Kin of Cain annotated bib

The Kin of Cain in Beowulf

Bandy, Stephen C. “Cain, Grendel, and the Giants of Beowulf.” PLL 9 (1973): 235-49.  Bandy tackles the tradition of Cain’s descendants, noting that the Beowulf poet is careful to comply with Scripture in declaring that the antediluvian giganta cyn were wiped out in the Flood.  Grendel and his kin are referred to with the Germanic eoten rather than the Latin gigant; Bandy puts this difference forward as evidence of the poet’s attention to Scriptural detail and of the “unexpectedly subtle – but thoroughly Augustinian – examination of the intertwined nature of good and evil” (235).  In fact, Bandy argues, the “moral ambivalence of gigantism” is ubiquitous in the poem (235), “[alerting] the reader to [the] peculiar temptations of pride” (239), and it effects Heremod, Hygelac, and Beowulf, all of whom display unusual size and stature.  Thus the struggle between good and evil is visible to the Anglo-Saxon eye, according to Bandy, in the bodies of its heroes as well as its monsters; monstrousness is more a moral choice than an accident of birth.  In fact, concludes Bandy, “the monstrous progeny of Cain dwell everywhere and dine at every table” (249).

Crawford, Samuel J. “Grendel’s Descent from Cain.” MLR 23 (1928): 207-8.  Crawford argues that it would have been natural for medieval theologians, familiar with the apocryphal Book of Enoch, to link Job xxvi, 5 with Genesis IV, vi, 2-4, 5-7, and vii.  This linkage would “provide scriptural authority for the continuous survival of Cain’s descendants, overwhelmed by the Flood, as sea-monsters” (207).
Crawford, Samuel J. “Grendel’s Descent from Cain.” MLR 24 (1929): 63.  An addendum to his 1928 publication in MLR, this brief note argues for a prevalent Celtic belief that “monsters were the descendants of Cain overwhelmed by the Flood” (63).  The Irish Nennius from the Lebhar Na Huidre, which Crawford quotes, suggests that Cain’s descendants were wiped out in the flood, but that Cham, the son of Noah, is Cain’s spiritual heir and the “first person that was cursed after the Deluge” (Hogan, trans., qtd. in Crawford 63).  Monsters cannot be “the seed of Cain” because the Deluge destroyed them; rather, “Luchrupans and Formorians and Goatheads and every unshapely form in general that there is on men” descend from Cham (Hogan, trans., qtd. in Crawford 63).

Donahue, Charles. “Grendel and the Clanna Cain.” Journal of Celtic Studies 1 (1950): 167-75.  Donahue examines Irish sources for the origins of the Beowulf poet’s theory of Cain’s monstrous descendants, focusing particularly on the Senchas na Torothar and the larger work of which it is a part, the Sex Aetates Mundi, attributed to the 11th century though deriving from earlier sources.  Donahue traces “conflict between older, more imaginative Celtic Christian speculation and a school which insisted on rigid historical consistency” (173), ultimately arguing that Dublittir, the author of the Senchas na Torothar, as well as his anonymous predecessor whose material he redacted, “seem indeed to have been cranks on the subject of the Flood, members of a minority of historical rigorists, whose theory” of the direct descent of monsters from Cain “never wholly imposed itself in Ireland” (172).  The Beowulf-poet, like Dublittir and his predecessor, was untroubled by the “sober, cautious learning” that posited the post-Diluvian survival of monsters only through a spiritual inheritance from Cain via Cham, the son of Noah (174).  While Donahue does not argue that the Sex Aetates Mundi passage he examines is the direct influence on the Beowulf-poet’s treatment of the kin of Cain, he does argue that “it is . . . the closest known relative to the Beowulf passage” (175), and recommends further investigation of Irish influences.

Emerson, Oliver. “Legends of Cain, Especially in Old and Middle English.” PMLA 21 (1906): 831-929.  Emerson, true to his title, provides an exhaustive catalogue of Cain’s appearances in Old and Middle English literature.  He pays particular attention to early Christian writings and Jewish lore “in accounting for legendary additions” to the tradition outlined in the Bible (832).  While his article is far too long to fairly summarize for the purposes of this paper, Emerson’s contribution is quite valuable for its examination of the medieval connections between Cain and the devil, Cain and giants, and even Cain and the man in the moon.  Of the material directly bearing on Beowulf, the examination of the grammar and syntax of lines 104-114 is especially provocative; Emerson argues that the “wonsælig wer” of line 104 refers not to Grendel, as normally translated, but to Cain (865-866). The issues of translation and punctuation in these lines have a direct bearing on how one understands the spiritual and corporeal nature, as well as the actual or figurative genealogy, of Grendel and his mother in the poem.  Emerson asserts that the vocabulary used to describe Grendel and his mother in Beowulf is strikingly similar to that used to depict devils in “Genesis, the Complaint of the Fallen Angels, and [other Anglo-Saxon poems]” (881).  Thus “there can be no reasonable doubt . . . that the Beowulf poet intended them in this sense” (881).  Furthermore, the “connection of the giants with Cain was common medieval tradition” (904), Emerson argues, and this connection sheds “unmistakable” light on the relevant passages in Beowulf (904).

Feldman, Thalia Phillies.  “Grendel and Cain’s Descendants.” Literary Onomastics Studies 8 (1981): 71-87.  Feldman examines the Beowulf-poet’s terminology to argue that the kin of Cain in the poem should be read as essentially human rather than dismissed simply as demonic monsters.  She claims, “In contrast to the Germanic fifelcyn, the scriptural descendants of Cain remained entirely human” (73), but in Beowulf the fifelcyn are subsumed into the Cainite tradition and should be read as “untutored” and “brutish” “fools” rather than as “monsters” or “devils” (74).  Moral ignorance rather than unremitting evil characterize these poetic descendants of Cain; generations of scholars have elided this important difference by translating such terms as untydre with a “Christological, moralistic overlay” that is unwarranted in the original language (75).  Rather than reading it as “Christian allegory” or as “thoroughly pagan” (71), we should understand the poem as an amalgamation of Norse and classical ideas of monsters, and read Grendel as an “epic foe” at war with the established social order (80).  “There is nothing Christian” about Cain’s descendants in the Beowulf-poet’s treatment of them (83), and Grendel should be understood as a human descendant of Cain rather than a Christian devil.

Mellinkoff, Ruth. “Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf: Part I, Noachic Tradition.” ASE 8 (1979): 143-62.  Mellinkoff uses contemporary scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls to argue for a more or less direct influence of the Noachic segments of the Book of Enoch on the Beowulf-poet’s treatment of Cain and his kin.  Positing a surviving oral tradition rather than a direct manuscript source, Mellinkoff argues that the Beowulf-poet’s treatment of the legend of Cain’s post-Diluvian offspring illustrates imaginative “freedom not available to a theologian in an exegetical exercise” (161).  Thus the poet is untroubled by what seems to be a “curious conflation of both major traditions” surrounding the kin of Cain and the “sons of God” in Genesis (148).

Mellinkoff, Ruth. “Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf: Part II, Post-Diluvian Survival.” ASE 9 (1981): 183-97.  Mellinkoff argues that “without some authority the Beowulf poet would not have come to the belief that some of Cain’s evil progeny had survived” the Flood described in Genesis (183).  Her article is a “survey” of the “tradition that reports such a survival” (184).  Examining early Christian writings, Jewish lore and commentary, and Irish sources, she notes that despite “considerable confusion between Cain and Cham” in Anglo-Saxon England (194), there nevertheless exist non-canonical portrayals of survivals of the seed of Cain in the early English milieu.  While “attempts to trace [the] origins or determine [the] spread” of these portrayals “presents an arduous, if not impossible, task” (196), “the history of medieval thought . . . must not be construed to be just the history of the more readily accessible traditional, canonical writings” (196).  The Beowulf-poet’s treatment of the legend of Cain’s kin probably demonstrates “a belief in [their] real survival . . . which was more extensive in Anglo-Saxon thought than we can realize” (197).

Orchard, Andy.  “The Kin of Cain.”  Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.  58-85.  Orchard offers what is largely a literature review of extant scholarship on the kin of Cain in Beowulf, with a few notable summaries and commentaries, essentially seeking to foreground Insular sources against a background of “biblical, patristic, Classical, and popular” materials available to the Anglo-Saxon imagination (85).  In his exhaustive treatment of primary Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Latin, and Hiberno-Latin sources, as well as decades of secondary scholarship, he argues that the poet’s unique use of biblical material to describe Grendel and his mother “merits fresh inspection, in order to ascertain more closely both the poet’s purpose and the range of Insular attitudes towards the kin of Cain” (58).  Orchard traces the complex, often contradictory, links between Cain and Cham in Biblical and exegetic texts, and comments on the resulting confusion as to whether and how Cain’s offspring could have survived the Flood.  In keeping with the title of his monograph, Orchard argues, “the notion that there was a direct link between biblical giants and proud men was . . . clearly current in Insular circles from a very early period, ready to be built on” by poets and scholars (81), who shared with patristic authors the “ability to synthesize and build imaginatively on a range of traditions concerning antediluvian giants and, after the Flood, mighty human figures of pride” (84).  The Beowulf-poet’s treatment of these materials should be “judged” against this “rich background of imaginative reconstruction” (85).
Peltola, Niilo. “Grendel’s Descent from Cain Reconsidered.” NM 73 (1972): 284-91.  Peltola attempts to “fill in some gaps” in the Cain material presented by O.F. Emerson’s article (above), S.J. Crawford’s notes (above), and Fr. Klaeber’s 1912 German-language article (285).   Peltola looks to the Book of Enoch, Genesis, the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Baruch, the Old English Genesis, Bede’s In Genesim, and the Zohar for transmission of traditions connecting Cain, the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” of Genesis 6.1-4, and the survival of evil after the Flood.  He briefly outlines the similarities and differences between the accounts, suggesting that Bede’s comments on Genesis “must seriously be taken into account in looking for the source that helped the Beowulf poet to derive Grendel’s descent from Cain” (287).  Ultimately, however, Peltola argues that the Beowulf poet drew on a number of available sources for his version of the story of Cain’s descendants rather than on a single direct source, as Klaeber suggests.

Williams, David. Cain and Beowulf: A Study in Secular Allegory. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. In response to the studies of Beowulf as theological allegory put forward by Margaret Goldsmith  and Charles Donahue, Williams argues that the poem is an allegory, but a “secular, literary allegory of a profound social vision” (4).  While its treatment of Grendel and Cain has theological origins, the kin of Cain work as legend and metaphor on a historical as well as theological level.  For Williams, Beowulf is a poem with a central controlling theme with Cain at its center as the primal kin-slayer; it is a poem of “historical violence and transhistorical peace” (97).  Read in this way, the poem is “allegorical to the extent that in the poem events in time have another meaning that transcends time” (96).  Williams’ reading saves Beowulf from Goldsmith’s condemnation in which Beowulf and the other pagan characters are inescapably sinners.  Williams allows the hero, despite his indulgence in vengeance, which is “one of the chief evils of the poem” (99), to “nevertheless [represent] the force of good” (100) insofar as the poem is a “product of its time” (3).

Of the above scholarly contributions to the treatment of the kin of Cain in Beowulf, Emerson’s and Orchard’s are the most thorough and valuable, though for different reasons.  Notably, they are also the earliest and latest of the secondary materials I have surveyed.  Emerson brings an embarrassment of scholarly riches to the academic table, providing a dizzying array of arguments, analogues, and literary possibilities that over a hundred years of subsequent scholarship has yet to exhaust.  Orchard, on the other hand, focuses more narrowly on materials roughly contemporary with or predating the Beowulf manuscript, and deploys a good portion of his argument as evidence for an association of the Beowulf monsters with the Christian sin of pride, an association I remain unconvinced of, though his surveying and translation of the probable texts available to the poet is invaluable and, as far as I can tell, unprecedented.  While Emerson argues that the Beowulf-poet’s treatment of Cain and the monsters is “wholly Christian in origin” (905), Orchard argues for a “fusion of Christian and pagan attitudes and characters” in the poem as a whole as well as in its portrayal of the offspring of Cain (85).  Doubtless the debates will continue as possible sources, analogues, and legends are translated, published, or simply reintroduced to the scholarly discussion, but the new student of the kin of Cain in Beowulf could do much worse than to start with these two scholars’ treatments of the pertinent material.


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