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Beowulf

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 live‹in 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 swings
killing 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."

Lines 1-193
Summary:

The poem begins with a genealogy of the Danish royal


family. Scyld Shefing, the founder of the dynasty, becomes
King of the Danes not through wealth (for he comes from an
impoverished family) but through his ability to sack the
enemies. He has a son named Beow (called Beowulf), also
called a great king because he gave his treasures to his
men "to make sure that later in life his beloved companions
will stand by him." Upon Scyld's death, the people bury him
and his treasures at sea in a traditional Germanic
ceremony. Beow comes to the throne, and has a son,
Healfdene. Healfdene, in turn, becomes the father
of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes at the beginning of the
story.

Like his ancestors, Hrothgar has kept the kingdom


prosperous through winning battles and honoring his
warriors. He decides to build a lavish hall named Heorot.
Soon it is finished, and it becomes a great hall of
feastingŠ until the demon Grendel hears the happiness in
the hall and wishes to destroy it. Thus Grendel begins the
bloody, 12-year rampage on Heorot that leaves Hrothgar and
his people powerless to stop him.

Analysis:

The prologue recounts an age of glory for the Danes, yet it


has a bitter tone. The "grand old days" of heroes has been
replaced with an era of cowardice. From his description, we
see that Scyld is a mighty king who can defeat anything.
Compare this to his great- great- grandson Hrothgar, who is
only fighting one enemy, yet allows the enemy to take over
his kingdom completely without attempting to kill the
monster himself. The narrator also foreshadows another
weakness in the later Germanics. Beowulf of the Danes keeps
his men faithful by paying them treasures; later in the
poem, even treasure will not keep Beowulf of the Geats' men
from leaving him to fight alone.

Heorot is Old English for "the hart," and indeed the


splendor of the hall flees as a deer. The hall and the
arrival of Grendel are likened to the story of the Creation
and the Flood: a paradise is built, and the people enjoy
its fruits until they are cursed with a disaster (even a
family member of Cain is involved). Despite their knowledge
of God and Christian ritual, the people turn to the pagan
rituals: the Danes still expect the pagan gods to help them
from the dire situation, and Grendel cannot be "bought off"
with the traditional Danegeld, paid to an enemy to stop his
attack.

Lines 194-709
Summary:

The news of the trouble in Denmark eventually reaches the


land of the Geats. The king of this land, Hygelac, has a
thane named Beowulf, who announces that he is willing to
help Denmark. His elders encourage him, even though they
don't really want him to go. Beowulf picks fourteen other
men, all good warriors, to travel with him. Beowulf's party
"flew on the water fast," riding the waves to Denmark in
their ship. Once they reach the shore, they depart the ship
with their armor and weapons clinking. A coast watchman
stops their progress, demanding to know who these warriors
are and if they are friend or foe. Beowulf announces
himself as the thane of Hygelac and the son of Ecgtheow, a
man known for winning battles. He asks the coastguard to
show him the way to Hrothgar's castle, so that he may give
him wise counsel. The coastguard deems Beowulf worthy, and
takes him to the road that leads to Heorot.

Beowulf and his thanes march up the road. When they reach
Hrothgar's castle, they meet the thane Wulfgar. Beowulf
introduces himself, and Wulfgar takes the information to
Hrothgar. Hrothgar is pleased‹he remembers Ecgtheow, and he
has heard that Beowulf is very strong. He also believes
that "the Measurer/ Maker of us all has urged him here."
Wulfgar allows the Geats to meet Hrothgar.

Once at Hrothgar's throne, Beowulf introduces himself as a


hero who can crush water sprites, among other things.
Therefore he is equipped to defeat Grendel, if Wyrd (or
Fate) will have it so. Hrothgar welcomes Beowulf as the son
of Ecgtheow, the man whom Hrothgar had helped in settling a
feud with the Wylfingas long ago. When Hrothgar did that,
he was a young man and a new king. Now Grendel ravages his
countryŠbut then is not the time to dwell upon such things.
Instead, the Geats must join the Danes for a feast. Thus
the benches are dragged out, the mead flows, and the
minstrel sings.

During the feast, Hrothgar's thane Unferth tries to


discredit Beowulf. He accuses Beowulf of losing a swimming
contest with Breca. Beowulf disagrees‹he not only defeated
Breca, he also fought off heaps of sea-monsters, thanks to
both God and Wyrd. What heroic deeds have Breca, or even
Unferth, done? Unferth even killed his brothers, and he
hasn't done anything to stop Grendel. Upon hearing Unferth
shamed by Beowulf, the whole company laughs.

Soon afterwards, the queen Wealhtheow enters the room,


bearing a mead-cup. She offers it first to Hrothgar, then
to the rest of the company. Finally she offers it to
Beowulf. When he takes it, he says, "I'll give you
[Grendel's] life blood/Šor finish my days/ here in Heorot."
His words touch Wealhtheow.

Eventually the party winds down, and Hrothgar is ready for


bed. Before leaving Beowulf, Hrothgar wishes him luck and
promises him all the gold he has if he can defeat Grendel.
Beowulf says he will leave it to God. While his friends
worry about whether they will see their homeland again,
Beowulf lies down.

Analysis:

We receive the first bit of character development of


Beowulf in this part of the poem. We learn that he is
beloved of his people, a faithful thane of Hygelac, and a
prince in his own right (through his father Ecgtheow). He
is respectful to everyone he encounters, from the lowly
coast guard to King Hrothgar. Later, he even shows his
respect for women in his gentle words to Wealhtheow. The
rumor mill has told the Danish court that he is actually a
good, strong warrior. Finally, Beowulf does believe in
religion. He follows both the ancient Germanic practices
and the Christian practices, as we see in his ability to
leave it entirely in the hands of God and Wyrd (the Anglo-
Saxon word for "fate"). In short, he seems like just the
man for the job, and Hrothgar realizes it.

Of course, Beowulf still has to prove himself to the


company of the Danes. Enter Unferth, the maker of discord.
Unferth's job is to test the actual valor of the warrior
and his ability to fend off a verbal attack. Beowulf not
only answers the challenge (yes, he did win the contest),
he also shows the extent of his bravery (he defeated the
sea monsters) and discredits Unferth's truthtelling
(Unferth is nothing but a drunk murderer who can't act).
With his graceful and complete defense, Beowulf proves
himself to be the consummate warrior, able to fight with
words and swords equally well.

The boasting match between Unferth and Beowulf is the first


in a series of told and retold stories within the poem.
Throughout the poem, stories are told several times, with
different details appearing with each retelling. This
repetition of stories is very important. It reveals the
oral nature of the culture‹people learn most legends and
histories of their land through these stories. It makes the
people learn morals by examples of people who did good or
ill. Finally, the stories work as tools for foreshadowing,
especially within the larger narrative. As we will learn,
Beowulf's ability to swim for long distances and long
periods will become very important in his defeat of
Grendel's mother.

The characters also provide foreshadowing for each other in


the poem. Hrothgar and Wulfgar have a very close
relationship‹Wulfgar serves Hrothgar faithfully, while
Hrothgar relies on Wulfgar for sound judgement. Later this
will resemble the relationship between king Beowulf and his
faithful thane Wiglaf. One can also compare the
relationship between Beowulf as the young warrior and
Hrothgar as the young-warrior-turned-old-powerless-king.
Hrothgar almost certainly indicates Beowulf's fate at the
same age powerless, needing to rely on other thanes to help
him.

Lines 710-915
Summary:

As usual, Grendel plods through the darkness, heading


toward Heorot for his nightly slaughter. He grips the hall
door and rips it away. As he enters, his eyes fall upon the
warriors sleeping. Little does he know that Beowulf is
watching. Grendel reaches for and completely swallows one
of the warriors. Next the monster reaches for Beowulf, who
is ready for him. Beowulf seizes the vicious claw and holds
on to it. Grendel is at first confused, then fearful as he
tries to pull away. Still Beowulf hangs on tight. Grendel's
wrenching and bellowing brings the Danes out of their
slumber and nearly breaks Heorot. Grendel desperately wants
to be free and go home, but Beowulf keeps him in place. All
the warriors don't know how to help. Grendel is in such
agony that he finally rips from Beowulf's grasp and runs
away, leaving a bloody trail and his arm behind.

Beowulf, meanwhile, "held to his promise." As the sun


rises, the people gaze at the severed arm and rejoice that
the terror with Grendel is finally over. Some men follow
Grendel's bloody tracks to the moors, where the water
bubbles over with blood as "the tomb of the dammed."

On the way back to the hall, Hrothgar's minstrel sings a


story of Beowulf's heroic deed. He also sings a story of
other Danish legends. He sings of Sigemund, the hero who,
with his friend Fitela, defeated a dragon and gained its
treasure. He also sings of Good King Heremod, who became
corrupt and evil.

Analysis:

The Beowulf poet is fond of a good pun. Here he leaps on


the chance to show off his different ways to work "holding"
puns into this section. Grendel and Beowulf do more
reaching, gripping, tearing with hands, and seizing in this
portion of the poem than any other portion. All the
references fall before the battle between Beowulf and
Grendel‹ so we may appreciate the way Beowulf "held to his
promise" by ripping the monster's arm off.

Grendel's march and arrival at Heorot create a great sense


of dramatic tension in the poem. First the poet sets the
scene in dank darkness, then turns to the peaceful,
slumbering warriors (except for one who remains awake).
Grendel trods through the moors and darkness for ten tense
lines, then suddenly bursts into full attack mode. The
viewpoint shifts to Beowulf, who simply watches. During the
battle, there is a great seesawing of viewpoint, from
terrified Grendel to determined Beowulf to waiting
warriors. The changing viewpoint allows us to savor the
suspense of the moment and see the scene in different ways.

The symbolic light and darkness also figure heavily into


the scene. The evil Grendel ambles over the dark moors in
the dead of night; Beowulf waits by the lights in the hall.
Dark Grendel gazes at the glinting gold on the hall. The
battle that began in darkness is completed in the dawning
of day. The tension between light (symbolizing good) and
dark (symbolizing evil) returns again and again in the
poem.

Some have wondered why Beowulf didn't run to action


immediately when the monster enters. Why would he let two
of his men meet such a terrible fate? Beowulf sees them as
a necessary sacrifice. Again he uses the sense of a true
warrior to act. Instead of rushing into battle blindly,
Beowulf chooses to stand back and get a better idea of the
enemy's strengths and weaknesses.

The scop sings as the men return to Heorot. Here the scop
acts as a historian and places Beowulf into his song-annals
as a man like the heroes of old. He uses the story of
Sigemund as a teaching tool for Beowulf, who has the
courage to defeat a dragon. Sigemund's story also serves as
foreshadowing for Beowulf's future. Eventually Beowulf will
come to fight a dragon, with only one thane by his side.
The story of Heremod serves as a lesson to Beowulf,
teaching him how not to rule a kingdom.

Lines 916-1250
Summary:

In the bright daylight, Hrothgar and Wealhtheow wait for


messengers bearing news. Upon hearing the miracle that has
occurred, Hrothgar thanks God and praises Beowulf's mother
for being "blessed in childbirth." He declares Beowulf to
be the child of his hopes, and promises him riches galore.
Beowulf tells Hrothgar how his victory came, regretting
that he was unable to bring Grendel's dead body to
Hrothgar. Unferth stands transfixed by the sight of
Grendel's arm. In fact, everyone gazes upon the arm and
agrees that no sword could have done such a thing.

While the mead-hall is restored to its former glory, the


narrator reminds us that death cannot be avoided. The party
begins, and Hrothgar celebrates with his
nephew Hrothulf and Beowulf. There was no feud at this time
between them. Beowulf receives armor, rings, helmets,
horses, and all sorts of gifts. The Geats receive gifts as
well, and wergild is paid for the man the Geats lost. God
and Beowulf's courage were enough to withstand wyrd.

The minstrel sings another story. This song tells the


tragic story of Hildeburh, the ancient Danish princess. She
was married to the king of the Frisians to settle a feud.
When her brother Hnaef visited her at the Frisian capital,
the Frisians attacked the Danes. Eventually Hnaef and
Hildeburh's son were killed in this battle. 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, Wealhtheow comes forth. She presents


herself to Hrothgar, and begs that he bequeath his lands to
his family. She says she is sure Hrothulf will care for
their two young sons when they inherit the kingdom. She
also presents a marvelous neck-ring to Beowulf. Beowulf's
king Hygelac will eventually wear this necklace when he
falls. Soon the party ends, leaving warriors in various
states of inebriation as they sleep.

Analysis:

The poem begins its descent into darkness and death with
this section. At first it seems that all is well in
Denmark. The monster is gone, the hall is built again, and
Hrothgar and his brother Hrothulf are celebrating, on good
terms with each other. Yet it is an uneasy peace.
As Heorot is repaired, the narrator tells us that death
cannot be avoided. He feels that we should know that the
brothers are not feuding at that time. At the height of the
celebration, the minstrel sings a tragic tale that tells of
the defeat of the ancient Danes. Wealhtheow gives a
necklace that Beowulf's king Hygelac will wear when he
falls. The section ends with "one beer drinker / ready and
doomed [laying] down on bed." Things will become more and
more difficult for the Danes and the Geats, leading to
nothing but death. There have already been death-feasts
(for Grendel and for the men dead by his hand); now there
will be sleep-deaths (in this warrior sleeping and in the
warriors before). Everything will eventually lead to ruin
and death, despite the continuing parties.

We receive two different visions of women in this portion


of Beowulf. Beowulf's mother can be seen as an allegory for
the Virgin Mary, who was also "blessed in childbirth." Both
women have borne great heroes who will save mankind (by
bearing Beowulf and Jesus). Yet Beowulf's mother does not
seem to have any other virtues other than being a
childbearer.

Compare this to Wealhtheow's role at court. Wealhtheow has


already been shown as the model of a good queen. She bears
the cup of the mead-hall to serve her husband and guests.
She also conforms to her name, which means "treasure-
bearer," by assisting in the giving of gifts to Beowulf.
She acts as a peace-weaver between her husband and brother-
in-law, offering Hrothulf the right to care for her sons in
their father's absence. Yet she refrains from saying that
Hrothulf will inherit the kingdom, and shows enough courage
to ask Hrothgar to protect the kingdom for her own sons.
Thus we see her as a free-thinking woman who wants to
protect her sons and her kingdom‹more than just a mother.

The story of the fight at Finnesburh is documented in what


is known as the Finnesburh fragment, which tells us about
one of the battles. Why should the minstrel tell the story
at such an inopportune moment? It is his means of educating
the people‹if the Danes are not careful, they will fall in
such a manner again. As always, the story also foreshadows
events that will be recounted in Beowulf's speech to his
own lord, Hygelac.

Lines 1251-1649
Summary:

As the Danes slumber, another sinister monster trudges


toward Heorot. It is Grendel's mother, who is also dammed
to spend eternity in the dark moors. She has passed the day
mourning for her dead son, and she comes to Heorot seeking
vengeance for his death. When she bursts into Heorot, the
warriors awake and grab their weapons. She is not as strong
as her son is, but she still is strong enough to devour one
warrior and snatch the arm down from its place on the wall.
The desire for vengeance points to "the price of slaughter/
with a loved one's life."

Hrothgar hears of the slaughter of his beloved


thane Aeschere, and he hurries to the hall to
mourn. Beowulf, who slept away from the hall, is summoned.
Hrothgar updates him and tells him about the man that
Grendel's mother killed. He also tells Beowulf that
monsters like Grendel dwell in the dark moors, which are
difficult to reach. Beowulf asks Hrothgar to lead him to
the moors instead of mourning for his friend. Hrothgar,
Beowulf, and their thanes saddle up and ride away.

At the bloodstained lake, the search party finds Aeschere's


head. They also see the serpentine creatures that inhabit
the murky lake, and they shake with fear. Beowulf simply
calls for his armor. Unferthoffers Beowulf his own sword,
named Hrunting. Beowulf then announces to Hrothgar that his
belongings should be sent to Hygelac if something happens.
Before Hrothgar can speak, Beowulf dives into the pool.

After a long time, Beowulf reaches the bottom of the lake,


where Grendel's mother waits for him. She reaches for him,
but his armor protects him. He tries to cut her, but his
sword can't cut her. The two begin to wrestle, but neither
gains the upper hand in this combat. Beowulf spies a large
sword nearby. He manages to grab it, and in one mighty
blow, he beheads Grendel's mother. Light enters the murky
water then. Beowulf is still angry, however, so he also
beheads Grendel, who lies dead in the cave.

Meanwhile, the Danes and Geats are convinced that they will
never see Beowulf again‹after all, he has been underwater
for such a long time. The Danes soon leave, but the Geats
wait. Sure enough, Beowulf returns carrying Grendel's head
and the hilt of the sword (the rest of the sword melted
upon contact with Grendel's blood).

Analysis:

The need for repayment in some form is also a constant


theme within the poem. The monsters of the poem all seek
payment from life. Here Grendel's mother seeks vengeance
for Grendel's death, wanting to take a life for his life.
Grendel attacked Heorot because he wanted revenge for being
shunned and despised. The humans think of repayment for
life in monetary terms, with what is called "wergild."
Beowulf is repaid for his dead man with treasures; Hrothgar
cannot understand how to pay a fitting wergild to Grendel
for all his lost men. The attack here is thus an attempt
for Grendel's mother to retrieve the wergild on her son's
life.
Hrothgar and his men show their usual cowardice in this
section. Instead of asking who has killed his beloved thane
and resolving to do something about it, Hrothgar merely
weeps over the dead body. The Danes and Geats both quake in
fear at the sight of the creatures and Aeschere's head.
Beowulf, meanwhile, acts bravely, asking Hrothgar to take
him to the moors, simply diving into the water instead of
hanging around talking.

This battle is not as easy for Beowulf as the first one


was. We knew that he could swim for great distances‹we
learned this in the Breca episode. Yet it takes more than
Unferth's sword to defeat Grendel's mother. In fact, the
battle is won when the giant sword magically appears. This
represents Beowulf's decline even in the prime of his
life‹from this point, the battles will get harder for him.

The battle can be seen as a Christian allegory. Beowulf


swims to hell (the underground of the moors). It is a dark
place. He does battle with the devil (Grendel's mother).
Although he nearly loses, God grants him a sign that will
help him win (the vision of the sword). Beowulf kills the
devil, and light from heaven fills hell as a blessing.
Beowulf then returns from the darkness of hell to reach the
light of heaven. In this allegory, Beowulf represents
Jesus' descent to hell and return to life in the
Resurrection. Later the poet will compare Beowulf to Christ
again.

Character List
Scyld Shefing

He is known as one of the first great kings of the Danes.


Upon his death he is given a remarkable burial at sea.
Eventually he becomes the great-grandfather of Hrothgar,
king during Grendel's attacks upon the Danes.

Beow (Beowulf)

He is the son of Scyld Shefing, and a strong king in his


own right. He is often confused with the hero of the poem.

Hrothgar
He is the King of the Danes at the time of Grendel's
assaults. He builds the hall Heorot as a tribute to his
people and his reign.

Heorot

This is the hall that Hrothgar builds in celebration of his


reign. It is the site both of many happy festivals and many
sorrowful funerals.

Grendel

This man-monster is a descendant of Cain. He attacks Heorot


after hearing the sounds of revelry there. Beowulf
eventually kills him, with his severed arm hung as a trophy
in Heorot. His mother attempts to avenge his death.

Beowulf

He is a thane of the Geat king Hygelac and eventually


becomes King of the Geats. The poem relates his heroic
exploits over 50 years, including the fights with Grendel
and his mother and with the treasure-guarding dragon.

Wulfgar

He is one of Hrothgar's faithful thanes. As the watchman


for the Danes, he is the first to greet Beowulf and his
thanes to the land of the Danes. He also deems the Geat
visitors as people worthy enough to meet with Hrothgar.

Ecgtheow

He is Beowulf's father. He is a Waegmunding by birth and a


Geat by marriage. When he was younger, Hrothgar helped him
settle a feud with the Wylfingas.

Unferth

A thane of Hrothgar's, he taunts Beowulf in the hall about


his swimming contest with Breca. However, Beowulf shames
him in the boasting match. His name means "discord."

Wealhtheow

She is Hrothgar's queen and the mother of his two sons. Her
name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for "treasure
bearer." She actually has the duty of presenting necklaces
and mead-cups at court.
Sigemund

He is an ancient Germanic hero whose story is recounted


after the fight with Grendel. He was known as the famous
dragon slayer.

Heremod

He was an ancient Danish king who went from being a good


king to a ruthlessly evil king. Hrothgar uses him as an
example of bad kingship for Beowulf.

Hildeburh

Her story in recounted during the second feast for Beowulf


at Heorot. She is an ancient Danish princess who was
married into the Frisian royalty. Her brother and her son
were both killed in a war with the Frisians at Finnesburh.

Hrothulf

He is Hrothgar's nephew. Wealhtheow calls upon him to


protect her young sons if it should ever be necessary to do
so.

Grendel's Mother

She is, of course, the mother of the man-monster Grendel.


She comes to Heorot seeking vengeance for the death of her
son. Beowulf kills her.

Aeschere

Apparently he is one of Hrothgar's important officials and


faithful thanes. Grendel's mother kills him, and Hrothgar
is inconsolable.

Hrunting

Unferth gives this sword to Beowulf to use in killing


Grendel's mother. It is unable to cut her, however, so
Beowulf discards it. Later he returns it to Unferth with
his thanks

Hygelac

This King of the Geats is also Beowulf's uncle. Upon


hearing Beowulf's courageous exploits, he gives Beowulf
nearly half his kingdom.
Freawaru

She is the daughter of Hrothgar who is unmentioned until


Beowulf tells Hygelac about her. Beowulf believes that her
marriage to a Heathobard prince will do more harm than good
for the Danes.

The Dragon

This is the third and last monster that Beowulf must


defeat. After a Geat slave steals from his treasure, he
goes on a rampage. Beowulf defeats him, but not before
striking a mortal blow to him.

Naegling

Beowulf won this sword in a fight between the Geats and the
Frisians. He uses it in the battle with the dragon.

Wiglaf

This is Beowulf's kinsman through Ecgtheow's family, the


Waegmundings. He is the only thane of Beowulf's that stays
with him during the battle with the dragon.

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