>So in today’s discussion of Beowulf, a student asked if Grendel’s descent from Cain meant that he had the “mark of Cain — meaning dark skin.” I told him that as far as I could recall, no reference to or representation of Cain in the Anglo-Saxon period or the late Middle Ages depicted him as darked skinned, and that for these periods he was largely associated with wandering and exile, as being “other” in terms of social relations (outcast, foreign, belonging to no place) rather than race.
What I didn’t say was where and when that association with race likely started, because I wasn’t sure. I think, but I’m not sure, that such interepretations of the “mark” (which is nothing more than a vague “mark” in the Bible) didn’t arise until Europeans were colonizing and enslaving Africa and trying to justify doing so. So tell me, oh wise Blogospherians and Netizens, am I right?
If the Anglo-Saxonists, medievalists, and early-modernists among you know of any such interpretations of mark-as-race in those periods, I’d love to hear about it. I’m pretty darn sure that’s not the association the Beowulf poet was going for (especially since exile and wandering loom much larger in the poem and in OE poetry in general), but I’m just generally curious now.