Give me a short summary of the epic poem Beowulf?
Beowulf is one of the mostfamous poems in old English. It is about three thousand
lines long and the story revolves around three battles.
In the poem,Beowulf, a warrior from Geats comes to the rescue of Hrothgar, the king
of the Danes whose land is being attacked by a monster,Grendel. Beowulf succeeds
and defeats Grendel. To show his prowess,he even kills Grendel with his bare
hands. However, the tension of the story escalates, because Grendel's motheris now
on the warpath to get revenge. As the story progresses,Beowulf kills Grendel's mother
in her liar with a sword that giants of a past time once used.
After this victory, Beowulf returns home to Geats. Fifty years pass. However, there is
one final battle. There is a dragon that plagues his people because of stolen treasure.
More importantly, Beowulf now has to defend his people.He fails at first, but then with
the help of Wiglaf, a servant, chases the dragon into its lair and kills it. However, in the
process,Beowulf receives a fatal wound and dies.Finally, he is buried by the sea.
Beowulf probably was composed in England sometime in the eighth century
ad and written down circa1000 ad by a literate scop (bard) or perhaps a
Christian scribe who was possibly educated in a monastery. The poem was
created in the oral-formulaic tradition (or oral poetic method), probably
developing over a period of time with roots in folk tales and traditional
stories until a single, very talented poet put it in something very near its
The poem would have been performed for audiences at court or on the road
as the scop (preferred pronunciation, "shop") found audiences to support
him. The scop would sing or chant the poem, rather than recite it, usually
to the accompaniment of a harp. The scop's audience was probably familiar
with the story and the various allusions in the poem. The poet's skill was
judged by how well he could weave the stories into an effective,
entertaining presentation. Performances like this are presented
in Beowulf by Hrothgar's court scop, honoring Beowulf.
Note: Quotations are from Howell D. Chickering, Jr.'s dual-language
(facing-page) translation, Beowulf (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday,
1977), introduction and commentary by the translator. Lines quoted are
simply indicated in parentheses. In the Anglo-Saxon, each line is separated
into two parts by a caesura (indicated by spacing). Here, the extra spacing
has been eliminated from brief quotes for the sake of simplicity.
Beowulf as Epic
Scholars debate almost everything about Beowulf, including the question of
whether it should be considered an epic at all. An epic is a long narrative
poem, composed in an elevated style, dealing with the trials and
achievements of a great hero or heroes. The epic celebrates virtues of
national, military, religious, cultural, political, or historical significance. The
word "epic" itself comes from the Greek epos,originally meaning "word" but
later "oration" or "song." Like all art, an epic may grow out of a limited
context but achieves greatness in relation to its universality. Epics typically
emphasize heroic action as well as the struggle between the hero's own
ethos and his human failings or mortality.
All of these characteristics apply to Beowulf. The hero, Beowulf, is the title
character. He represents the values of the heroic age, specifically the
Germanic code of comitatus — the honor system that existed in
Scandinavian countries in the fifth and sixth centuries between a king, or
feudal lord, and his warriors (thanes). Thanes swore devotion to their
leader and vowed to fight boldly, to the death if necessary, for him. If the
leader should fall, his thanes must avenge his life. For his part, the leader
rewarded his thanes with treasure, protection, and land. His generosity
often was considered a virtue and a mark of character. Courage, loyalty,
and reputation were other virtues for these warriors, and we can look for
them as themes in the poem. The code of the comitatus is at the heart of
the Beowulf epic.
Increasingly, scholars distinguish between two types of epic. The first,
the primary epic, evolves from the mores, legends, or folk tales of a people
and is initially developed in an oral tradition of storytelling.Secondary
epics are literary. They are written from their inception and designed to
appear as whole stories. Under this definition, Beowulf is a primary epic,
the best evidence being that it first existed in the oral tradition.
Furthermore, Beowulf does employ digressions, long speeches, journeys
and quests, various trials or tests of the hero, and even divine intervention,
as do classic epics. We might call Beowulfa folk epic, although some
scholars prefer an emphasis on its mythological background.
Beowulf, however, differs from the classic epics of ancient Greece,
the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were composed some 1,500 years before
and set the standard for the epic tradition. It does not open with an
invocation to a Muse, and it does not start in medias res ("in the middle of
things"), although time is out of joint in the poem, especially in its last
Some of the devices employed by the Beowulf poet, such as frequent
digressions, may seem tedious to the modern reader. To his audience,
however, the list of heroes, villains, and battles were familiar. The stories of
great achievements were cherished and intended to honor Beowulf's own
accomplishments. Poems like this appealed to a wide audience and
constituted a form of public entertainment. In Beowulfitself, we witness the
captivating talents of performing storytellers; an example is the scop who
sings ofThe Finnsburh Episode (1063-1159).
Beowulf as History
One point to remember is that the poem is not history. In a way, Beowulf's
world runs parallel to history. Although it rarely refers to historical facts, the
setting is similar to reality in Denmark and Sweden in the fifth and sixth
centuries, the time of the action in the poem. The social structure of
the comitatus did exist; and the most dominating rituals in the poem, the
funerals near the beginning and at the end of the epic, have been confirmed
by archaeological discovery.
The most famous of these was the Sutton Hoo dig in East Anglia in 1939.
Sutton Hoo was a burial ground for one or more East Anglian kings in the
early seventh century. Its contents include a ship burial reminiscent of the
funeral for Scyld Scefing near the beginning of Beowulf and somewhat like
the final resting place of Beowulf himself. Buried with the ship were various
gold coins and pieces of armor, including an impressive helmet, a
representation of which is used for the cover of Howell D. Chickering, Jr.'s
paperback translation. Other artifacts include both pagan and Christian
symbols, indicating the fusion of cultures in England approaching the time
of the composition of the poem. We might remember that Pope Gregory,
who served from 590 to 604, encouraged Christian missionaries to absorb
pagan tradition into Christian ritual in order to promote a smooth transition
for the pagans.
Royal ship burials, at sea or on land, were also part of the Scandinavian
culture from at least the fifth century through the ninth. Another significant
archaeological discovery was at Oseburg in southern Norway, just one of
several in Scandinavia. The tribal feuds of the fifth and sixth centuries are
well documented historically, and the death of King Hygelac in battle
(circa 520) is a recorded fact.
Another custom was the concept of wergild, literally, "man-payment," the
price set on a person's life according to his social or political station. If a
lord or one of his top thanes (sometimes called a retainer) were killed in a
feud, the fighting might go on indefinitely, one side killing for vengeance
and then the other. However, the fighting could be stopped by a payment of
wergild. If a leader were killed, the offending party could pay a certain
amount to have the matter settled. Long before the opening of the poem,
Hrothgar apparently made such a payment to buy Beowulf's father out of a
feud, and part of Beowulf's motivation in coming to fight Grendel is to pay
off this family obligation.
Still, getting too wrapped up in historical parallels is dangerous. While some
things are realistic, others are not. The world in Beowulf is one of the
imagination. We should not be too concerned about whether Beowulf can
hold his breath all day or swim five nights without rest, or, for that matter,
whether dragons keep treasure-troves. In Beowulf's world, they do.
Poetic Devices in Beowulf
Beowulf is an example of Anglo-Saxon poetry that is distinguished by its
heavy use of alliteration. Simply put, alliteration is the repetition of initial
sounds of words. For example, notice the initial h sounds in the following
line: "The harrowing history haunted the heroes." In the
original Beowulf, alliteration is used in almost every line. A line of the poem
actually consists of two half-lines with a caesura (pause) between them.
Usually, spacing indicates that pause. In the following example, notice how
the words of the first half-line alliterate with each other and the first word
of the second half-line:
839 ferdon folc-togan feorran ond nean
839 chieftains came from far and near
Sometimes the alliteration is more complicated and has been the subject of
many advanced studies. The point for beginning students is that alliteration
is as important in Beowulf as rhyme is for some later poets. Beowulf has no
consistent pattern of rhyme, although occasional internal rhyme sometimes
is effective and seems more than accidental.
Imagery in the poem is vivid and often fun, and frequently related through
the use of kennings. Put simply, kennings are compound expressions that
use characteristics to name a person or thing. One of the most popular
examples is hronrade. Literally, the word means "whale-road"; the kenning,
then, is for the sea or ocean, a thoroughfare for the whale. One of the
strengths of the Chickering facing-page translation is that it often repeats
the kennings literally. Sometimes even a beginning student can find the
word in Anglo-Saxon, on the opposing page, for comparison. Following are
some other examples of kennings:
The Beowulf Story
An Overview of the Plot of the Beowulf Poem
A Kingdom in Peril
The story begins in Denmark with King Hrothgar, the descendantof the great Scyld Sheafson
and a successfulruler in his own right. To display his prosperity and generosity, Hrothgar built
a magnificent hall called Heorot. There his warriors, the Scyldings, gathered to drink mead,
receive treasures from the king after battle, and listen to scopssing songs of brave deeds.
But lurking nearby was a hideous and brutal monster named Grendel. One night when the
warriors were sleeping, sated from their feast, Grendel attacked, butchering 30 men and
wreaking devastation in the hall. Hrothgar and hi Scyldings were overwhelmed with sorrowand
dismay, but they could do nothing; for the next night Grendel returned to kill again.
The Scyldings tried to stand up to Grendel, but none of their weapons harmed him. They sought
the help of their pagan gods, but no help was forthcoming. Night after night Grendel attacked
Heorot and the warriors who defended it, slaying many brave men, until the Scyldings ceased
fighting and simply abandoned the hall each sunset. Grendel then began attacking the lands
around Heorot, terrorizing the Danes for the next 12 years.
A Hero Comes to Heorot
Many tales were told and songs sung of the horror that had overtaken Hrothgar's kingdom, and
word spread as far as the kingdom of the Geats (southwest Sweden). There one of King
Hygelac's retainers, Beowulf, heard the story of Hrothgar's dilemma. Hrothgar had once donea
favor for Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, and so, perhaps feeling indebted, and certainly inspired
by the challenge of overcoming Grendel, Beowulf determined to travel to Denmark and fight
Beowulf was dear to Hygelac and the elder Geats and they were loath to see him go, yet they
did not hinder him in his endeavor. The young man assembled a band of 14 worthy warriors to
accompany him to Denmark, and they set sail. Arriving at Heorot, they petitioned to see
Hrothgar, and once inside the hall, Beowulf made an earnest speech requesting the honor of
facing Grendel, and promising to fight the fiend without weapons or shield.
Hrothgar welcomed Beowulf and his comrades and honored him with a feast. Amidst the
drinking and camaraderie, a jealous Scylding named Unferth taunted Beowulf, accusing him of
losing a swimming race to his childhood friend Breca, and sneering that he had no chance
against Grendel. Beowulf boldly responded with the gripping tale of how he not only won the
race, but slew many horrible sea-beasts in the process. TheGeat's confident responsereassured
the Scyldings. Then Hrothgar's queen, Wealhtheow, made an appearance, and Beowulf vowed
to her that he'd slay Grendel or die trying.
For the first time in years, Hrothgar and his retainers had cause to hope, and a festive
atmosphere settled over Heorot. Then, after an evening of feasting and drinking, the king and
his fellow Danes bid Beowulf and his companions good luck and departed. The heroic Geat and
his brave comrades settled down for the night in the beleaguered mead-hall. Though every last
Geat followed Beowulf willingly into this adventure, none of them truly believed they would
see home again.
When all but one of the warriors had fallen asleep, Grendel approached Heorot. The doorto the
hall swung open at his touch, but rage boiled up within him, and he tore it apart and bounded
inside. Before anyone could move he grabbed one of the sleeping Geats, rent him into pieces
and devoured him, slurping his blood. Next he turned to Beowulf, raising a claw to attack.
But Beowulf was ready. He sprang up from his bench and caught Grendel in a fearsome grip,
the like of which the monster had never known. Try as he might, Grendel could not loosen
Beowulf's hold; he backed away, growing afraid. In the meantime, the other warriors in the hall
attacked the fiend with their swords;but this had no effect. They couldn't have known that
Grendel was invulnerable to any weapon forged by man. It was Beowulf's strength that
overcame the creature; and though he struggled with everything he had to escape, causing the
very timbers of Heorot to shudder, Grendel could not break free from the grip of Beowulf.
As the monster weakened and the hero stood firm, the fight at last came to a horrific end when
Beowulf ripped Grendel's entire arm and shoulder from his body. The fiend fled, bleeding, to
die in his lair in the swamp, and the victorious Geats hailed Beowulf's greatness.
With the sunrise came joyous Scyldings and clan chiefs from near and far. Hrothgar's minstrel
arrived and wove Beowulf's name and deeds into songs old and new. He told a tale of a dragon
slayer, and compared Beowulf to other great heroes of ages past. Some time was spent
considering the wisdom of a leader placing himself in danger instead of sending younger
warriors to do his bidding.
The king arrived in all his majesty, and made a speech thanking God and praising Beowulf. He
announced his adoption of the hero as his son, and Wealhtheow added her approval, while
Beowulf sat between her boys as if he were their brother.
In the face of Beowulf's grisly trophy, Unferth had nothing to say.
Hrothgar ordered that Heorot be refurbished, and everyone threw themselves into repairing and
brightening the great hall. A magnificent feast followed, with more stories and poems, more
drinking and good fellowship. The king and queen bestowed great gifts on all the Geats, but
especially on the man who had saved them from Grendel, who received among his prizes a
magnificent golden torque.
As the day drew to a close, Beowulf was led off to separate quarters in honor of his heroic
status. Scyldings bedded down in the great hall, as they had in the days before Grendel, now
with their Geat comrades among them.
But although the beast that had terrorized them for more than a decade was dead, another
danger lurked in the darkness.
Continued on pagetwo.
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These loathsome attacks continued for twelve winters. Night after night Grendel haunted the misty
moors, pursuing his victims. Nor was anyone safe in Heorot, where he attacked at will.
Many of the grief-stricken Danes, seeing no other source of help, returned to their old heathen faith.
Woe unto him who thus rejects the Lord.
Tidings of Grendel's attacks reached the country of the Geats. Beowulf, a thane of Hygelac, King of
the Geats, heard of Grendel's deeds and resolved to come to the Danes' rescue. No one faulted
him for this decision. He was a proven hero.
Beowulf had a ship outfitted for the journey, then chose fifteen warriors to accompany him. A
skilled mariner pointed out the landmarks to them.
Driven by the wind, the ship sped across the waves. On the second day the sailors caught sight of
gleaming cliffs and broad headlands. They went ashore and secured their ship.
A Danish guard saw them from the cliff as they came ashore with their shields and weapons. This
thane of Hrothgar approached them on horseback. Waving his spear he challenged them with these
words: "What warriors are you, sailing your great ship along the ocean-paths? I am a member of
the coastguard, charged with protecting the Danish land. Never have I seen a band of warriors try to
land here more openly than you have done. Who is your brave leader, and what is his lineage?"
Beowulf answered: "We are of the Geatish kin, Hygelac's hearth-companions. I am the son of a
noble prince named Ecgtheow. We have come to serve the mighty lord of the Danes. We have
heard that some secret destroyer causes great terror among the Scyldings on dark nights. I intend
to help Hrothgar overcome this foe."
The coastguardsman pointed the way to Heorot, then returned to his post. Beowulf and his men
hurried onward. The boar-images glistened above the cheek-guards on their helmets.
The street was paved with stones. The men followedthis path to the great hall. Leaning their
shields against the wall, they sat down upon the benches [outside the hall].
A warrior asked the heroes about their lineage: "Where have you come from, with your shields,
war-shirts, visored helmets, and spears. I am Hrothgar's servant and herald. Never before have I
seen such a band of strangers in such a courageous mood."
Beowulf answered: "We are table-companions of Hygelac. Beowulf is my name. I will reveal my
errand to the son of Healfdene, your great king, if you will take us to him."
Wulfgar (that was the herald's name) quickly went to Hrothgar, now old and white-haired. Wulfgar
spoke: "Geatish warriors have arrived here from across the sea. They call their chieftain Beowulf.
They have requested to speak with you."
Hrothgar spoke: "I knew Beowulf when he was a child. His father was called Ecgtheow, and he has
come as a loyal friend. Moreover, seafarers have reported here that Beowulf is strong in battle.
The grip of his hand is said to have the strength of thirty men. Bid him and his band of kinsmen
welcome among the Danish people.
Wulfgar came to the door of the hall and announced from within: "My victorious lord bids me say
that he knows your noble lineage. You are welcome here. You may come inside to Hrothgar,
wearing your armor and helmets, but leave your spears outside until after you have spoken."
Beowulf approached Hrothgar, then spoke: "Hail to thee, Hrothgar! In my native land I learned of
Grendel's deeds. Seafarers report that this great hall is useless for all men after nightfall. Knowing
my great strength, my people urged me to come to your aid. They have seen me return from battle
stained with the blood of my foes. I have destroyed a race of giants and have slain sea-beasts by
night. Now I have come to cleanse Heorot of the evil that has come upon it. Furthermore, I have
learned that Grendel, the giant monster, has no fear of weapons, so I will fight him with my bare
hands, without sword or shield. If I fail, have no concern about my burial; Grendel will devour my
corpse. Do, however, send my chainmail back to Hygelac. It is the best of armor, inherited from
Hrethel [Beowulf's grandfather], and the work of Weland [a legendary smith].
Hrothgar replied: "We thank you for coming to our defense. It is with sorrow that I tell what
shame and grief Grendel has caused. Many of my best warriors have fallenvictim to his horrid
clutch. Often my warriors have boastfully vowed while drinking their ale to take vengeance, but
the next morning the mead-hall has been stained with their blood. Join us now in a feast and
share with my men how you plan to achieve victory."
In the mead-hall a bench was made ready for the Geats. Mead was served. A bard sang with a clear
voice. The assembled warriors rejoiced, Geats and Danes alike.
However, one of the Danes, Unferth by name, was jealous of the attention given to Beowulf, and
seeking to stir up a quarrel he spoke: "Are you the Beowulf who foolishly challenged Breca to a
swimming contest, risking your lives in the deep water? No one could turn you away from the
foolhardy venture, and the two of you swam out into the ocean. For seven nights the two of you
battled the waters, but he had the greater strength, and he outlasted you. The waves drove him
ashore on the coast of Norway, and he was proclaimed the winner. I expect even worse results for
you with your contest against Grendel."
Beowulf answered: "Unferth, my friend, in your drunkenness you have said much about my
adventure with Breca. Now I will tell the truth of what happened. When we were still boys Breca
and I had boasted that one day we would test our strength at sea; and we did as we had spoken in
our youth. To defend ourselves against whales we swam carrying naked swords in our hands.
Neither of us could gain an advantage over the other one, and thus we swam together for five
nights, until finally the cold waves drove us apart. The sea-fish grew angry, but my shirt of
chainmail protected me. An evil monster dragged me to the bottom, but I was able to stab the
creature with the point of my sword, and then dispatched him with my hand."
Beowulf continued: "Other evil creatures attacked me, but I killed them all with my sword. Never
again would they hinder seafarers. With the morning light the waves were stilled. Destiny had not
doomed me to die. Instead, I had slain nine sea monsters with my sword. I escaped from all these
perils, and the current finally carried me to the land of the Finns. Unferth, I have never heard of
such exploits on your part. No, neither you nor Breca has ever performed so goodly. If you were as
fierce in battle as you claim to be, the heath monster Grendel would not have been so successful
in his attacks against the Danish people. He kills and feasts without fear of the Danes, but I will
show him the strength and courage of the Geats. After that whoever will may drink mead in this
great hall without fear."
The gray-haired king rejoiced in these words; he trusted in Beowulf for help. Laughter and joyous
words rang throughout the hall.
That night Beowulf and his kinsmen-in-arms kept watchin the great hall. Trusting in his own
strength and in the Lord's favor,he took off his chainmail and helmet, and gave his sword to a
thane for safekeeping. All the watchmen save one fell asleep. Beowulf waited and watched.
Grendel drew near fromthe moorland beneath the misty hillsides. Heorot's door, although
secured with fire-hardened bands, opened at his first touch. In the hall he saw many sleeping
warriors, and he laughed in his heart. Thinking to kill each one, he hoped for a bountiful feast. The
mighty kinsman of Hygelac was watching to see how the foe would attack. Suddenly the monster
seized a sleeping thane, tore him to pieces, then drank his blood and devoured his corpse. He
stepped nearer to Beowulf,clutching at him with his claw, but the great warrior took hold of
Grendel's arm with great strength. Never before had this master of evil encountered such human
strength. He tried to flee into the darkness, but he could not break Beowulf's powerful grip.
Grendel's fingers finally burst and bled. The two opponents wrestled madly. The hall echoed with
the sound of their battle. It was a wonder that the building did not fall to the ground. As I have
heard men tell, their struggles tore many a mead-bench fromits base.
Beowulf's warriors drew their swords, hoping to protect the life of their lord, but when they
plunged into the fight they soondiscovered that their blades were useless against this foul
destroyer. By a spell Grendel had protected himself against all weapons. But nonetheless, this day
he was doomed to die a wretched death. A gaping wound appeared on his shoulder, and mortally
wounded, he fled, full knowing that the appointed number of his days had now come.
The lord of the Geats had made good his earlier boast. The Danes' affliction was now at an end.
Rejoicing, the warrior threw down a token of his victory: the whole claw and arm of Grendel.
As I have heard, warriors from near and far assembled at Heorot to behold the foe's tracks, which
lead to the Mere of Water Demons. Its waters were seething with blood, and its waves were
mingled with gore. There in the depths he gave up his heathen soul to Hel [Loki's daughter, and
the ruler of the realm of the dead].
With rejoicing the warrior returned to Heorot and to a great celebration. One of the king's thanes
who knew old tales without number, cleverly composed a new story, a truthful tale, narrating
He also told everything that he had heard of the mighty Sigemund, the son of Wælsing [Volsung],
including exploits of which the son of men knew nothing, save Fitala [Sinfiötli], his nephew and
comrade. Sigemund's great fame carried forth beyond his death, for he had slain the dragon who
kept guard over the treasure. In his daring exploits he was by far the most famed of adventurers
among the nations.
Hrothgar went to the hall, beheld Grendel's arm, and spoke: "Praise God for this miracle. Through
his power a man has achieved that which we ourselves were unable to do. Praise be to the
woman who gave birth to this man. Beowulf, henceforth I shall love you like a son."
Then Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke, recounting the details of his battle with Grendel. Unferth,
too, was present, but he made no more boastful speeches, now having seen the monster's
dismembered hand with its steel-like claws.
Strait away Heorot was adorned for a great feast. A large crowd gathered there in celebration.
There the son of Healfdene gave to Beowulf many lavish gifts, including a golden ensign, a helmet,
a coat of chainmail, a mighty sword, and eight horses with golden bridles.
Moreover, Hrothgar bestowed precious heirlooms upon each man who had crossed the sea with
Beowulf. The celebration continued with singing and music. The harp was struck, and the king's
bard presented the oft-sung Lay of King Finn.
After the gleeman had finished singing Wealhtheow [Hrothgar's wife] came forth. She presented
her king with a golden cup, saying: "Be gracious towardthe Geats and mindful of gifts. Be
generous while you may."
Thereupon many additional precious gifts were brought to Beowulf, including two armlets, rings,
armor, and the greatest collar that I have ever heard tell of since Hama carried away the necklace
of the Brisings.
"Receive this collar with joy, and prosper well, dear Beowulf," said Wealhtheow.
The celebration then continued with food and wine. When evening fell Hrothgar returned to his
lodgings. The guards, as they had often done before, cleared the benches and covered them with
bedding and pillows. Doomed to death, one of the revelers laid himself down to rest with his
Part Two: Grendel's Mother
They fell asleep, but one paid dearly for his rest. Although the old foe was dead, there lived an
avenger: Grendel's mother. This woman-monster brooded over her woes. A descendant of Cain,
she too lived in the wilderness removed from the joys of men. She came to Heorot determined to
seek revenge for the death of her son. Hastily she clutched one of the heroes in his sleep, a
favorite thane of Hrothgar. Then retrieving Grendel's arm she retreated to her lair.
Beowulf was not there, for he had been given another lodging place. Awakened, the warriors in the
hall sounded the alarm.
Hrothgar mourned the murder of Æschere, his thane. He sensed who had done the evil deed, for
he had heard from people dwelling in the countryside of two night-stalkers of the marshes and
moors, one like unto a woman, the other in the image of a miscreated man. They were said to
dwell among the wolf-haunted slopes, savage fen-paths, and wind-swept cliffs where mountain
streams fall, shrouded in the mists of the headlands. Not far from there is a mere. Trees hang over
its waters, and at night-time canbe seen a dreadful wonder: fire on the flood. No man knows its
He addressed Beowulf: "Once again help rests with you alone. Seek out this savage and cheerless
spot, if you dare. I will reward you with great treasure, as I did before, if you succeed in getting
Beowulf replied: "Sorrow not. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than to mourn
exceedingly. Eachof us will one day reach the end of worldly life. Therefore let him who may, win
glory before he dies. That is a warrior's greatest boon at life's end. Now let us follow the tracks of
Grendel's mother. I promise you, she shall not escape."
The old man jumped up, thanking God for Beowulf's words. Accompanied by a troop of warriors
they followed the foe's tracks over steep and rocky slopes, over sheer cliffs, and past many a sea-
monster's haunt. Suddenly they came upon a mere, overhung with a cheerless wood. And there, to
their disgust and dismay, they discovered Æschere's head. Below, the mere's waters seethed with
blood and gore.
The troop sat down. They saw serpents and dragons swimming in the water and sea-monsters lying
along the headland-slopes. They sounded the battle horn, and the creatures sped away, but not
before Beowulf killed one of them with his bow and arrow.
Then Beowulf, taking no thought for his own life, put on his armor of chainmail and his helmet,
fitted with boar figures so that no sword could bite it. He picked up the sword, Hrunting by name,
that Unferth had lent him. One of the greatest among ancient treasures, its iron blade was stained
with poison and hardened with the blood of battle.
Taking leave of Hrothgar, Beowulf set forthinto the mere. It took the better part of a day before
he sighted the bottom.
The blood-thirsty monster who had lived there for a hundred seasons [fifty years] soon discovered
his presence, and she seized the warrior with her horrid claws. His ringed armor protected him, and
she did him no harm, but she did drag him into her dwelling. The hero saw that he was in a hall
where the water could do him no harm. He attacked the mighty mere-woman, the she-wolf of the
deep, with his sword, but he found that he could not wound her with it. Throwing the famous sword
to the ground, he again trusted in his strength. He seized Grendel's mother by the shoulder and
threw her to the floor. She fought back fiercely, causing him to stumble and fall. She sat on him and
stabbed at him with her dagger, but again his coat of chainmail protected him. Finally he regained
Then he saw hanging on the wall an old sword from the age of giants. It was the choicest of
weapons, but it was a sword for giants, too heavy for any man to carry into battle. Still, the great
hero seized the hilt and savagely struck out at the monster. The blow caught her at the neck and
sliced off her doomed head.
Suddenly light filled the place, and the victorious warrior looked about. He saw Grendel's body. As
a final act of vengeance, Beowulf cut off his lifeless head.
On shore Hrothgar and his men were watching the mere. Seeing the troubled waves mingled with
blood, they feared that the sea-wolf had torn Beowulf to pieces. At the ninth hour of the day the
Danes returned to their homes, but the Geats, Beowulf's comrades-in-arms, remained there sick at
Meanwhile the sword in Beowulf's hand began to waste away. Drenched in blood, it melted away
like an icicle at winter's end. Beowulf saw great treasures there in the hall, but all that he took away
was Grendel's head and the hilt of the sword, its blade having wasted away.
He swam to the surface, and his valiant thanes rejoiced in seeing him safe and sound. They returned
to Heorot, bearing Grendel's head upon a spear.
Beowulf spoke to King Hrothgar: "Behold this token of victory. I nearly perished, for the great
sword Hrunting proved ineffective in my struggle against the fiend, but at last I saw an old and
mighty sword hanging on the wall, and with this sword I slew the enemy. Her blood melted the
great sword's blade, but the hilt I have carried away as a sign that henceforth your men may sleep
peacefully in Heorot."
With these words Beowulf presented to King Hrothgar the hilt, the ancient work of giants, created
before the flood destroyed the giant race. Its guard was of shining gold, graven correctly with runic
letters and brightly adorned with snakes.
King Hrothgar spoke: "Dear Beowulf,best of men, keep yourself from arrogance and envy. Youare
now at the peak of your power, but with age your strength will wane, and with time death will
The next morning Beowulf announced his desire to return to his own homeland. With kind thanks
he returned the sword Hrunting to Unferth, generously praising the ancient weapon. He was a man
of noble spirit!
Beowulf spoke to King Hrothgar: "We seafarers now return to our King Hygelac. Youhave been
good to us. If,beyond the waters, I learn that you are again in need, I will forthwith return with a
thousand warriors to help you."
Hrothgar answered: "Because of you there will always be peace between our people, the Geats and
the Danes. Feuds and strife from the past are now behind us."
Then the aged king, unable to contain his grief at Beowulf's parting, gave the hero additional
treasures. He was a king blameless in every way until old age robbed him of his strength.
As the warriors approached the sea they were kindly greeted by the coastguardsman. They loaded
their horses, armor, and treasures aboard their ship, and before departing Beowulf gave the guard
an heirloom sword bound with gold.
They steered the ship into deep water, then hoisted a cloth sail. The ship groaned, and the wind
drove them across the waters, always on course, until at last they saw the familiar headlands and
cliffs of their homeland. The harbor guard, who had long looked out to sea for his beloved
countrymen, moored their ship with ropes, securing it from the waves.
King Hygelac greeted the returning hero ceremoniously. Burning with curiosity about the latter's
adventures, he asked: "How did you fare on your journey to help the Danes?"
"My battle with Grendel is already known to many," replied Beowulf. Then he recounted in detail
his entire adventure: his arrival at Heorot, his hand-to-hand fight with Grendel, his slaying of the
monster's mother at the bottom of the mere, and his reward of great treasures at the hand of King
Beowulf concluded his account by praising the generosity of King Hrothgar. "He followedcourtly
custom," said the hero. "He withheld nothing that was my due; and I wish now to give to you, my
king, the great treasures that he gave me as a reward."
Beowulf then had the arms and treasures brought forth, and he told the story behind each heirloom.
King Hygelac responded by presenting to Beowulf Hrethel's sword, a famous heirloom.
Furthermore, he gave him seven thousand hides of land and a hall. Then he named him prince and
successor to his own throne.
At Hygelac's death Beowulf became king. He ruled wisely for fifty winters, and then a reign of
terror visited the land of the Geats.
Part Three: Beowulf and the Dragon
A great treasure lay hidden in an upland barrow, but all those who had buried it died before
bequesting it to their surviving kin. As they are wont to do, a malicious dragon found the hoard
and assumed possession of it. For three hundred winters he jealously guarded the treasure.
Then one day a thief broke into the dragon's hoard and stole a golden cup. He was not a willful
thief, but rather a runaway slave who had escaped a cruel master. Discovering the treasure by
chance, the thief took a golden cup, hoping to pacify his master with it.
Discovering his loss, the flaming dragon emerged from his lair to seek revenge.
The monster spewed forth flames and destroyed many dwellings by fire, including Beowulf's
home, the best of halls.
Once again facing a life-and-death conflict with a superhuman foe,Beowulf reminisced about the
contests and victories of his earlier life. Ever mindful of a king's duty toward his people, he vowed:
"In the days of my youth I ventured on many battles; and even now will I, aged guardian of my
people, challenge this destroyer, if he will come forth from his den to meet me."
Beowulf advanced to the dragon's lair alone, trusting in his single strength. That is no coward's
way. With a clear voice he challenged the serpent to appear. The evil beast's breath emerged from
the rocks. The earth quaked, and the serpent appeared. The lord of the Geats swung his shield
against the awful foe, then struck at him with his ancestral sword, but to no avail. The blade failed
This was to be no pleasant journey for Beowulf: he was now doomed to leave this earth forever
against his will, the fate of all men.
Before long the two fighters confronted one another again. The serpent plucked up his courage and
renewed his attack. Beowulf's companions had all fled into the woods to save their lives. Only one
of them came to his lord's aid.
The lone brave companion was a beloved warrior named Wiglaf. Seeing his threatened lord,
Wiglaf remembered the many benefits that Beowulf had given him in the past. He picked up his
sword and shield and advanced through the deadly fumes to help his lord.
"Beloved Beowulf," he said, "in your youth you swore that you would not let your fame decline as
long as you lived. You must now defend your life with all your might. I shall help you!"
Hearing these words, the dragon attacked a second time. The serpent's flaming breath burned
Wiglaf's shield to ashes, so the young warrior was forced to seek refuge behind his kinsman's
shield. Beowulf, intent on glory, drove his sword Naegling into the dragon's head. So fierce was the
blow that it shattered the blade. As I have heard, Beowulf's hand was so strong, that no sword could
withstand his full strength.
The fiery dragon attacked a third time, seizing Beowulf by the neck with his sharp teeth. The hero's
blood flowed forth in streams.
I have heard how Wiglaf showed unceasing courage and skill in the king's great need. The young
hero instead of attacking the dragon's head aimed his sword blows a little lower, wounding the
beast such that the fire began to wane.
Beowulf recovered somewhat, and drawing his short sword he cut the serpent in two. Thus they
struck down the foe. Together the two noble kinsmen destroyed him, but this was the king's last
hour of victory, his final worldly deed.
The wound that the dragon had given Beowulf began to burn and swell. Knowing that his
appointed days on earth were now at an end, Beowulf spoke: "Fifty winters have I ruled this
people, during which time no neighboring king has dared to attack us. At home I have accepted my
fate. I have sought no quarrels and have sworn no false oaths. In all this I can take joy, although I
now suffer from fatal wounds."
Beowulf further asked Wiglaf to seek out the dragon's treasure and describe it to him, thus giving
him comfort knowing about this part of the legacy he was leaving to his country.
I have heard how Wiglaf descended into the barrow where he saw the great hoard: jewels, gold,
cups, vessels, and arm-rings. Filling his arms with treasures, Wiglaf rushed back to his king. He
found him bleeding and near death.
Seeing the treasure, Beowulf spoke: "I give thanks that I was able to gain these precious things for
my people before I died. I have paid for this treasure hoard with my aged life. You must now fulfill
the needs of the people with it. I can no longer be here. After my body has been burned have the
warriors build a memorial mound for me on a coastal promontory. Seafarers will call it Beowulf's
The generous king then gave the young warrior his golden neck-piece, his helmet, his ring, and his
coat of chainmail, then told him to enjoy them well.
"You are now the last of our kin," he said to Wiglaf. Fate has taken away all my kinsmen. I must
These were the old king's final words. His soul departed to seek the reward of the righteous.
It greatly grieved the young warrior to see his beloved one lying lifeless on the ground. His slayer
lay there too,defeated and dead. No longer would this serpent rule over treasure hoards. No
more would he whirl through the air at midnight.
As I have heard, very few men in the world had ever withstood the venomous blasts from such a
foe. Beowulf had won the dragon's hoard, but he had paid for his share of this wealth with his life.
Not long afterward the cowards who had fled into the woods returned. Ten in number, they
shamefully came to where the old man lay. They looked upon Wiglaf who was trying to revive his
lord with water, but to no avail.
Wiglaf addressed the traitors: "You stand there wearing chainmail and carrying the finest arms, all
given to you by our king, but in his hour of distress, you all abandoned him. Henceforth you shall
all be deprived of the landowners' privileges formerly bestowed upon you."
Wiglaf ordered that the battle's outcome be announced in the stronghold. A band of mourners
proceeded to the place where their beloved king had fallen. They first came upon the loathsome
beast, all scorched with flames. He was fifty feet long. The creature who had at nighttime frolicked
through the air now lay lifeless on the sand. Never again would he return to his barrow. Nearby
stood golden bowls, cups, dishes, and precious swords, rusty and decayed as if they had lain in the
earth's bosom for a thousand winters. A spell had been cast upon that vast hoard, the gold of men
of old, that no one could enter the treasure-house unless God himself so willed it.
Wiglaf summoned together seven of the king's best thanes, himself the eighth, and together they
entered the dragon's lair. They loaded gold of every sort and beyond measure upon a wagon and
carried it away with them. They pushed the dragon's body over the cliff into the sea and let the
waves carry it away.
The Geatish people prepared a magnificent pyre for their great king. Mourning warriors laid their
beloved lord in its midst, then kindled the funeral fire. Wood smoke ascended, black above the
flames. The roar of the fire mingled with the sound of weeping, until at last the body was
consumed. Heaven swallowed the smoke.
A Geatish woman sang a sad lament for Beowulf, expressing fear of evil days ahead.
The Geatish people made a mound upon the cliff. It was high and broad, and could be seen from
afar by seafaring men. They built a wall around the fire's ashes, the famous Warrior's Beacon.
Within the mound they put the rings, jewels, and adornments that the warriors had taken from the
hoard. Thus they returned the treasure to the earth, where it still remains, as useless to men now as
it was in times of old.
Twelve warriors, sons of princes, rode about the mound, praising their hero's courage and his
Thus the Geatish people mourned their fallen lord. They said that he was a mighty king, the mildest
and kindest of men, most kind to his people, and most desirous of praise.
Beowulf was composed by an unnamed English poet sometime between about 700 A.D.
and 800 A.D. These dates, based on internal contextual and linguistic evidence, are not
universally acceptedby scholars. The later date is based on the premise that the Viking
raids on England beginning with the sacking of the monasteries at Lindisfarne and Jarrow in
the 790s made it unlikely that followingthese and subsequent attacks an English poet
would create a work praising the virtues of Danes or other Northmen.
As known today, this poem survives in a single manuscript, written by two different scribes
in about 1000 A.D. This manuscript is housed in the British Library.
I have based this summary on the following translation: Beowulf, translated out of the Old
English by Chauncey Brewster Tinker. Revised edition (New York: Newson and Company,
Link to a text of Beowulf in the original Old English: Beowulf, herausgegeben von Alfred
Holder (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag von J. C. B. Mohr, 1899). This text was edited by a
German scholar. Annotations are in German, but the text is the original Old English.
Link to the Wikipedia article on Beowulf.
Link to Dragon Slayers: An Index Page.
Return to the table of contents.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised October 26, 2010.
Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic poem of anonymous
authorship, dating as recorded in the Nowell Codex manuscript
from between the 8th to the 11th century,, and relates
events described as having occurred in what is now Denmark and
Sweden. Commonly cited as one of the most important works of
Anglo-Saxon literature, Beowulf has been the subject of much
scholarly study, theory, speculation, discourse, and, at 3183 lines,
has been noted for its length.
In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, battles three
antagonists: Grendel, who has been attacking the mead hall in
Denmark called Heorot and its inhabitants; Grendel's mother; and,
later in life after returning to Geatland (modern southern Sweden)
and becoming a king, he fights an unnamed dragon. Beowulf is
fatally wounded in the final battle, and after his death he is buried in
a barrow in Geatland by his retainers.
Grendel's Battle with Beowulf: Character,
Summary & Quiz
The battle between Grendel and Beowulfis one of the most famousbattles in English literature.
Furthermore, Grendel is considered to be one of the most mysterious and complex villians to
appearsin Western culture.
We also recommend watching Beowulf: Story, Characters, and Old Englishand Jane Eyre:
Summary, Characters and Analysis
Grendel's Attack On The Hall Of Heorot
At the start of the poem, we are told how the king of the Danes, Hroogar, built a great hall
known asHeorotin which he, his wife and his warriors celebrate the spoils of their numerous
victories. Irritated by the noise of the king, queen and warriors' revelries, the seemingly
monstrous being Grendelattacks Heorot and eats many of the warriors.
However, despite his willingness to murder the residents of Heorot, Grendel will not approach
Hroogar's throne. The narrator of the poem suggests that the throne is protected by a powerful
god that keeps Grendel at bay. Helpless against Grendel's ceaseless attacks, Heorot is
abandoned by Hroogar and his warriors.
Who Is Grendel?
Grendel is among the main antagonists - along with his mother and the dragon that appears
much later in the poem - in the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Grendel is depicted by
the narrator of the poem as a man-eating demon who has been attacking the hall of Heorot and
killing and eating anyone who crosses his path inside. Grendel is described by the narrator of
the poem as a direct descendant of Cain, the Biblical first murderer.
Many writers and artists depict Grendel as a demonic monster. Some critics point out that
those descriptions might not be accurate, becauseGrendel is never clearly described by the
narrator of the poem. Different critics of the poem offer varying analyses and understandings
of Grendel and his motives. The poem's narrator suggests that Grendel and his mother are
descendants of the Biblical Cain, which suggests that they are in some way connected to a
force of supernatural evil. However, Grendel also appears at other points in the poem to be
simply a murderous monster motivated only by jealousy, rage and greed.
Some critics suggest that Grendel is either a member of a rival tribe who are outcasts from
Heorot or that he is simply a human warrior who kills not for the purposeof defense or honor,
but simply for the psychopathic and monstrous joy of killing. Grendel's origin and motivations
ultimately remain unclear throughout the poem, which adds a layer of mystery to his character.
Grendel's Battle With Beowulf
Beowulf's battle with Grendel serves as Beowulf's first great, heroic achievement in the poem.
Hearing of Hroogar's plight and Grendel's laying siege on Heorot, Beowulf travels to Heorot
to defeat Grendel. Upon arriving at Heorot, Beowulf and his fellow warriors spend the
evening. Beowulf does not carry any sortof weapon because he feels doing so would provide
him with an unfair advantage over the unarmed Grendel. After all the warriors are asleep,
Grendel enters the hall and eats one of Beowulf's men. Having pretended to be sleeping,
Beowulf jumps up and clenches Grendel's hand. Beowulf and Grendel battle with such force
that it seems like the entire hall might collapse around them.
Beowulf (summary with extracts)
The poem has three main climaxes, each of them a fight between Beowulf and a monster. It begins
by introducing the Danes of Zealand, also called the Scyldings; several generations quickly pass,
and Hrothgar is introduced. He has had much military success, so "It came to his mind that he
would command men to construct a hall, a great mead-building that the children of men should
hear of for ever, and therein he would give to young and old all that God had given him." This hall
was to be "the largest of hall-dwellings. He gave it the name of Heorot (hart)."
But from the start, this poem is inhabited by echoes of stories that we do not know: "The hall stood
tall, high and wide-gabled: it would wait for the fierce flames of vengeful fire; the time was not yet
at hand for sword- hate between son-in-law and father-in-law to awaken after murderous rage." A
note of foreboding, of "doom," is thus left hovering over the hall beyond the end of the poem. We
realize that Hrothgar married his daughter to Ingeld, king of the Heatho-bards after Ingeld's father
had been killed by the Danes, hoping that this would make peace; but as the mentality of revenge
was omnipresent in his society, finally Ingeld attacked the Danes, and Heorot was destroyed.
That is not the present story, though:
Then the fierce spirit painfully endured hardship for a time,
he who dwelt in the darkness,
for every day he heard loud mirth in the hall;
there was the sound of the harp, the clear song of the scop....
Thus these warriors lived in joy, blessed,
until one began to do evil deeds, a hellish enemy.
The grim spirit was called Grendel, known as a rover of the borders,
one who held the moors, fen and fastness.
Unhappy creature, he lived for a time in the home of the monsters' race,
after God had condemned them as kin of Cain...
Then after night, Grendel came to survey the tall house
-- how, after their beer-drinking, the Ring-Danes had disposed themselves in it.
Then he found therein a band of nobles asleep after the feast:
they felt no sorrow, no misery of men. The creature of evil,
grim and fierce, was quickly ready, savage and cruel,
and seized from their rest thirty thanes.
From there he turned to go back to his home, proud of his plunder, s
ought his dwelling with that store of slaughter.
It is clear from these extracts that narrative speed is not valued, but rather the contrary. The
mannered style, the repetitions and the digressions, the narratorial comments, all restrain the
onward movement of the tale. The result is a deeper interplay between actual event and narratorial
commentary. Grendel establishes a reign of terror so that for twelve winters Heorot lies unused and
empty, society is paralysed. Hrothgar seems unable to act, certainly he cannot fight against
Grendel. A thane of Hygelac hears of this, and quickly crosses the sea with a company of men;
fifteen in all they sail across to the lands of Hrothgar. They are formally welcomed, and only then
do we learn that this is Beowulf!
Several pages pass in welcoming speeches and a celebration, before he and his companions settle
down in Heorot to see what will happen. Beowulf takes off his armour, and lays aside his sword,
proudly determined to fight with Grendel on equal terms.
Then from the moor under the mist-hills Grendel came walking, wearing God's anger.
The foul ravager thought to catch some one of mankind there in the high hall.
Under the clouds he moved until he could see most clearly the wine- hall,
treasure-house of men, shining with gold.
That was not the first time that he had sought Hrothgar's home.
Never before or since in his life-days did he find harder luck, hardier hall-thanes.
The creature deprived of joy came walking to the hall.
Quickly the door gave way, fastened with fire-forged bands,
when he touched it with his hands. Driven by evil desire,
swollen with rage, he tore it open, the hall's mouth.
Grendel is hungry, he devours one of Beowulf's men, but then Beowulf seizes his hand, and finally
tears off Grendel's entire arm. His name does not mean Son-of-Bear for nothing. The next morning
they follow the blood as far as the Lake of the Water- monsters into which he has disappeared. The
result is, naturally, great rejoicing, and a celebration is held in Heorot. During this the scop sings, as
we saw above; but the fragment of story that is quoted is hardly suitable for a banquet. It evokes
part of the popular tales about Finn the Frisian, and tells of how a quarrel at a banquet while Danes
were visiting Finn led to great slaughter; this in turn led to further revenge killings: "Then was the
hall reddened from foes' bodies, and thus Finn was slain, the king in his company, and the queen
At the end of the party, the benches are removed and the hall becomes a community bedroom. The
next section of the poem is introduced:
It came to be seen, wide-known to men, that after the bitter battle
an avenger still lived for an evil space: Grendel's mother, woman, monster-wife,
was mindful of her misery, she who had to dwell in the terrible water,
the cold currents, after Cain became sword-slayer of his only brother, his own father's son.
She comes, grabs a Dane, and runs off with him and the arm of Grendel that was hanging in the
hall. Beowulf is not sleeping in Heorot, so nobody can stop her. The next morning, Beowulf offers
to destroy her, so they set off in quest of her lair:
Suddenly he found mountain trees leaning out over hoary stone,
a joyless wood; water lay beneath, bloody and troubled...
They saw on the water many a snake-shape, strong sea-serpents exploring the mere,
and water-monsters lying on the slopes of the shore such as those that in the morning
often attend a perilous journey on the paths of the sea, serpents and wild beasts.
Beowulf dives into the water to fight the water-spirit that Grendel's mother clearly is. This combat
is clearly fantastic, since it occurs inside a house deep beneath the lake, a familiar motif in folk-
literature. For hours they fight, but she is invulnerable to ordinary swords. At last Beowulf sees "a
victory- blessed blade, an old sword made by the giants, strong of its edges, glory of warriors; it
was the best of weapons, except that it was larger than any other man might bear to war-sport, good
and adorned." With this he kills her "and at once the blaze brightened, light shone within, just as
from the sky heaven's candle shines clear". In the house Beowulf finds Grendel's dead body; he
cuts off the head.
Meanwhile his friends have given up all hope, and sit staring at the water while the Danes go back
home. Suddenly Beowulf appears, with Grendel's head. There is more rejoicing in Heorot, and
Hrothgar makes a long speech on the theme of glory, or fame, and the dangers of pride:
Keep yourself against that wickedness, best of men, and choose better -- eternal gains.
Have no care for pride, great warrior. Now for a time there is glory in your might;
yet soon it shall be that sickness or sword will diminish your strength, or fire's fangs,
or flood's surge, or sword's swing, or spear's fight, or appalling age;
brightness of eyes will fail and grow dark; then it shall be that death will overcome you,
The note of elegy is clear. The night that follows is untroubled, and the Geats are able to return
home. Beowulf goes to report to his king, Hygelac, on all that he has seen, including the doubtful
friendship between Danes and Heatho-bards, and offers to his king the gifts he has received.
The poem leaps ahead and begins a new story when Beowulf has himself been king of the Geats for
fifty years. A new enemy is introduced quite casually: "in the dark night a certain one, a dragon,
began to hold sway, which on the high heath kept watch over a hoard, a steep stone-barrow.
Beneath lay a path unknown to men". A criminal on the run came in by chance and stole a golden
cup. This caused the sleeping dragon to awake and begin to terrorize the neighborhood. There is a
digression describing how the treasure came to be put there by a lone survivor who evokes his
"War- death has taken each man of my people, evil dreadful and deadly,
each of those who has given up this life, the hall-joys of men.
I have none who wears sword or cleans the plated cup, rich drinking vessel...
even the coat of mail, which withstood the bite of swords after the crashing of shields,
decays like its warrior... There is no harp-delight, no mirth of the singing wood,
no good hawk flies through the hall, no swift horse stamps in the castle court.
Baleful death has sent away many races of men."
The treasure this man entrusted to the ground was found by the smooth hateful dragon who flies at
night wrapped in flame and it is this dragon that is now terrorizing Beowulf's kingdom. Brought to
the place, Beowulf sits and reflects: "His mind was mournful, restless and ripe for death; very close
was the fate which should come to the old man, seek his soul's hoard, divide life from his body; not
for long was the life of the noble one wound in his flesh". There is a strong sense of foreboding,
Beowulf speaks a long review of his adventures before setting out alone to fight the dragon.
The scene is a typical heroic conflict. Beowulf, fully armed, stands alone before the gate to the
tomb and shouts a challenge. The dragon comes coiling out and Beowulf strikes a blow, but his
sword fails him, the dragon is only wounded. The fire of the dragon's breath overpowers Beowulf,
while his thanes "crept to the wood, protected their lives." Only one, Wiglaf, comes out to help his
king. There is a description of the origin of his weapons, and of his thoughts, before he reaches
Beowulf's side. Again Beowulf strikes with his sword, and this time it breaks. The dragon seizes
Beowulf by the neck, but Wiglaf is able to drive his sword into it, and Beowulf has time to use his
dagger to finish off the beast. Beowulf sends Wiglaf into the barrow, to bring out the treasures so
he can see them before he dies. This is done, and Beowulf dies after a curiously Christian speech:
"I speak with my words thanks to the Lord of All for these treasures,
to the King of Glory, eternal Prince, for what I gaze on here,
that I might get such for my people before my death-day."
When the other thanes come creeping out of the woods, Wiglaf foretells the end of their nation:
"Now there shall cease for your race the receiving of treasure and the giving of swords, all
enjoyment of pleasant homes, comfort..."and he goes on to evoke long histories of conflict and
revenge-in-store from the Frisians and the Swedes, all of whom will come running now that
Beowulf is gone; "many a spear, cold in the morning, shall be grasped with fingers, raised by
hands; no sound of harp shall waken the warriors, but the dark raven, low over the doomed, shall
tell many tales, say to the eagle how he fared at the feast when with the wolf he spoiled the slain
bodies." The dragon's body is pushed over the cliff, while Beowulf, with the treasure, is carried to
There the body is burned on a great pyre (cf. Homer's Illiad), the ashes are covered with a mound,
and the final poetic memorial is given:
Then the brave in battle rode round the mound, children of nobles, twelve in all,
would bewail their sorrow and mourn their king, recite dirges and speak of the man.
They praised his great deeds and his acts of courage, judged well of his prowess.
So it is fitting that man honor his liege lord with words,
love him in heart when he must be led forth from the body.
Thus the people of the Geats, his hearth-companions, lamented the death of their lord.
They said that he was of world-kings
the mildest of men and the gentlest,
kindest to his people, and most eager for fame.
(cwaedon thaet he waere wyruldcyninga
mannum mildust ond mondwaerust,
leodum lidost ond lofgeornost.)