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Metaphor Analysis

Beowulf was written in Old English, and the dominant feature of the verse is
alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonants in words placed fairly
closely together. In the original Old English, each line in the poem is split up into
two parts. Each line has four stressed syllables. As Seamus Heaney, the
translator, explains in his introduction, the first stressed syllable of the second part
of the line alliterates with the first or second (or both) stressed syllables of the first
part of the line. Because of the way modern English differs from Old English,
Heaney's translation cannot follow this scheme exactly, although the pattern can
seen for example in line 64: "The fortunes of war favoured Hrothgar." In this line,
the first stressed syllable of the second part of the line (the first syllable of
"favoured") alliterates with the first stressed syllable of the first part: "fortunes").
Heaney makes plentiful use of alliteration throughout his translation of the poem.
The first five lines for example, are consistently alliterative:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage
and greatness. We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches,
rampaging amongst foes.
The alliterating consonants are underlined. Note that "k" alliterates with a hard "c,"
since the sounds are the same. The same applies to "w," which is silent when
followed by an "r," and "r."
More examples could be chosen at random, such as: The sure-footed fighter felt
daunted, the strongest of warriors stumbled and fell. (lines 1543-44)
This is why the poem should ideally be read aloud (as it no doubt was in the days
of the mead-hall), because then these poetic effects can be heard.

Theme Analysis
The main theme of Beowulf is heroism. This involves far more than physical
courage. It also means that the warrior must fulfil his obligations to the group of
which he is a key member. There is a clear-cut network of social duties depicted in
the poem. The king has an obligation to behave with generosity. He must reward
his thanes with valuable gifts for their defense of the tribe and their success in
battle. This is why King Hrothgar is known as the "ring-giver." He behaves
according to expectations of the duties of a lord when he lavishly rewards Beowulf
and the other Geat warriors for ridding the Danes of Grendel's menace.
But the thanes have their obligations too. (A thane is a warrior who has been
rewarded by his king with a gift of land.) They must show undivided loyalty to their
lord. Only in this way can the society survive, because the world depicted in
Beowulf is a ruthless and dangerous one. The warriors must be prepared for battle
at all times. Only in the mead-hall is there any respite from the dangers of the world
outside. As Seamus Heaney writes in his introduction to the poem: "Here [in the
mead-hall] is heat and light, rank and ceremony, human solidarity and culture" (p.
xv). This is why the coming of Grendel is so traumatic for the Danes. They are
being attacked in their own sanctuary.
Beowulf is the greatest of the heroes depicted in the poem not only because he has
the greatest prowess in battle. He also perfectly fulfills his social obligations. He
has the virtues of a civilized man, as well as the strength of the warrior. He looks
after his people and is always gracious and kind. The following lines are typical of
the way in which Beowulf is depicted:

Thus Beowulf bore himself with valor;he was formidable in battle yet
behaved with honourand took no advantage; never cut down a
comrade who was drunk, kept his temper and, warrior that he was,
watched and controlled his God-sent strength and his outstanding
natural powers. (lines 2177-83)
Beowulf does not fail his people, even at the last, when as an old man he goes
forward without hesitation to battle the dragon. He does what he knows he must
do. In this sense he is like Hamlet in the last act of Shakespeare's play, who is
finally ready to avenge the death of his father. Like Hamlet, Beowulf is determined
to play out his role as it is appointed for him, whatever the cost to himself. He faces
up to his destiny, his fate, without flinching. By doing so he makes himself an
exemplar for not only the Geats in a long-gone heroic society, but for the modern
reader too.
Although Beowulf is in some respects a Christian poem, its social code emphasizes
justice rather than mercy. The code of the warrior society is a simple but harsh one.
It is blood for blood. If there is killing, the clan that has suffered must exact revenge.
Since feuds between different clans break out regularly, the effect is to create a
never-ending process of retaliation. It is this, just as much as the presence of the
monsters, that gives the poem its dark atmosphere. The awareness that a feud is
about to reopen supplies much of the foreboding that is apparent at the end of the
poem, for example. With Beowulf their protector gone, the Geats fear that old feuds
with the Swedes will be resumed, and they will be the worse for it.
Various blood-feuds in the past are alluded to many times in the poem. The most
vivid description is contained in the long section (lines 1070-1157) in which the
minstrel sings of the saga of Finn and his sons, which is about a feud between the
Frisians and the Danes.
There was one other way of settling disputes in these societies, and that was
through the payment of compensation in gold. This was literally the "death-price,"
an agreed upon price that the dead man was considered to be worth. This practice
is alluded to in the lines about Grendel, who would not stop his killing,
nor pay the death-price.
No counsellor could ever expect
fair reparation from those rabid hands. (lines 156-58)
Another example is when Hrothgar pays compensation in gold to the Geats for the
loss of the Geat warrior to Grendel.
Christianity and Fate
There are many references in the poem to the Christian belief in one almighty God
who takes a personal interest in human affairs. Beowulf and Hrothgar give praise to
God for the defeat of Grendel. The outcome of battles is attributed to the judgment
of God, and Beowulf puts his trust in God.
The scriptural references, however, are restricted to the Old Testament rather than
the New. The story of Cain and Abel is mentioned, for example, in explaining the
origins of Grendel. And the sword hilt of Grendel's mother is engraved with a
depiction of the Flood described in the book of Genesis. But Beowulf makes no
mention at all of Christ, or an afterlife in heaven for the believer. The burial rites
described, in which warriors are buried with their treasure, does not suggest belief
in a Christian heaven.

Scholars debate the question of how fundamental Christianity is to the poem. It

does not strike anyone as a thoroughly Christian work.
The atmosphere of much of Beowulf is dark and pagan. There are many references
to an impersonal fate that controls the destinies of men. "Fate goes ever as fate
must," (line 455) says Beowulf, only a few lines after he has referred to the
judgment of God. Not long after this, when Beowulf tells of his battles with seamonsters, he says, "fate spares the man it has not already marked." He does not
say God spares the man. And the poet's words, "fate, / the grim shape of things to
come" (lines 1233-34) does not suggest Christian hope and joy.
The two perspectives, pagan and Christian, therefore co-exist in the poem. .

Top Ten Quotes

1) They stretched their beloved lord in his boat, laid out by the mast, amidships. the
great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures were piled on him, and precious gear. (lines
The Danes give their dead lord, Shield Sheafson a royal send off.
2) In off the moors, down through the mist bands .God-cursed Grendel came
greedily loping. The bane of the race of men roamed forth, hunting for prey in the
high hall.(lines 710-13).
3) He has done his worst but the wound will end him. He is hasped and hooped
and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed .for
wickedness, he must await. the mighty judgement of God in majesty.(lines 974-78)
Beowulf speaks after he has killed Grendel.
4) Grendel's mother,monstrous hell-bride, brooded on her wrongs. She had been
forced down into fearful waters, he cold depths, after Cain had killed .his father's
son, felled his own brother with a sword. (lines 1258-63)
5) A few miles from herea frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch above a
mere; the overhanging bank is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface. At night
there, something uncanny happen: the water burns. (lines 1362-67)
The poet describes the mere in which Grendel's mother lives.
6) It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. lines
Beowulf speaks, after Grendel's mother has killed Aeschere.
7) In pure gold inlay on the sword-guards there were rune-markings correctly
incised, stating and recording for whom the sword had been first made and
ornamented with its scrollworked hilt. (lines 1694-98)
A description of the hilt of the sword Beowulf recovered from Grendel's mother.
8) The dragon began to belch out flames and burn bright homesteads; there was a
hot glow hat scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger would leave nothing alive in
his wake. (lines 2312-15)
9) Your deeds are famous,so stay resolute, my lord, defend your life now with the
whole of your strength. I shall stand by you.(lines 2666-68)
Wiglaf speaks to Beowulf before joining him in the fight against the dragon.
10) They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious
and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame. (lines 3180-82)
The Geats' tribute to Beowulf after his death.

Lines 1-98: The Danish Warrior Kings

Beowulf begins with the legends of the warrior kings of the Danes. The most
famous was Shield Sheafson, the founder of the ruling house. He was revered by
his own subjects, and outlying clans were forced to pay tribute to him. Shield had a
son named Beow, who became famous throughout the region for his exploits.

Shield died while still at the height of his powers. His warriors placed his body in a
boat, piled it up with treasure, weapons and armor, and sent it out to sea. No one
knows, the poet says, who salvaged all the treasure.
After Shield's death, it was Beow's job to defend the Danish forts. He was well
respected and ruled for a long time. He was succeeded by Halfdane, who had three
sons, Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga, and an unnamed daughter who was married
off to Onela the Swede.
Hrothgar was an extremely successful king. People flocked to his service and he
created a large army. He decided to build a huge hall, and intended it to be one of
the wonders of the world. He called the hall Heorot. It was a magnificent, towering
building. The poet states, however, that in the future it would be burned down
during a battle between members of the same family.

The poet introduces the story by giving some background information about the
Danish warrior kings. This a way of introducing Hrothgar, who plays an important
role in the story.
In 1939, archeologists discovered at Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, England, a buried ship
of treasure dating probably from the seventh century A.D. The find included a
warrior's sword, a great gold buckle, silver serving vessels, and other items. It
showed that warriors and kings from this period were indeed buried with their
riches, just as the poet describes in the lines about the death of Shield.

Line 99-193: The Coming of Grendel

But then Heorot is threatened by the appearance of a monster, a demon, who
cannot bear to hear the sounds of the banquet and the songs of the harpers that
come from the mead-hall. (Mead is an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey,
malt, spices, and water, to which yeast has been added.)
The name of the monster is Grendel. He prowls around the desolate heath and
fens. He is identified as one of the clan of Cain, the Biblical character who killed his
brother Abel and was made an outcast by God.
At night Grendel sets off for the mead-hall. The men are all asleep following their
evening's drinking. Grendel grabs thirty men and rushes back to his lair with their
In the morning, the men wake and realize what has happened. They go into
mourning. Hrothgar is stunned by the destruction wreaked by Grendel.
The following night Grendel strikes again. He murders more men.
And so it goes on. For twelve years Grendel raids and ravages the hall. The whole
world hears about it. Heorot becomes deserted, except for the throne itself. As an
outcast of God, Grendel is prevented from reaching it.
The desperate Danes try to come up with a plan to repel Grendel's constant
attacks. They make offerings to their pagan gods, since the one God of Christianity
is unknown to them. But still the raids go on.

Beowulf is largely a pagan poem to which has been added elements of Christianity
and three mythological monsters. The warrior society of the Danes is a preChristian one (as these lines show), but the poem was written centuries later, in

recently Christianized England, so a Christian framework has been grafted on to it.

Grendel is the first of the three monsters. The poet gives him a genealogy that links
him to Christian ideas about the origin of evil. This is why he is presented as being
descended from Cain, who was cast out by God for having killed his brother Abel.
There is no reason given for Grendel's murderous acts other than the fact that he is
evil. He is cursed by God and is referred to as a demon. He therefore comes close
to fulfilling the role allocated by Christianity to the devil: he is evil and he perpetually
struggles against good. In the poem, the "good" are the righteous Danes under
Hrothgar, and Beowulf who comes to their aid.

Lines 194-709: Beowulf Arrives to Help the Danes

In Geatland (part of modern-day Sweden), the mighty King Hygelac hears about
Grendel and decides to help the Danes. He enlists the best men he can find, and
they set sail for Denmark. There are fourteen well-armed warriors on the boat, and
an as yet unnamed leader.
When they land in Denmark after a smooth voyage and disembark, the coastal
lookout man of the Shieldings spots them and challenges them. Never before has
he seen a group of armed men disembark so openly, without even asking
permission. He comments on the noble appearance of the leader and then asks
who they are, where they come from, and why.
The leader of the warriors replies that they are from Geatland and owe their
allegiance to King Hygelac. He identifies himself as the son of a famed warrior
named Ecgtheow, and then asks for directions to their leader. He says they have
come to help Hrothgar in his battle against Grendel. He says he can show Hrothgar
a way to defeat his enemy.
The coast-guard believes the man's words are genuine, and offers to guide the
warriors to the king. He orders some of his men to guard the visitors' ship.
The men march to Heorot, which is dazzling in its splendor. When they arrive, the
coast-guard offers them a blessing and bids farewell.
The heavily armed men enter the hall, stacking their shields against the wall. They
sit on benches and place their spears in the receptacles provided.
Hrothgar's herald questions them. He is impressed by their appearance. The leader
responds first with his name. He is Beowulf. He asks permission to see Hrothgar in
person and report on the reason for his visit. The warrior Wulfgar agrees to convey
the message to Hrothgar.
Wulfgar speaks to Hrothgar, and advises the king to grant Beowulf's request.
Wulgar thinks the warriors are noble and worthy of respect, especially Beowulf.
Hrothgar replies that he knew Beowulf when he was a young boy. He has heard
great tales of his prowess, and he hopes that Beowulf will defend them from
Grendel. Hrothgar promises rich rewards if Beowulf succeeds.
Wulgar conveys this message, and invites Beowulf to enter and meet Hrothgar.
Beowulf greets Hrothgar and explains why he has come. He gives a history of his
prowess in battle and says he will take on Grendel in single combat. He also
announces that since he has heard that Grendel uses no weapons, he too will use
none. It will be a hand-to-hand fight, and fate will decide the outcome.
Hrothgar recalls a time when he had helped to end a feud between Ecgtheow,
Beowulf's father, and another warrior lord. Ecgtheow gratefully acknowledged the
assistance and pledged allegiance to Hrothgar.
Hrothgar goes on to tell of how many other warriors have tried and failed to defeat
Grendel. He invites Beowulf to join their feast. A bench is fetched and all the Geats
sit together. There is plenty of mead available, and a minstrel sings.

Then Unferth, who is envious of Beowulf, upsets the cordial atmosphere. He

speaks up about a swimming contest that Beowulf once engaged in with Breca.
Unferth claims that Breca won. He adds that Beowulf has no chance of defeating
Beowulf replies, giving a very different account of the epic contest, which went on
for five nights. The two swimmers became separated. In rough seas Beowulf killed
nine sea monsters. He was exhausted but came ashore safely on the coast of
Finland. Beowulf then tells Unferth that he cannot remember any comparable fight
that Unferth was in. Neither he nor Breca had much of a reputation for bravery.
Beowulf tells Unferth that he will go to hell because he killed his own kinsman.
Grendel knows that he is never in danger from one such as Unferth. But, Beowulf
says, it will be different when Grendel encounters him, Beowulf.
The banquet continues and everyone is in good spirits. Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's
gracious wife, enters. She offers drinks to everyone, welcomes Beowulf, and
thanks God that someone has arrived who will deliver them from their sufferings.
Beowulf promises her that he will fulfill the purpose for which he came, a promise
that Wealhtheow is pleased to hear.
The banquet resumes happily. When it is time for Hrothgar to retire to bed, he
wishes Beowulf good luck and gives him command of the hall, knowing that
Grendel will strike again that night.
Beowulf removes his armor and lays down his sword, which he gives to his
attendant with instructions to guard it. Before he lies down to rest he boasts of his
strength and fighting ability, and says he will face Grendel unarmed.
The Geat warriors lie down to rest. They do not expect to see their homeland again
because they know how formidable a foe Grendel is. But the narrator says that God
will give them victory through the strength of one man.

This section gives many clues about the nature of the Danish society depicted in
the poem. It is a warrior society. Prowess in battle is how a man makes a name for
himself. This secures his status in his community and brings desired fame to
himself and his king (note how in line 435 Beowulf says that his decision to fight
Grendel unarmed will add to the fame of his king).
The frequent detailed descriptions of armor and weapons convey the importance of
war in this society, in which each clan must be prepared at all times to defend itself
against its neighbors. There is a history of feuds in the region. A glimpse of this can
be seen in Hrothgar's story (lines 459-472) about when he helped end a feud
between Ecgtheow, Beowulf's father, and another warrior lord. Many other feuds
will be mentioned in the course of the poem.
The warriors owe their allegiance to their king, a warrior-lord who has also proved
himself in battle. The king has obligations to protect and reward his subjects. The
ideal king is as generous as he is brave. This is why Hrothgar is not only famed in
battle (line 608), he is also described as "giver of rings" (line 353), meaning gold
rings. The society is bound together by this two-way concept of loyalty, of a king to
his warriors and the warriors to the king.
This section also shows the co-existence of pagan and Christian material. Beowulf
seems to express both. In line 441, he says that whoever wins the battle between
him and Grendel will be due to the just judgment of God. Although this is not a
specific Christian reference, it does suggest monotheism rather than allegiance to
pagan gods. But then in line 455, Beowulf says, "Fate goes ever as fate must,"
which sounds more like a pre-Christian worldview, where the destiny of men is
controlled by a mysterious, unknowable force, not the almighty, loving God of
Christianity. Both these concepts recur throughout the poem.

Lines 710-1069: Beowulf's Fight with Grendel

Grendel makes his way to the hall from the moors. When he arrives he forces open
the door. He is ready for blood, and is gleeful when he sees all the sleeping
warriors and contemplates the deaths he will inflict.
But Beowulf is awake and watches Grendel's every move. Grendel strikes suddenly
and gobbles one man up. He comes closer and raises a talon to attack Beowulf. A
fierce fight ensues. Beowulf gets Grendel in a grip from which the monster cannot
escape. Benches are smashed in the struggle. Grendel howls in pain. The monster
knows he is beaten, but Beowulf refuses to let him escape alive. Other Geat
warriors join in the struggle, thrusting at Grendel with their swords, although they
cannot hurt him because by magic the demon has made their weapons harmless.
Grendel's strength begins to fail him. Beowulf rips his shoulder off, and Grendel,
fatally wounded, creeps back to his lair. The victorious Beowulf has fulfilled his
promise to the Danes. In triumph he displays Grendel's severed shoulder and arm.
In the morning, men come from far and wide when they hear what has happened.
Grendel left a bloody trail and then dived into his den in the marshes to die. After all
the visiting warriors have seen the evidence of Beowulf's feat, they depart full of
praise for him. A minstrel at Hrothgar's court sings in praise of Beowulf's triumphs.
The minstrel also sings of another great hero, Sigemund, who killed a dragon that
guarded a great treasure. The minstrel also sings of King Heremod, who had been
defeated in battle, letting his own nobles down, unlike Beowulf, who had
successfully defended the land.
The Danes celebrate by racing their horses. In the mead-hall, Hrothgar gives praise
to God for the ending of the menace from Grendel. He also praises Beowulf,
adopting him in his heart as a son, and bestowing worldly goods upon him. He has
made himself immortal by his glorious actions.
Beowulf then tells the story of the fight with Grendel. The warriors eye the claw of
Grendel that is hanging from the eaves. It is as hard as steel, and the warriors
agree that no sword blade would have been sharp enough to cut it.
The badly damaged hall is repaired and the women decorate it with weavings that
they hang from the walls. When the hall is ready, everyone gathers for a victory
feast. Hrothgar presents Beowulf with victory gifts: a gold standard, an embroidered
banner, breast-mail, a helmet, and a sword. Then he gives him eight horses and a
sumptuously designed saddle.
Hrothgar then presents gifts to each of Beowulf's men, and pays compensation for
the one Geat warrior who was killed by Grendel.

The passage about the minstrel shows how history was preserved in such warrior
societies. The minstrel is himself a historian ("a carrier of tales") who knows all the
stories of the past. He is the king's poet, with an honorable position in the society.
He sings of past heroes, such as Sigemund, but he also composes on the spot, to
a strict format ("strict metre") the emerging story of Beowulf. Everyone sits in the
mead-hall, the center of community life, and listens to the songs of the minstrel.
Readers of Homer's Odyssey will recognize that the minstrel in Homeric times
played a similar role. The minstrels' tales help the society to encode its ideals,
remember its origins and forge its common identity.
The minstrel's mention of King Heremod, in his song about Sigemund, reveals an
aspect of the poet's technique in Beowulf. He makes many contrasts between pairs

of characters, often to make a moral point about right and wrong, about those who
fulfill their social responsibilities and those who do not. Here, Heremod behaved
unwisely and was defeated in battle, letting his own nobles down. He is compared
unfavorably to Beowulf, the warrior who successfully defended the land

Lines 1070-1157: The Saga of Finn and His Sons

The minstrel sings about the saga of Finn and his sons. Hildeburth, a Danish
princess married to Finn, the Frisian king, lost both her son and her brother in a
battle at Finn's hall with the Danes. The battle was indecisive, and a truce was
called. Under an agreement, the remaining Danes were to be quartered at the
Frisians' hall; Finn agreed to honor the Danes with tribute, treating them as equals
with the Frisians and their allies, the Jutes. A funeral pyre was built and the corpses
from the battle were burnt.
That winter the Danes lived uneasily with the Frisians. They were homesick and
resentful, and they also wanted revenge. When spring came they renewed the
feud. Finn was killed and his home looted, and Hildeburh his widow was taken back
to Denmark.

This is one of several digressions in the poem. It gives more insight into the many
feuds that took place between the different clans in the region. It also shows how
such feuds might be settled, and how they tended to break out again before long.

Lines 1158-1250: More Gifts for Beowulf

After the minstrel finishes his song, the feast resumes. Hrothgar's queen,
Wealhtheow, tells her husband to enjoy his good fortune, and encourages him to
bequeath his kingdom after his death to his nephew, Hrothulf, who is a good man
and will not let them down.
More gifts are presented to Beowulf, including a torque (necklace or collar) of gold.
Beowulf will eventually pass this necklace on to King Hygelac, who will die in battle
wearing it.
Wealhtheow tells Beowulf to wear the torque for luck. She tells him that he has won
fame far and wide, and she wishes him a lifetime's luck and blessings. She tells him
also to look after her two sons, Hrethric and Hrothmund, who are sitting on either
side of Beowulf.
The feast over, the warriors prepare for bed. They place their armor close by them,
since they must always be ready for action.

The lavish gift-giving and frequent allusions to triumphs in battle reveal the core
values of the heroic society. The bestowing of gifts is vital because it represents
gratitude and mutual loyalty. The gifts are signs of social status and are passed
down to the recipient's descendants.
The extent to which life in this society revolves around martial values is apparent
from the passage in which the warriors sleep with their armor close at hand: It was
their habit
always and everywhere to be ready for action,

at home or in the camp, in whatever case

and at whatever time the need arose. (Lines 1246-1249)
When they are called into action, their rallying round their lord defines them as a
"right people," since in that solidarity and loyalty lie their best hopes of survival as a

Lines 1251-1382: Grendel's Mother Attacks

The Danes are soon to find that their triumph is not yet complete. Another danger
lurks. Grendel's mother, who lives deep in the waters, is grief-stricken by her son's
death, and seeks revenge.
As the Danes sleep, Grendel's mother comes to Heorot. She pounces on
Aeschere, Hrothgar's most trusted friend, with the intention of taking him back to
the fens.
Beowulf is not in the hall because he has been given a different lodging.
Grendel's mother snatches Grendel's claw. There is turmoil in Heorot as the news
spreads. Beowulf is urgently summoned to Hrothgar. Hrothgar mourns the death of
Aeschere, and knows that Grendel's mother has struck in order to avenge her son.
He tells Beowulf what he has heard from his advisers about those two monsters.
Grendel's mother looks vaguely like a woman. The country people say the ancestry
of Grendel and his mother is hidden in a past of demons and ghosts. No one really
knows where they come from. Then Hrothgar tells of a haunted mere, where at
night the water burns. No man knows how deep it is. Even animals will not go
below the surface of the mere. In storms, it throws up columns of dirty water to the
sky. That is where Grendel's mother lives, and Hrothgar asks Beowulf, if he dares,
to go there and kill her. He will be well rewarded if he succeeds.

As in the earlier episode with Grendel, mythology and fairy-tale take over the
narrative here. Other parts of the epic allude to historical events and give clues to
the nature of the warrior society, but the two monsters (as later the dragon) belong
only to folklore. However, as he did in his initial description of Grendel, the poet
tries to bridge the gap between the folklore element and the Biblical framework he
has chosen for the epic. He does this by emphasizing once more that Grendel and
his mother are the offspring of Cain, who killed his brother Abel, as the Book of
Genesis tells. To make clear that the struggle between Beowulf and the monsters is
one of good against evil in a Christian context, he points out-harping back to the
earlier episode-that Beowulf overcame Grendel through his faith in God (lines

Lines 1383-1631: Beowulf's Fight with Grendel's Mother

Beowulf replies that he will immediately set forth on this new task. He says he will
not allow the monster to escape, and he encourages Hrothgar not to lose heart.
They saddle the horses and Hrothgar, Beowulf and some of his men go off in
pursuit, following the monster's tracks in the forest paths, across the moors and on
difficult terrain. At the foot of a cliff, near the monster's sea-den, they find the head
of Aeschere.
The water of the mere is full of reptiles, and sea-dragons and other monsters
slouch on the slopes of the cliff. Beowulf and his men attack and kill many of them.
Beowulf arms himself for the underwater fight. Unferth, who is not courageous
enough to fight the monster himself, gives Beowulf his rare and ancient sword

named Hrunting. Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar, asking him to take care of his men
should he, Beowulf, not survive the battle. He also asks that the gifts Hrothgar
bestowed on him should be sent to his king, Hygelac, and that the sword he is
about to use should be returned to Unferth.
With that, Beowulf dives into the lake. It takes him nearly a day to reach the bottom.
From her lair, the monster senses the presence of a human. She grips Beowulf
hard, but his armor saves him from injury. But she drags him to her lair. He is
attacked by sea beasts.
When they reach her lair, Beowulf manages to swing his sword at her, it lands on
her head. But it fails to do any damage. Without losing heart, he flings his sword
away. He grips the monster and throws her to the floor. She gets up and grips him
again, and as they grapple, Beowulf stumbles and falls. Grendel's mother pounces
on him with a knife. But again Beowulf's armor saves him, deflecting the blade.
Beowulf manages to get to his feet again, and he grabs a huge sword from her
armoury. He swings it and it cuts into her neck, severing the bone. The monster
topples to the floor; Beowulf's sword drips blood. Beowulf then uses it to cut off the
head of the monster's corpse.
Above the lake, the watching warriors see the water fill with blood, and they
assume that Beowulf has been killed. Hrothgar and his men go home, but the
fourteen Geat warriors stay on, hoping against hope that Beowulf has survived.
Beowulf returns to the surface carrying the hilt of the sword and the monster's
head. His men rejoice to see him.

The first lines of this section reveal much about the social codes of the heroic
society. Beowulf says, "It is always better / to avenge dear ones than to indulge in
mourning" (lines 1384-85). Avenging a death is the best way for a hero to win glory.
It is well to remember that although there are Christian elements in the poem, they
all refer to the Old Testament rather than the New. The forgiveness of sins as
taught by Christ is absent. The law of the heroic code is an eye for an eye.
The lengthy descriptions of the formidable armor are familiar from earlier passages.
Weapons are considered so important they are even given names and their owners
boast of their history. Unferth's "rare and ancient" sword, for example, is named
Hrunting. Readers familiar with Homer's Iliad will recall similar attitudes to
weaponry expressed in that epic poem.
Beowulf's fight with Grendel's mother is a much tougher battle than his earlier fight
with Grendel. This seems appropriate. It is as if Beowulf is now having to track evil
to its source, in the murky depths of water. The fairy-tale elements are strong herethe hero is able to hold his breath under water for nearly a day, which is how long it
takes him to reach the bottom of the lake. But the poet has not forgotten his
Christianity either. Beowulf wins because God gives him victory.

Lines 1632-1887: Beowulf Returns in Triumph to Heorot

The warriors make their way home. It takes four men to hoist the head of Grendel's
mother on a spear and bear it back to Heorot. At the mead-hall, everyone is
shocked by the sight of the head. They stare at it in horror.
Beowulf tells of the battle, and attributes his success to the help God gave him. He
pledges that the Danes can now sleep in their hall without fear, and presents the
sword-hilt to Hrothgar.
Hrothgar studies the hilt. It is engraved with scenes from the Old Testament. It is
also marked with the name of the warrior for whom it was first made. Hrothgar then
repeats his promise of friendship to Beowulf, and contrasts the Geat with the bad

king Heremod. God had given Heremod power, but he had misused it, killing his
own men, ceasing to give gifts, and bringing destruction to his own people.
Hrothgar then goes on to speak of the dangers of power. After God rewards a man
with power and happiness, that man sometimes becomes prideful and complacent.
He starts to covet what he does not have and becomes resentful. He gives no gifts
to his people. Then when he dies the treasure he has hoarded is inherited by
someone else who dispenses it more liberally.
Hrothgar warns Beowulf to be wary of this trap and not give way to pride. He must
remember that his strength will not last long. Soon illness, old age or the sword will
take it from him.
He gives an example from his own life. He ruled for fifty years and believed he had
defeated all his enemies. But then came Grendel and his life changed from
pleasure to grief.
The banquet takes place and then the warriors retire to bed. The following morning,
Beowulf and his men are ready to depart. Beowulf expresses his appreciation to
Hrothgar for how well they have been treated, and says that if he can ever perform
another favor for him, he will do it swiftly. He will be Hrothgar's ally in war, and is
confident that Hygelac, the Geat king, will support him.
Hrothgar thanks Beowulf and says that if Hygelac should die, Beowulf would make
an excellent king of the Geats. Hrothgar promises to preserve the new friendship
between Danes and Geats, even though there has been hatred between them in
the past.
Beowulf is presented with more gifts, and Hrothgar, realizing that he will never see
Beowulf again, is overcome with emotion.

Hrothgar develops in more detail the contrast that was made earlier by the minstrel
(lines 900 -914), in which the good warrior Beowulf is favorably compared to the
bad warrior/king Heremod. Heremod was blessed with great power, but forgot his
side of the bargain, that he must be generous to his nobles and uphold the
traditions of his society. His people suffered as a result. The poet's purpose in
inserting didactic passages such as this was no doubt to impress upon his listeners
the contrast between right and wrong action and encourage them to choose the
right. The importance of such choices is apparent from Hrothgar's story about how
during his fifty-year reign he had to defend his tribe against constant assaults by
many enemies (lines 1769-72). Since life is so perilous, the tribe's best chance of
survival lay in each man fulfilling his obligations as tradition dictated.
Throughout this section, and indeed throughout the poem, Beowulf is shown acting
in an exemplary fashion. He is beyond reproach, even in the smallest of things. For
example, when he returns Unferth's sword, which had failed him in the battle, he
tells Unferth how useful it had been. He does not blame the sword for failing him.
As the poet says, "He was a considerate man."

Lines 1888-2199: Beowulf Returns to Geatland

The Geats march back to the shore and load up their ships. They give a sword with
gold fittings to the man who had guarded the ships. Then they set sail from
Denmark and arrive safely in Geatland, where they immediately head for Hygelac's
stronghold on a cliff. It is a magnificent building, and Hygelac's wife, Hygd, is an
ideal queen.
The poet contrasts Hygd, who does what is expected of her, with the story of
Queen Modthryrh, who was her opposite. She would condemn , to torture and
death a servant who looked at her directly in the face, or any man other than her

husband who stared at her. But Modthryrh improved after her marriage to Offa, a
king of the Angles. She became famous for her good deeds.
Beowulf and his men arrive at Hygelac's hall. Hygelac greets Beowulf warmly and
wants to hear all Beowulf's stories of his travels. He had not wanted Beowulf to go
to help the Danes, and dreaded the outcome. So now he is especially glad that
Beowulf has returned safely home.
Beowulf tells of what happened after he arrived in Denmark. He has nothing but
praise for the hospitality of Hrothgar and his queen. He also mentions Freawaru,
Hrothgar's daughter, and her proposed marriage to Ingeld, of the house of
Heathobard. The marriage is to pay for the Danes' killing of a prince in a feud, but
Beowulf fears that there may still be bloodshed over the matter. He imagines what
will happen when the Danes attend the wedding, wearing the spoils they looted
after the battle in which the Heathobards were defeated. The young Heathobards
will be stirred up, and there will be more deadly violence. The violence will escalate,
Ingeld will no longer love his bride and the old feud between Danes and
Heathobards will be resumed.
Beowulf then returns to the story of his fight with Grendel. He adds a detail not
mentioned before. Grendel had a pouch made out of dragon skins at the ready. He
wanted to cram all his victims into it.
Beowulf recalls the gifts bestowed on him, and the feast at Heorot, when a minstrel
sang stories accompanied by the harp. Then he recalls Grendel's mother, and how
he defeated her. He tells of the extra gifts presented to him, which he now presents
to Hygelac. He reveals that the gift of the war-gear indicated Hrothgar's special
favor, since it had belonged to his older brother, King Heorogar.
Beowulf then hands over four horses, to the approval of the narrator, who lauds
Beowulf for behaving like an ideal prince and kinsman. Beowulf also presents Hygd
with the necklace that Wealhtheow had given him, as well as three horses.
The narrator praises Beowulf's character. He is courageous and honorable, the
possessor of every virtue. This marks a change in how he had been perceived
before his adventures in Denmark. He had then been regarded as a weakling. But
this judgment is now reversed.
Hygelac presents Beowulf with a sword and a large amount of land.

The way of life at the court of King Hygelac of the Geats is largely the same that of
Hrothgar's Danes. It is the same warrior code, the safe haven of the mead-hall, with
the obligations of gift-giving placed on the king; also the loyalty of the warrior to
hand over his treasure to the king. the same outbreak of feuds and their violent
Just as in earlier passages, Heremod was contrasted with Beowulf, this section
presents another pairing. Queen Hygd, who fulfils her appointed role to perfection,
is contrasted with the failings of Queen Modthryrh

Lines 2200-2396: A Dragon Wakes

Beowulf rules the Geats wisely for fifty years. He inherits the throne after Hygelac,
and later his son, Heardred, fall in battle. (Heardred's story is told later.)
A dragon that guards buried treasure is angered when a slave, fleeing from his
master, accidentally stumbles on his lair. The dragon was asleep, and the slave
stole a goblet. He had not intended to steal, but was so shocked when he saw the
dragon he panicked and ran off with the goblet.
An old warrior had buried the treasure a long time ago. All his companions had
been killed in war, and he had nothing left to live for.

The dragon, who was driven to search out and guard such hoards, discovered the
buried treasure. He has been protecting it for three hundred years and is furious
when he discovers the theft. He hunts without success for the thief, and plots his
revenge. At night, he wreaks havoc on the people far and wide, leaving nothing
alive after his attacks. Before daybreak, he returns to his lair.
The dragon also attacks and destroys Beowulf's home. When Beowulf hears the
bad news he falls into deep distress. He feels he must have sinned against God to
have deserved such misfortune. Plotting his revenge against the dragon, he orders
the construction of an all-iron shield. He does not fear the dragon, and refuses to
take a large army with him. He has, after all, always triumphed in the past.
In a brief flashback, the poet recalls how, through his prodigious swimming ability,
Beowulf escaped from the battle in which Hygelac was killed. Queen Hygd offered
him the throne, since she had no faith in the ability of her son, Heardred, to defend
the kingdom. But Beowulf turned down the offer, and supported Heardred as the
new king. But then raiders from Sweden, led by Onela, arrived. Although Heardred
offered them hospitality, they killed him. Beowulf then ascended to the throne. He
avenged the death of Heardred by forming an alliance with the Eadgils. In the
ensuing military campaign, Beowulf killed Onela.

Mythology intrudes on history again with the coming of this fifty-foot fire-breathing
dragon. This is the third and last great challenge for Beowulf, and it reveals the
structure of the epic. The poem is about evenly divided between these three
episodes involving different kinds of monsters, and they loosely follow the same
structure: the ravages of the demon and its awful strength are described, as are the
effects on the human communities. Beowulf then comes to the rescue, the fight
itself is described at length, as is the aftermath of the struggle.
There is a difference between the two Grendel monsters and the dragon. Grendel
and his mother have vaguely human forms, and Grendel at least is pure evil. There
is no reason for his attacks. The other two monsters are goaded into action
because they have suffered a wrong. Grendel's mother wants to avenge the death
of her son, and the dragon, who quietly minded his own business for centuries,
goes on the rampage because a thief stole some of the treasure he was guarding.

Lines 2397-2820: Beowulf Fights the Dragon

Now Beowulf must face the dragon. He takes eleven men with him, as well as the
reluctant slave, since he is the only one who knows the location of the dragon's
Beowulf sits on a cliff-top, sensing that this will be his last battle and that he will be
killed. He recalls his early life. At the age of seven he was sent by his father as a
ward at King Hrethel's court, where he was well treated. There was tragedy in the
house, though. Hrethal's eldest son, Herebeald, was accidentally killed by his
brother, Haethcyn, with an arrow. Hrethel was devastated by his son's death, which
could be compensated for by an act of revenge, as would normally have been the
case. Heartbroken, he ceased to want to live, and soon died.
Beowulf then tells of the wars between the Swedes and the Geats, which began
after Hrethel's death. The Swedes, led by the sons of Ongentheow, refused to
make peace and frequently ambushed the Geats. The Geats in turn took their
revenge, although their king, Haethcyn, was killed. Eventually, Hygelac avenged
the death of his brother Haethcyn by killing Ongentheow.

As a loyal subject of Hygelac, Beowulf was rewarded with gifts and land, and
always fought bravely. He recalls how he killed Dayraven the Frank with his bare
hands. He says that now he will fight again if the dragon will forsake his lair and
meet him in the open.
Then he turns to his warrior companions. He says he would sooner not use a
weapon, but because of the heat from the fire the dragon breathes forth, he will put
on a mail-shirt and carry a shield. He tells his men to remain where they are. This is
his battle alone, and he will either be victorious or die.
He goes down to the dragon's den, which gives out deadly heat, and shouts out a
challenge to the dragon. The fight begins. Beowulf slashes at the dragon with his
sword but it does little damage. It is the first time his sword has failed him. The
dragon recovers from the blow and counter-attacks.
Beowulf's men are frightened and run away, except for Wiglaf. When he sees his
king tormented by the heat of his own helmet, he cannot hold back. He is young
and this is the first time he has been tested in battle. He takes his shield and an
ancient sword that has been handed down to him by his father and prepares to
enter the fray. He speaks to the other warriors, telling them that their lord needs
help. He remembers how good Beowulf has been to them all. He gave them gifts
and picked them out of the army as being worthy of this great enterprise. Wiglaf
says he would rather die in battle than go home without slaying the enemy and
defending his king's life.
Wiglaf calls out to Beowulf that he will stand with him. The dragon hears him and
attacks again. Wiglaf's shield is burned to ashes, and Beowulf protects him with his
own. Beowulf aims his sword with all his strength at the dragon's skull. But the
sword snaps.
The dragon attacks for a third time. He clamps his fangs around Beowulf's neck.
Wiglaf thrusts his sword into the dragon's belly. Then Beowulf thrusts his knife deep
into the dragon's flank. This is the death blow.
But Beowulf is also mortally wounded. He sits down on the rampart, and Wiglaf
bathes his wounds. Beowulf knows he is close to death. He thinks back on his life,
and is satisfied because he knows that he always acted rightly. He tell Wiglaf to go
and get the dragon's treasure; he wants to examine it.
Wiglaf does as he is asked, and finds the treasure trove. He gathers it up and
returns to Beowulf, hoping to find his leader still alive. Beowulf is still alive, but he is
bleeding profusely. When he sees the treasure he gives thanks to God that he has
been able to leave his people so well provided for. He orders that after his body has
been cremated, a barrow be constructed for him on a headland on the coast. (A
barrow is a mound of earth marking a grave.) It will remind his people of him, and
be called "Beowulf's Barrow." He removes the gold collar from his neck and gives it
to Wiglaf. Then he dies.

Beowulf shows himself to be a true hero because he does not fall into despair,
even at the approach of death. He shows that performing his duty as a king is more
important to him than his own life. He lives and dies by the values he believes in.
The bravery of Wiglaf is contrasted not only with the cowardice of the other
warriors, but also with that of Unferth in the fight with Grendel's mother. (Unferth
lent Beowulf his sword rather than do battle himself.) Wiglaf fulfills his
responsibilities because he remembers the gifts and favors he has received from
Beowulf. He lives up to the honor of the heroic code, while the other warriors find it
convenient to forget.
Before he describes how Wiglaf jumps into battle, the poet is also careful to
describe Wiglaf's sword in detail-who owned it before, how it came down to Wiglaf.

The sword, its prowess and its history, are vital for the heroic society, because it is
the chief means by which the society maintains itself. It is as sacred to their society
as, say, the bal lot box is to a modern democracy.

Lines 2821-3182: Beowulf's Funeral Pyre

It is hard for Wiglaf to watch his king die. The poet says that few warriors could
have held out and killed the dragon as Beowulf had done. The warriors who had
fled now return, ashamed. Wiglaf tries to revive Beowulf with water, but he can do
nothing because God has decreed that Beowulf should die.
Wiglaf rebukes the other warriors. He says that when Beowulf gave them gifts and
the best armor he had, he was just throwing weapons away, because these men
were of no use when a battle broke out. Wiglaf says that when he went to help
Beowulf, he felt new strength welling up in him. He then predicts a grim future for
the Geats. They will lose everything as soon as princes from other lands learn what
cowards they are.
A messenger takes the news of Beowulf's death to the crowd of retainers that are
waiting at the top of the cliff. He also tells them that soon there will be war with the
Franks and the Frisians, who have been enemies of the Geats since the Geat king
Hygelac raided their lands. Nor, says the messenger, with there be any peace with
the Swedes, with whom the Geats have a history of enmity. The Swede
Ongentheow once cornered a Geat force and threatened to annihilate it, until
Hygelac arrived with a relief force. In the ensuing battle, Ongentheow was struck by
Wulf, and then killed by Wulf's brother, Eofor. The Geats were victorious. When
they returned home, Hygelac gave Wulf and Eofor gifts worth a fortune, as well as
The messenger is convinced that the feud with the Swedes will continue when the
Swedes hear of Beowulf's death. He then says they must go to prepare the royal
funeral pyre, burning the body of Beowulf with much treasure.
Going to the scene of the battle, they find the dragon lying on the ground facing
Beowulf. The dragon is fifty feet long. The riches he guarded are piled up beside
Wiglaf ponders Beowulf's fate. Nothing had been able to stop Beowulf meeting his
destiny. The treasure has been retrieved, but the price paid is high. Wiglaf then
reports on Beowulf's last wishes, that a barrow be built in a commanding position,
as a memorial to him.
Wiglaf says they are to look once more on the hoard of treasure and then make a
bier for Beowulf. He gives orders for the funeral pyre, and selects seven warriors to
go with him to collect the remainder of the treasure. They throw the dragon over the
The Geats build a funeral pyre for Beowulf and place his body in the middle of it.
The pyre is lit. A Geat woman sings out in grief for Beowulf. She fears the disasters
that may happen to the Geats now that Beowulf is gone.
The Geats construct a mound on a headland. In ten days the work is done. They
bury in the barrow much of the treasure they found. Twelve warriors ride around the
tomb, chanting dirges. They praise Beowulf's heroic nature and his exploits. The
Geats mourn for Beowulf, the most gracious and kind of all the kings on earth, and
the most eager to win fame.

Beowulf ends on an ominous note. There is a sense that an era has passed for the
Geats, and that the future is grim and uncertain: "So it is goodbye now to all you
know and love" (line 2884), says Wiglaf to the other warriors.

The end of the epic mirrors the beginning, in that it deals with the death of a
revered king and describes burial rites. There are some marked differences,
however. The body of Shield Sheafson was put out to sea in a boat, while Beowulf
was cremated and his ashes buried under a barrow. Perhaps the Geats had
different funeral rites than the Danes, or perhaps customs had changed in the four
generations that separated the two heroes. But in death, the two kings did at least
have one thing in common: they were both dispatched with their treasure.