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Beowulf Summary

The main protagonist, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrogar, the king of the
Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with
his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a sword of a giant that he found in her lair.
Later in his life, Beowulf is himself king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorised by a dragon
whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the
help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon
into its lair, at Earnans, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf dares join him. Beowulf
finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded. He is buried in a tumulus or burial mound, by
the sea.
Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great
distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The
poem also begins in medias res ("into the middle of affairs") or simply, "in the middle", which is
a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival,
Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their
lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and
deeds of valour. The warriors follow a manifest of rules on heroism called comitatus, which is
the basis for all of the words, deeds, and actions.
While earlier scholars (such as J. R. R. Tolkien in "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics")
divided the poem in two parts,[4] the first part relating the hero's adventures in his youth and the
second his kingship and death, a view of the poem as structured in three parts is more frequently
accepted by modern scholars.[18] According to the latter view, as argued in 1980 by Jane Chance
of Rice University, the fight with Grendel's mother acquires a separate quality, as a turning point
in the narrative.[19][b] (The Four Funerals in Beowulf and the Structure of the Poem, Manchester
UP, 2000) proposed a different division and structure: she sees the poem as punctuated and
organized by four funerals. Three are well-known: the ship funeral of Scyld, the funeral pyre on
which Hildeburh places her brother and her son, and the funeral mound for Beowulf; in addition,
Owen-Crocker argues that the so-called "Lay of the Last Survivor", ll. 224766, is also a funeral.
[20]

First battle: Grendel


Beowulf begins with the story of King Hrothgar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for his
people. In it he, his wife Wealheow, and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating,
until Grendel, a troll-like monster who is pained by the noise, attacks the hall and kills and
devours many of Hrothgar warriors while they sleep. But Grendel does not touch the throne for it
is described as being protected by the power of God. Hrogar and his people, helpless against
Grendel's attacks, abandon Heorot.
Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hrogar's troubles and with his king's
permission leaves his homeland to help Hrogar.

Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot. Beowulf bears no weapon because this would be
an "unfair advantage" to the beast. After they fall asleep, Grendel enters the hall and attacks,
devouring one of Beowulf's men. Beowulf has been feigning sleep and leaps up to clench
Grendel's hand. The two battle until it seems as though the hall might collapse. Beowulf's
retainers draw their swords and rush to his aid, but their blades cannot pierce Grendel's skin.
Finally, Beowulf tears Grendel's arm from his body at the shoulder and Grendel runs to his home
in the marshes and slowly dies.

Second battle: Grendel's mother


The next night, after celebrating Grendel's defeat, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot.
Grendel's mother, angered by the punishment of her son, appears and attacks the hall. She kills
Hrogar's most trusted warrior, schere, in revenge for Grendel's defeat.
Hrogar, Beowulf and their men track Grendel's mother to her lair under a lake. Beowulf
prepares himself for battle; he is presented with a sword, Hrunting, by Unferth, a warrior who
had doubted him and wishes to make amends. After stipulating a number of conditions to
Hrogar in case of his death (including the taking in of his kinsmen and the inheritance by
Unferth of Beowulf's estate), Beowulf dives into the lake. He is swiftly detected and attacked by
Grendel's mother. However, she is unable to harm Beowulf through his armour and drags him to
the bottom of the lake. In a cavern containing Grendel's body and the remains of men that the
two have killed, Grendel's mother and Beowulf engage in fierce combat.
At first, Grendel's mother appears to prevail. Beowulf, finding that Hrunting cannot harm his foe,
discards it in fury. Beowulf is again saved from his opponent's attack by his armour. Beowulf
grabs a magical sword from Grendel's mother's treasure, and with it beheads her. Travelling
further into the lair, Beowulf discovers Grendel's dying body and severs its head. The blade of
the magic sword melts like ice when it touches Grendel's toxic blood, until only the hilt is left.
This hilt is the only treasure that Beowulf carries out of the cavern, which he presents to Hrogar
upon his return to Heorot. Beowulf then returns to the surface and to his men at the "ninth hour"
(l. 1600, "nn", about 3pm).[21] He returns to Heorot, where Hrogar gives Beowulf many gifts,
including (possibly) the sword Ngling, his family's heirloom. The hilt prompts a long reflection
by the king, sometimes referred to as "Hrothgar's sermon", in which he urges Beowulf to be wary
of pride and to reward his thanes.[22]

Third battle: The dragon


Main article: The Dragon (Beowulf)
Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people. One day, fifty years after
Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother, a slave steals a golden cup from the lair of an unnamed
dragon at Earnaness. When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a
rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but
Beowulf tells his men that he will fight the dragon alone and that they should wait on the barrow.
Beowulf descends to do battle with the dragon but finds himself outmatched. His men, upon
seeing this display and fearing for their lives, creep back into the woods. One of his men,

however, Wiglaf, who finds great distress in seeing Beowulf's plight, comes to Beowulf's aid.
The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. After Beowulf's death, he is ritually
burned on a great pyre in Geatland while his people wail and mourn him. After, a barrow is built
on his remains, which is able to be seen from the sea. (Beowulf lines 27123182).[23]

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Beowulf Summary
How It All Goes Down

King Hrothgar, the ruler of the Danes, is troubled by the rampages of a demon named Grendel.
Every night, Grendel attacks King Hrothgar's wealthy mead-hall, Heorot, killing Danish warriors
and sometimes even eating them. Hrothgar was a great warrior in his time, but now he's an old
king and can't seem to protect his people. Fortunately, a young Geat warrior named Beowulf
travels to Heorot Hall from his own lands overseas to lend a helping hand literally.
After explaining that he owes Hrothgar a favor because Hrothgar helped out his father, Beowulf
offers to fight Grendel himself. King Hrothgar gratefully accepts his offer. The next time Grendel
attacks Heorot Hall, Beowulf is waiting for him. Choosing to fight Grendel in hand-to-hand
combat, Beowulf wrestles the demon into submission and eventually tears off his arm at the
shoulder. Mortally wounded, Grendel flees into the wilderness and dies. Beowulf, Hrothgar, and
their followers throw a wild party to celebrate. Hrothgar also gives Beowulf many presents and
treasures to reward him for his heroic defeat of the demon.
Unfortunately, Grendel has an overprotective mother who decides to avenge her son. While all
the warriors are sleeping off the party, she attacks Heorot Hall. But when the warriors wake up,
she panics and flees back to her lair, a cave underneath a nearby lake.
Beowulf, his Geatish warriors, and some of Hrothgar's Danish warriors track her there. Beowulf
dives into the lake and finds the cave, where he takes on Grendel's mother in another one-on-one
battle. Seizing a nearby sword from Grendel's mother's stash of treasure, he slays her, even
though her poisonous demon blood melts the blade. When Beowulf returns to the surface,
carrying the sword hilt and Grendel's severed head, the Danish warriors have given him up for
dead, but his own Geatish followers are still waiting patiently. When everyone sees that Beowulf
has survived this second challenge, there's even more partying and gift-giving.
Finally, the Geats take their leave of the Danes; Beowulf says goodbye to King Hrothgar and
sails back to Geatland, where he is a lord in the court of King Hygelac. Eventually, Hygelac and
all his relatives are killed in different blood-feuds, and Beowulf becomes the King of the Geats.
Beowulf reigns as king for fifty years, protecting the Geats from all the other tribes around them,
especially the Swedes. He is an honorable and heroic warrior-king, rewarding his loyal thanes
(warrior lords) and taking care of his people.
But one day, Beowulf finally meets his match: a dragon, woken by a thief stealing a goblet,
begins attacking the Geats, burning villages and slaughtering people. Beowulf takes a group of
eleven trusty warriors, plus the thief who knows where the dragon's lair is, to the barrow for a
final showdown with the monster. When they see the dragon, all but one of the warriors flee in
terror. Only one man, Wiglaf, remains at Beowulf's side. With Wiglaf's help and encouragement,
Beowulf is able to defeat the dragon, but he is mortally wounded in the process.
After Beowulf's death, the Geats build an enormous funeral pyre for him, heaped with treasures.

Once the pyre has burned down, they spend ten days building an enormous barrow (a large
mound of earth filled with treasure) as a monument to their lost king.

Summary

Beowulf Summary
The poem begins with a brief genealogy of the Danes. Scyld Shefing was the first great king of
the Danes, known for his ability to conquer enemies. Scyld becomes the great-grandfather of
Hrothgar, the king of the Danes during the events of Beowulf. Hrothgar, like his ancestors before
him, is a good king, and he wishes to celebrate his reign by building a grand hall called Heorot.
Once the hall is finished, Hrothgar holds a large feast. The revelry attracts the attentions of the
monster Grendel, who decides to attack during the night. In the morning, Hrothgar and his thanes
discover the bloodshed and mourn the lost warriors. This begins Grendel's assault upon the
Danes.
Twelve years pass. Eventually the news of Grendel's aggression on the Danes reaches the Geats,
another tribe. A Geat thane, Beowulf, decides to help the Danes; he sails to the land of the Danes
with his best warriors. Upon their arrival, Hrothgar's thane Wulfgar judges the Geats worthy
enough to speak with Hrothgar. Hrothgar remembers when he helped Beowulf's father Ecgtheow
settle a feud; thus, he welcomes Beowulf's help gladly.
Heorot is filled once again for a large feast in honor of Beowulf. During the feast, a thane named
Unferth tries to get into a boasting match with Beowulf by accusing him of losing a swimming
contest. Beowulf tells the story of his heroic victory in the contest, and the company celebrates
his courage. During the height of the celebration, the Danish queen Wealhtheow comes forth,
bearing the mead-cup. She presents it first to Hrothgar, then to the rest of the hall, and finally to
Beowulf. As he receives the cup, Beowulf tells Wealhtheow that he will kill Grendel or be killed
in Heorot. This simple declaration moves Wealhtheow and the Danes, and the revelry continues.
Finally, everyone retires. Before he leaves, Hrothgar promises to give Beowulf everything if he
can defeat Grendel. Beowulf says that he will leave God to judge the outcome. He and his thanes
sleep in the hall as they wait for Grendel.
Eventually Grendel arrives at Heorot as usual, hungry for flesh. Beowulf watches carefully as
Grendel eats one of his men. When Grendel reaches for Beowulf, Beowulf grabs Grendel's arm
and doesn't let go. Grendel writhes about in pain as Beowulf grips him. He thrashes about,
causing the hall to nearly collapse. Soon Grendel tears away, leaving his arm in Beowulf's grasp.
He slinks back to his lair in the moors and dies.
The Danes, meanwhile, consider Beowulf as the greatest hero in Danish history. Hrothgar's
minstrel sings songs of Beowulf and other great characters of the past, including Sigemund (who

slew a dragon) and Heremod (who ruled his kingdom unwisely and was punished). In Heorot,
Grendel's arm is nailed to the wall as a trophy. Hrothgar says that Beowulf will never lack for
riches, and Beowulf graciously thanks him. The horses and men of the Geats are all richly
adorned, in keeping with Hrothgar's wishes.
Another party is held to celebrate Beowulf's victory. Hrothgar's minstrel tells another story at the
feast, the story of the Frisian slaughter. An ancient Danish king had a daughter named Hildeburh;
he married her to a king of the Frisians. While Hnaef, Hildeburh's brother, visited his sister, the
Frisians attacked the Danes, killing Hnaef and Hildeburh's son in the process. Hengest, the next
leader of the Danes, desired vengeance, and in the spring, the Danes attacked the Frisians, killing
their leader and taking Hildeburh back to Denmark.
After this story is told, Wealhtheow presents a necklace to Hrothgar while pleading with her
brother-in-law Hrothulf to help her two young sons if they should ever need it. Next she presents
many golden treasures to Beowulf, such as necklaces, cups, and rings. Soon the feast ends, and
everyone sleeps peacefully.
In the night, Grendel's mother approaches the hall, wanting vengeance for her son. The warriors
prepared for battle, leaving enough time for Grendel's mother to grab one of Hrothgar's
counselors and run away. When Beowulf is summoned to the hall, he finds Hrothgar in mourning
for his friend Aeschere. Hrothgar tells Beowulf where the creatures like Grendel livein a
shadowy, fearful land within the moors.
Beowulf persuades Hrothgar to ride with him to the moors. When they reach the edge of the
moors, Beowulf calls for his armor, takes a sword from Unferth, and dives into the lake. After a
long time, Beowulf reaches the bottom of the lake, where Grendel's mother is waiting to attack.
Beowulf swings his sword, but discovers that it cannot cut her, so he tosses it away. They then
wrestle until Beowulf spies a large sword nearby. He grabs it by the hilt and swingskilling
Grendel's mother by slicing off her head. Still in a rage, Beowulf finds the dead Grendel in the
lair and cuts off his head as a trophy.
As they wait, the Danes have given up all hope for Beowulf because he has been underwater for
such a long time. They are shocked when Beowulf returns with Grendel's head and the hilt of the
sword (which melted with the heat of Grendel's blood). They bear the hero and his booty back to
Heorot, where another celebration takes place. Beowulf recounts his battle; Hrothgar praises him
and gives him advice on being a king. A grand feast follows, and Beowulf is given more
priceless treasures. The next morning, the Geats look forward to leaving Denmark. Before they
leave, Beowulf promises aid for Hrothgar from the Danes. Hrothgar praises Beowulf and
promises that their lands will have an alliance forever. As the Geats leave, Hrothgar finds himself
wishing Beowulf would never leave.

The Geats return with much rejoicing to their homeland, where their king Hygelac and his queen
Hygd greet them. In an aside, the narrator compares Hygd to the queen of the ancient Offa, who
is not tamed until Offa comes to subjugate her. Beowulf tells his lord the events of his trip to
Denmark. In the process, he tells another story that had previously been unmentioned. Hrothgar
betrothed his daughter Freawaru to a prince of the Heathobards in order to settle an old feud.
Beowulf speculates that someone will goad this Heathobard prince to take vengeance upon the
Danes for all their past wrongs. Hygelac praises Beowulf for his bravery and gives him half the
kingdom. They rule the kingdom together in peace and prosperity. Hygelac is killed in a battle
soon after, so Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and rules the kingdom well.
In the fiftieth year of Beowulf's reign, a monster arises to terrorize the Geats. A treasure trove
was left by an ancient civilization, which guarded it jealously until only one member of the race
was left. After the last person's death, a fire-breathing dragon found the treasure and guarded it
for three hundred years. One day, a slave stumbled upon the treasure and stole a cup as an
offering to his lord. The dragon awakened to find something missing from his treasure, and
began his rampage upon the Geats.
One day, Beowulf learns that this dragon has destroyed his own great hall. This attack sends him
into deep thought. Soon he orders a shield to use for battle, but not without a heavy heart at what
may happen to him. He recalls Hygelac's death in battle and his own narrow escape from this
battle. He recalls a number of battles he has seen as he travels to the dragon's lair with eleven of
his thanes. The servant who stole the cup leads them to the lair.
As they wait to attack the dragon, Beowulf recounts the Geat royal family's plight, in which
Hygelac's oldest brothers killed each other and left their father to die of a broken heart. Beowulf
says he served Hygelac well, and a sword (named Naegling) that he won while serving Hygelac
will help him save the kingdom once again. Beowulf leads the charge to the dragon's cave. The
shield protects him from the dragon's flames, but his men flee in fear, leaving only one man
behind. This man is Wiglaf, Beowulf's kinsman through Ecgtheow. Wiglaf becomes angry, but
swears that he will stay by Beowulf's side.
Just then the dragon rushes up to them. Beowulf and the dragon swing at each other three times,
finally landing mortal blows upon each other the last time. The dragon is beheaded, but Beowulf
is bitten and has a mortal poison from the dragon flowing through his body as a result. Wiglaf
bathes his lord's body as Beowulf speaks on the treasure. He says that Wiglaf should inherit it as
his kinsman; then he dies.
After his death, the cowards return, to be severely chastised by Wiglaf. He sends a messenger to
tell the people of their king's death. The messenger envisions the joy of the Geats' enemies upon
hearing of the death of Beowulf. He also says that no man shall ever have the treasure for which

Beowulf fought. Wiglaf and Beowulf's thanes toss the dragon's body into the sea. They place the
treasure inside a mound with Beowulf's body and mourn for "the ablest of all world-kings."