.Know thyself

These two words were inscribed on the oracle-shrine of Apollo at Delphi, Greece (6th century B.C.).

According to The Perseus Project:

The Delphic sanctuary began to be internationally renowned in the eighth century B.C. because it housed an oracular shrine in which a prophetess, the Pythia, spoke the will of Apollo in response to questions from visiting petitioners. The Delphic oracle operated for a limited number of days over nine months of the year, and demand for its services was so high that the operators of the sanctuary rewarded generous contributors with the privilege of jumping to the head of the line. The great majority of visitors to Delphi consulted the oracle about personal matters such as marriage and having children.

In Grendel the phrase appears in some of the Dragon's final words to the monster. He gives what seem to be three distinct bits of advice: "Know thyself," that's my dictum. Know how much you've got, and beware of strangers!" (74)

In the Dragon's nihilistic world-view, material possessions are all you can (literally) count upon. One must beware of strangers because they can take what you have. This may be all the Dragon can mean by "Know yourself" - aside from a general mockery of the notion that anyone can know anything at all, let alone oneself.

But who is Grendel? With his noticeable lack of interest in piling up gold, what does he come to know about himself throughout the novel?

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