Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 86This type of story, in which the mother monster is greater and more powerful than her husband or son, is exceedingly common in Scottish folklore. In the legend which relates the adventures of "Finn in the Kingdom of Big Men", the hero goes forth at night to protect his allies against the attacks of devastating sea monsters. Standing on the beach, "he saw the sea advancing in fiery kilns and as a darting serpent.... A huge monster came up, and looking down below where he (Finn) was, exclaimed, 'What little speck do I see here?'" Finn, aided by his fairy dog, slew the water monster. On Finn, aided by his fairy dog, slew the water monster. On the following night a bigger monster, "the father", came ashore, and he also was slain. But the most powerful enemy had yet to be dealt with. "The next night a Big Hag came ashore, and the tooth in the front of her mouth would make a distaff. 'You killed my husband and son,' she said." Finn acknowledged that he did, and they began to fight. After a prolonged struggle, in which Finn was almost overcome, the Hag fell and her head was cut off.
The story of "Finlay the Changeling" has similar features. The hero slew first a giant and then the giant's father. Thereafter the Hag came against him and exclaimed, "Although with cunning and deceitfulness you killed my husband last night and my son on the night before last, I shall certainly kill you to-night." A fierce wrestling match ensued on the bare rock. The Hag was ultimately thrown down. She then offered various treasures to ransom her life, including "a gold sword in my cave", regarding which she says, "never was it drawn to man or to beast whom it did not overcome". In other Scottish stories of like character the hero climbs a tree, and says something to induce the hag to open her mouth, so that he may plunge his weapon down her throat.
The Grendel story in Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic, is of like character. A male water monster preys nightly upon the warriors who sleep in the great hall of King Hrothgar. Beowulf comes over the sea, as did Finn to the "Kingdom of Big Men", to sky Grendel. He wrestles with this man-eater and mortally wounds him. Great rejoicings ensue, but they have to be brought to an abrupt conclusion, because the mother of Grendel has meanwhile resolved "to go a sorry journey and avenge the death of her son".
The narrative sets forth that she enters the Hall in the darkness of night. "Quickly she grasped one of the nobles tight, and then she went towards the fen", towards her submarine cave. Beowulf follows in due course, and, fully armoured, dives through the waters and ultimately enters the monster's lair. In the combat the "water wife" proves to be a more terrible opponent than was her son. Indeed, Beowulf was unable to slay her until he possessed himself of a gigantic sword, "adorned with treasure", which was hanging in the cave. With this magic weapon he slays the mother monster, whose poisonous blood afterwards melts the "damasked blade". Like Finn, he subsequently returns with the head of one of the monsters.