Beowulf and Grendel, Part 1
To Hrothgar was given glorious battles and honor in combat and his band of youthful comrades grew. Hrothgar thought once to have a hall built, a mighty mead-house, mightier far than had ever before been seen. In it, he stored all that was his to possess, aside from his lands and the lives of those who served him. Many others came to aid in the building of this, the noblest hall of middle earth. It rose fast and Hrothgar named it Heorot, to be known wide and far. Hrothgar, careful to bestow all promised gifts, gave many gold pieces, broken from his arm-rings, as payment for noble deeds and loyal devotion during banquets in his mead hall. Heorot was a towering hall, high, with wide, sloping roofs and blazing flames to warm its guests.
Sadly, it wasn’t long before Hrothgar’s son-in-law rekindled a feud that led to the near-burning of that great hall. But worse, with angry spirit, listening, in his dark abode, an evil awoke, envious, enduring each day the revel that came from the high hall. From Heorot there was indeed much singing to be heard, of the tales of man's earliest days, how the Almighty made the earth, with its fair fields surrounded by water; how he made the sun and moon, to lighten the earth for the dwellers of land, and worked trees with their limbs and leaves into the soil, and brought all life for mortal beings that breathe air and wander the lands.
The Danes lived in cheerful revel until the evil one devised a greater evil from his heart as he walked his hellish domain.
At the fall of night, Grendel sought the place where the Ring Danes slept from their night of reveling. He found the athelings* soundly asleep, careless of human miseries. The unholy being, greedy and grim with anger, seized thirty of the sleeping Danes from their benches and rushed back to his lair, unmindful of the horror he had brought and the deaths of the slaughtered men in his grasp.
*athelings--thanes, loyal followers
Grendel’s fell deeds were soon known to men. After the light-hearted carousing of the night before came wailing and mourning at dawn. The mighty Hrothgar, excellent chief, sat troubled, steeped in woe for the loss of his thanes, as the trail of Grendel’s cruel slaughter was sought and found. The accursed spirit’s deeds brought long sorrow, but then came more murder with the coming of a second night. The murderer cared nothing for his crimes or the blood-feud he had begun. The thanes rested not in the mead hall that night, taking their beds in ships and places of safety. Still, the unrighteous one had his fill of slaughter, assuring Heorot’s emptiness for long days.
For twelve years Hrothgar suffered this menace, laden with sorrows on a troubled brow. Songs spread to distant tribes, tales of the beast and his accursed mischief, his hate of Hrothgar and his hall. Indeed, Grendel refused offerings of peace, and no man-price was given to the restive Danes as payment for their loss. The evil one assaulted young and old, death’s dark shadow, lurking in the night land of the misty moors. Men cannot say where such Hell-demons dwell. This hater of man, this lonely roamer, harassed Hrothgar and his hall so much that the king could not approach his throne or make joy in his hall. Such was the judgment of God.
Many nobles assembled in sorrowful counsel seeking how best might this night-terror, this enemy, be stricken from their land. With words and offerings to their heathen gods, they sought the succor of the soul-slayer, to give their people relief from their pain. In their ungodly hope, their minds were turned to Hell’s spirits, not Almighty God, whom they did not know. Nor did they heed our dreadful Lord, the designer of Man’s fate, he who wields wonder and power from the heavens. Woe to that man who dies in hate, doing harm to others, for his soul shall embrace the fiery abyss with no expectation of change or relief, ever. But it goes well for him who, upon his death, may draw near to his Lord and finds friendship in the Father’s arms!
Thus, the son of Healfdene lived in these times with unceasing anger and woe, surrounded by the unwise who could not lift his long anguish and that of his people, burdened by the destruction, wrought in the nefarious night.
Word of Grendel’s deeds reached the home of Hygelac’s thane, greatest among Geats*. This man was the mightiest man of valor, stalwart and noble, that the world had ever known to that day. This stout wave-walker gave orders and all was made ready. The battle-king said that he would seek upon the swan-road the noble monarch who needed the aid of men. No one blamed him for his quest though they loved him much. His people praised and hailed him with good omens. He chose comrades from his bands of Geats, fourteen brave men, proven warriors, to sail with him upon the sea-wood to that land.
*Geats--the people of Geatland, the southern half of what is now Sweden
After a brief time, the warriors pushed off their craft and boarded the ship, journeying upon the waves of churning sea and sand. They wore bright mail and weapons, moving over the waters by might of the wind in that bark―like a bird with foamy breast―until on the second day the curved prow had run its course. The sailors could now see the sea-cliffs and steep high hills of Hrothgar’s land. They anchored their boat and, with clashing armor and battle gear, thanked God for their passing in peace over the sea’s paths.
Wonder seized the Scylding* clansman who stood watch from a nearby cliff, marveling at the weapons and mail of these warriors from the sea. He wondered who they were and straight away rode his steed with spear in hand, to speak with the intruders: “Who are you, then, armed men, mailed folk, who have come over the ocean in such a mighty vessel? I am the sentinel of this beach, here to inform against any who might come seeking to do harm in our lands. You don’t seem to have been invited and you are greatly armed. Who are you and where are you from? Say quickly, lest you be caught and treated as spies in this Danish land.”
*Scylding--descendant of Scyld, a mythical Danish king. In other words, a Dane.
The great warrior of whom I speak replied, unlocking his word-hoard: “We are Geats, companions of Hygelac. My father Ecgtheow was well known to many. Full of winters and age he was taken from this earth though wise men still honor his name. We come to seek audience with your lord, Healfdene’s son, as friends and loyal companions. We hear that there is a slayer in your midst, a monster, an evil-doer among you. If what we hear is true, this beast comes at night to murder with rage and hate. I come to bring peace to Hrothgar by crushing his foes, if such is fate’s way. I come to end the suffering and cares that boil here in the land where the unequaled hall stands, so that no more shall he suffer.”
Upon his steed, the brave sentinel answered: “May you be as skilled in works as you are in well-intending words. I gather that your motives are gracious. Keep your armor on and your weapons with you while I show you the way to Hrothgar. My men will tend to and guard your boat here so that you may use it to return to your native land, if fate decrees that you may be saved from the ravages of the battle that you seek.”
And so they marched as the boat was anchored. Boars had been etched in Beowulf’s helmet, guarding that man of war, the leader of the group. Soon they saw the hall―broad of roof and bright with gold―the fairest house under heaven. The sturdy shieldsman showed them that stronghold and bade them go there, hailing them: “Farewell. May God guard you well, safe in what you seek. I go now to resume my watch against enemies from the sea.”
Bright were the stones of the street that led the way to Heorot. Breastplates glistened, hand-forged, and the ring mail of the warriors could be heard as they strode along in their battle armor. Weary from their sea journey, the men lay down their shields―large and small―stacking their weapons, their gray-tipped spears, along the wall of the mead hall. A proud warrior asked them of their home and kin: “Where are you going in such battle-array? I am Hrothgar’s herald, and I’ve never met strangers with such seriousness and determination. You are clearly here to demonstrate your skill and valor, not here as exiles of a land that has betrayed you. You indeed seek Hrothgar!”
Beowulf replied, “We are fellows of Hygelac. I am named Beowulf. I seek an audience with the son of Healfdene and will reveal to him this mission of mine, if he would be good enough to speak with us.” The well-known and dauntless Wulfgar spoke, “I will tell the king of the Danes, our noble breaker of rings, of your arrival and will return soon with his reply.”
In haste Wulfgar sought the white-haired Danish king and spoke: “Men from afar have come over the ocean, men of Geatland, and the largest and noblest of the sturdy band is named Beowulf. They wish to speak with you, gracious Hrothgar. These are indeed worthy warriors that have been led here by a noble hero.”
Hrothgar, protector of Scyldings, answered: “I knew Beowulf in his youth. His aged father was named Ecgtheow and he and the only daughter of Hrethel the Geat gave birth to a bold offspring. When my gifts were once carried to the Geatish court as thanks, my men reported of this hero who was said to have the strength of thirty men. Blessed God has sent this man to the Danes of the West to kill our beast, Grendel. I will give him gold for his well-meaning intentions. Hurry! Bid them come before me and tell them that they are our most welcome guests.” Wulfgar returned to the Geats and declared, “To you my master sends word of greeting and welcomes you to Daneland. Hrothgar knows your kin and bids that you come in your armor to greet him, but kindly leave your weapons and shields here.”
Beowulf stood up, surrounded by his brave thanes, and while some guarded their war gear, others went with their leader to within Heorot’s roof. When they neared the hearth, Beowulf spoke: “Hail Hrothgar! I am Hygelac’s kinsman and follower. I have gained much fame in youth and heard of these deeds of Grendel that have led you to leave this great hall empty when the sun sets. I was advised to seek you here by those who have seen me slaughter many foes on the battlefield. I have slain water goblins in the dead of night, avenging the deaths of some of my Geats. This Grendel will be mine to kill in a single battle. So I seek from you a boon, noble Hrothgar, now that I have come here from far away, that I and my liegemen here may be permitted to purge your Heorot of this monster. I understand that weapons are no use against it, so I will use none. Nor will I wear armor. But with bare hands will I face this menace. Then it will be up to fate and God whether he or I shall be taken in death. If I am to die, I doubt you will need to prepare my funeral, for he will take my lifeless body to be devoured, blood-soaked, into his lonely marshes. Nor will you need to prepare for me any further meals. If Hild* should take me, send my armor to Hygelac for it is an heirloom of Hrethel* and the work of Wayland*. Let Wyrd* do what she must with my life.”
* Hild--(Brynhilda) a Valkyrie, one of the daughters of Odin who take souls of the battle-slain to Valhalla.
*Hrethel--father of Hygelac, Beowulf's king.
*Wayland was the Norse blacksmith god
*Wyrd--one of the Norns, the three sisters of Fate in Norse mythology.
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Elements and Paradigms
Found in the Anglo-Saxon
Authorial Intrusion: The Narrator frequently gives his opinion of the persons and events rather than staying objective or distanced from his subject.
Aliteration: A favorite Old English literary device. In many lines, the repetition of consonant sounds exists, changing with each line. Example: Notice the repetition of the "d" sound in the following line: "Hast done such deeds, that for days to come . . ."
Apositives: There is a heavy use of descriptive phrases surrounded by commas, describing the thing coming before them. Notice the two back-to-back apositives in this example: "Of wounden gold, she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain, corselet and rings, . . ."
Comitatus: An agreement between a Germanic lord and his subservients, is the direct source of the practice of Feudalism. The thane would pledge military service and protection to the lord. In return, the lord would reward the inferior with land, compensation, or privileges. In other words, Beowulf kills for glory but would also expect to be well-paid by Hrothgar.
Epic Boast: A long speech by the hero during which he either commits him to accomplishing a daring task or reflects on daring tasks already accomplished.
Epic Digression: Usually through the speeches of the characters, the folk epic contains a number of retellings of past stories to give credence, parallels, or further background regarding the current characters or situations.
Epic Foreshadowing: The speaker tells of the results of a battle or situation before they have happened, giving hints of a future event--usually involving someone's death.
Episodic: Multiple plots. The story of Beowulf, for instance, is told in chunks, not as a single story but rather as a cluster of stories about one hero. Thus, the unity of Beowulf exists not in its having a single plot but rather in centering on a single character.
Fatalism: Many Anglo-Saxons believed that man's destiny is governed more by Wyrd, one of the three sisters who parallel the three Greek Fates, and less by his or her own actions. Thus, if a person's life were predetermined, s/he would be powerless to change what would happen from moment to moment.
Heathenism: The scop or narrative speaker of Beowulf has clearly been converted to some form of Christianity. Thus, the heathen gods worshiped by Hrothgar and his men—and undoubtedly the Geats as well—would involve the Norse gods (Odin, Thor, etc.) Hence Beowulf’s mentioning that his armor had been woven by Wayland—the Norse god of craftsmanship. The scop equates their naïve worship of these gods to an unknowing worship of demons.
Kenning: A commonly-used and often hyphenated two or three-part metaphorical word that replaces a more common one in the folk epic. Some examples are "whale-road" for sea and "word-hoard" for long speech. These add loftiness to the language of the epic. These commonly-used descriptive phrases are often used as a substitute for the original word to elevate and color the language of the poet and can refer to a person, place, or thing. More examples include "helmet of Scyldings" for Hrothgar, "gold hall of men" for Heorot, and "shepherd of evils" for Grendel.
Kinship: In the Anglo-Saxon world, it was difficult for one to be considered apart from his or her family ties. One's pride or dishonor was often the result of one's family history that one could do nothing to change. Grendel's curse provides one such example of this emphasis.
Litotes: A kind of understatement occasionally used in Beowulf that uses the word "not" or "no" to elevate the language of the epic and emphasize the severity of a situation by seeming to deemphasize elements of it. (Example: "No light thing that, the flight for safety"  emphasizes Grendel's difficulty in getting away from the grasp of Beowulf).
Ring-Giver: A king or lord would often have an armband on which many rings of gold would hang. For payment, he would often break off one of these rings and give them to the worthy thane. This does NOT suggest that he was a giver of finger rings.
Scop: The epic poet and/or singer who would often journey between kingdoms to give accounts of the brave ancestors of the chieftains in exchange for payment, food, and shelter.