Beowulf In Detail Beowulf begins with the story of the first king in the Danish dynasty, Scyld Sceafing. The king was abandoned as a baby and later went on become a successful, powerful leader of the Danish people. Following the death of Scyld Sceafing, his son Beowulf (not the Beowulf of this story) becomes ruler of the Spear-Danes and much like his father, Beowulf is respected and beloved by his subjects. After a reign of many years, Beowulf dies and his son Healfdene inherits the throne. Healfdene fathers four children including Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halfga.
Hrothgar succeeds his father and after achieving much glory and fame as ruler of the Danes, he decides to build a great mead hall as a monument to his success and symbol of his greatness. He names it Heorot. After the completion of Heorot, Hrothgar holds a banquet for his subjects where scops sing of the creation of the Earth by God and the Danes celebrate the peaceful, festive times in which they live. After the festivities continue for many years, the singing and music awakens an evil, part-human monster named Grendel who is a descendant of the biblical Cain. Angered by the noise and apparent happiness of the Danes, Grendel travels to Heorot at night when the soldiers within are sound asleep after their day celebrations.
Grendel kills thirty warriors and escapes into the night satisfied with his evil deed. Hrothgar is deeply saddened by the deaths and fears the attack may be the beginning of a long war with the monster. Grendel continues his murderous rampage the following night and a war with Grendel ensues which lasts twelve years. Stories of the Danes’ suffering at the hands of Grendel spread to foreign lands. The Danes exhaust all means of defense against Grendel and attempts to pay the monster to cease his harassment are useless. The Danes’ desperation becomes so great, they abandon their Christian beliefs and begin worshipping ancient deities from their pagan past. When news of the Danes’ troubles reaches Geatland, Beowulf, thane of Hygelac, gathers fourteen of his strongest, bravest men to voyage across the seas to help Hrothgar and his people.
Upon arriving, Beowulf and his men are greeted by a Danish coast guard sentinel. The sentinel is alarmed to see armed men approaching the Danish coast and directly asks Beowulf to state his business. The guard is clearly impressed by the Geat’s armor and weapons and conveys his respect for the noble men. 4 Beowulf informs the soldier that he and his men are followers of Hygelac from the clan of the Geats and explains that he is the son of Ecgtheow, a respected and renowned leader known throughout the land. Beowulf explains that he has come to help Hrothgar and the Danes. After learning that the Geat’s intentions are noble, the guard agrees to escort the men to Hrothgar.
5 Wulfgar, a Danish soldier and advisor to Hrothgar, interrupts the men’s journey to see Hrothgar and interrogates them about their identity and intentions. Beowulf introduces himself and explains his purpose. Wulfgar, impressed by Beowulf’s confidence and the appearance of his men, welcomes the visitors and encourages Hrothgar to meet them. 6 While receiving Beowulf, Hrothgar explains that he remembers Beowulf as a boy and recounts several experiences shared with Beowulfs father, Ecgtheow. Hrothgar views Beowulf’s prescence as a blessing for the Danes because of his reputation as a great warrior and his noble ancestry. He offers treasures to Beowulf and the Geats if they can end Grendel’s terror and return Heorot to its previous glory. Beowulf expresses his desire to challenge Grendel to a battle to the death and says he will trust in God and will thus refuse weapons or shields.
7 Reassured by Beowulf’s confidence, Hrothgar recalls further stories of Ecgtheow. He explains how while new to his throne he helped Ecgtheow avoid a battle by sending treasures to his enemies. Hrothgar then immediately begins discussing his troubles with Grendel and explains his displeasure in seeing his mead hall abandoned by his warriors. The Danes and the Geat warriors then go to Heorot where they are entertained by scops and drink mead. 8, 9 During the banquet, a courtier of Hrothgar named Unferth is overcome by jealousy of Beowulf’s reputation and challenges the merit of his courageous feats.
Unferth tells of a swimming competition from Beowulfs past in which Beowulf was defeated by a warrior named Breca. Beowulf explains that both warriors were armed only with swords to protect them from sea monsters and that after match had lasted five nights, the two men became separated. Beowulf was then attacked by a monster and was forced underwater where he slayed the monster with his sword and later killed nine additional monsters before ending the competition. Beowulf asserts that the hindrances with which he was forced to contend during the race justified his late finish and that his acts of strength and courage validate his reputation. Beowulf also accuses Unferth of murdering his brothers and explains that he will assuredly suffer the fires of Hell for his crimes. After being offered mead by the Hrothgar’s wife, Beowulf once again affirms his desire to either defeat Grendel or lose his life in the battle. Hrothgar is encouraged by Beowulf’s boastfullness and confidence and proclaims his willingness to put the fate of Heorot in the hands of such a worthy and noble warrior.
He also offers treasures to Beowulf if he is victorious. 10 The Danes then leave Beowulf and his men alone in Heorot to face the monster. To prepare for the confrontation, Beowulf expresses his confidence in God, removes his armor, and relinquishes his weapons. Beowulf’s men, who do not share his confidence, join him in retiring to bed to await the monster’s arrival. 11-12 After breaking down the door, Grendel enters the hall and immediately seizes one of the sleeping Geat warriors and dismembers and consumes him. Beowulf rushes to attack.
He firmly grasps Grendel’s arm and the creature instantly realizes the strength of his attacker. As Grendel tries to escape, his deafening shrieks frighten the Danes outside the hall. The Geat warriors, now awakened by the battle, rush to Beowulf’s defense but find their weapons useless due to a spell cast on their swords by Grendel. In the struggle to escape, the monster loses his arm to Beowulf’s mighty grip. Aware that his wound is fatal, Grendel retreats into the night to die. To commemorate his victory, Beowulf places the arm on the wall of the mead hall and the triumphant Beowulf celebrates his victory.
13, 14 Upon learning of Beowulf’s victory, Danish warriors travel to the hall to view the monster’s severed arm and follow the monster’s footprints from the hall to the boiling, steaming swamp which has become his grave. Hrothgar enters the hall to see the arm and is beside himself with gratitude. He exclaims that he will henceforth consider Beowulf a son and will provide him with whatever earthly possessions he should desire. Beowulf tells of his struggle with Grendel and asserts his belief that the monster will suffer in Hell for his crimes against the Danes. 15 Damage to Heorot done during the struggle is repaired and the hall is prepared for a great banquet to celebrate the death of Grendel and the end of his reign of terror. Hrothgar presents Beowulf with various gifts including armor, weapons, horses and ornate saddles.
16, 17 Hrothgar also offers gifts to Beowulf’s men and offers compensation for the loss of the Geat warrior to Grendel’s monster-sized appetite. A poet in the hall entertains the warriors with the story of Finn, a Frisian king. The story begins with the death of many Danes including a man named Hnaef by followers of Finn. Finn’s wife, the sister of Hnaef and mother of yet another victim, is angered by the battle and pressures Finn to end the conflict . The poet vividly describes the cremation of the men and the sadness of the grieving survivors.
Hengest, a follower of Hnaef, does not return home with the other Danish warriors after the battle. He stays and waits all winter for reinforcements to return in the spring and avenges the killings by murdering Finn. 18, 19 Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife presents Beowulf with a valuable necklace and praises Beowulf and graciously asks Beowulf to mentor her two sons. After her oration about Beowulf’s courage and honor, the Danish warriors retire to the mead hall as they had often done before Grendel’s attacks. Grendel’s mother, enraged by the death of her son, enters the hall after the warriors are asleep, steals her son’s arm from the hall’s rafters and kidnaps a Danish warrior who is a close companion of Hrothgar. Beowulf, unaware of what has transpired, is called to Heorot and politely and innocently asks the king if he has had a quiet night. 20, 21 Hrothgar is visibly overcome with emotion over the loss of his friend and relates to Beowulf that the troubles of the Danes have begun again.
Hrothgar tells Beowulf of the abduction of his friend …