are ineffectual because they don’t know that Grendel has been charmed (a bit like Achilles) and no sword can hurt him, but still. Now, I don’t think that you need to adhere to such an elevated code of fair play when dealing with a man-eating monster, but then it’s kind of inconsistent when Beowulf renounces any weapons, but his warriors don’t. And, what is more, they gang up on him. Even in my school playground, we knew that a number of people against one was not cool.