I have probably noted more than once that living amongst roosters has helped me understand more about human behavior. Especially male human behavior.
Roosters, like their very distant primate cousins, compete and sometimes fight over status and access to the good things of life (which would perhaps include hens). Many male animals scramble for status and dominance.
Sgt. Rory Miller, author of Meditations on Violence, calls it the Monkey Dance. Among young human males, it usually starts with hard stares, moves on to verbal challenges, and then proceeds to closing the distance, shoving and quite often a swinging punch with the dominant hand. When it stops short of physical conflict, this is sometimes referred to around here as a, pardon the expression, pissing battle.
There is a bit of such a match in the early part of Beowulf, after he arrives amongst the Spear Danes and announces his intention to kill Grendel. His character foil is a Dane named Unferth, whose name may have meant something like "not-peace."
In the poem, Beowulf is pretty much the perfect hero, mighty in deed in youth and age, but courteous and not arrogant. Unferth comes across at first as a jealous and insecure person intent on knocking Beowulf down to size. He's obviously trying to compensate for something, including the fact the Beowulf is there to take on a job he couldn't handle. On meeting Beowulf, he immediately begins ragging on him about supposedly losing a days-long swimming match (in full armor, of course) with the warrior Breca:
Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca
in a swimming match on the open sea,
risking the water just to prove that you could win?
It was sheer vanity made you venture out
on the main deep...
He asserts that after a week's worth of swimming in the open sea Beowulf lost to Breca, just as he would lose to the monster Grendel.
Beowulf is too polite to hand Unferth his hind quarters,although he does dismiss him as a fratricide destined for damnation. Mostly though, he sets the record straight with the poem's first monster killing story of his epic battle with sea-beasts. The Monkey Dance was narrowly averted and the sea battle story was pretty awesome...about which more tomorrow.
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