Beowulf and Grendel, Part 2
Hrothgar, protector of the Scyldings* spoke: “You have come here to give us comfort, my friend Beowulf. I remember when your father sought our aid, after he sparked a feud by killing Heatholaf, a Wylfing*, when his own people, shying away from war, sent him away. I was young then, in my early years of rule, but I took him into my lands. That was after my brother Heorogar died, Healfdene’s other son―he was a better man than I. I paid your father’s wergild, his blood-price, settling the feud, sending treasures to the Wylfings. In return, your father swore to me a solemn oath of debt.
*Scyldings--the decendents of Scyld, an ancient Danish king.
*Wylfing--also Wulfing, A ruling clan of eastern Geatland.
“But I know not what hatred I have stirred in Grendel that he attacks me, undefended even by my own men here. Wyrd* has swept the best of them into Grendel’s grasp already. But God is able to end the deeds of this deadly foe. Many indeed have come here, drinking my beer, boasting that they would abide here in this hall, surviving Grendel’s onslaught, swords in hand. And every next morning, this mead-house was dyed with gore. When daylight broke, all the boards of the benches were besprinkled with their parts, lessening the numbers of heroes that were dear to me, taken by death. But you, Beowulf, feast! Unbind your words as your heart desires.”
The sturdy Geats were assigned places on the benches of the banquet-hall while a servant attended them with the honey-mead, poured from a hand-carved goblet. Minstrels sang, free of care, in Heorot. Heroes reveled that day, many of them, Weder* and Dane together.
*Weder--another name for a Geat
Then Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, spoke, seated at the feet of Hrothgar, unbinding his battle-words. He was sorely jealous of Beowulf’s deeds and resented his quest. He was ever offended that other men in all of middle-earth should achieve greater fame than himself. “Are you that Beowulf, Breca’s rival, who swam in the open sea, risking your lives in the deep waters over a matter of pride? I hear that no man could dissuade you from the contest, even though it was the dead of winter. Well, he was the better swimmer, was he not? Yes, he beat you. He made it to Reamas and then back home, to the land of Brondings*, where he ruled, and boasted of his triumph. So I expect a worse adventure for you here, though you have been brave in battles, if you dare to await Grendel through an entire night.”
*Brondings--the people of an island called Branno, just off the Geatish coast.
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: “You have said much in your drunkenness, my dear Unferth, of Breca and his triumph. I was indeed the greatest of swimmers and, as we were young, Breca and I boasted about who would win such a match, even if our lives were at stake. So we did it. We swam, holding our swords to guard us against the whales. I was much faster, but I would not abandon him. So together we swam for five days and nights in the coldest weather, until a storm and the dark night separated us. Then the wrath of the sea creatures came upon me. My gold armor protected me greatly from the grip of these monsters, but I was dragged to the bottom by one of them. Still, I was granted the strength to pierce it with my sword and finally killed it with my battle-blade.
“In fact, there were many monsters there to do me harm, but my sword served me well. They did not enjoy their victim that day. They did not have their feast on my flesh. And by the day's dawning, I had put them to sleep with my sword so that they could do no further harm to sailor-folk who travel that way. Well, light came from the east, God's bright beacon, and the sea had calmed down enough so that I could see the distant cliffs. Wyrd does often save an undoomed warrior if he be courageous and strong. Thus it happened. I killed nine of the nicors* with my blade and have not since heard of any battle that has been harder fought nor of a man more forlorn than I was that day. Yet I emerged unharmed from the hostile clutches of the sea beasts, though exhausted. The sea bore me to Finnish lands. Even Breca has never yet boasted of such a feat, but I don’t boast of it.
“However, you, Unferth, I hear tell, murdered your own brother, your closest kin, and for which the curse of hell awaits your soul, which is as much as you deserve. I say truthfully, son of Ecglaf, Grendel would have never reeked such havoc if your heart were as strong in battle as your boastful words are in volume! But Grendel kills Danes freely, favoring no one, mangling and feasting on their flesh, dreading no reprisals from the Spear-Danes. But I will meet him in battle and demonstrate to him the prowess and pride of Geats. Tomorrow morning, men will drink, free of care, in this hall, even as the light of dawn beams down from the south!”
The jewel-giver, war-brave, the Danish prince, was joyous at hearing the firm resolve of Beowulf’s words. There was indeed laughter again in that hall. Wealhtheow then came forth, queen of Hrothgar, courteous, bedecked with gold, greeting the guests in the hall. The high-born lady handed a drinking cup, brimming with mead, first to the East-Danes’ heir, bidding Hrothgar to carouse as their beloved king. He took the cup eagerly, that battle-famed protector, and then the queen brought the beaker through the hall, bidding all to drink, young and old, until she came to Beowulf. She greeted the Geats’ lord, thanking God with wise words, that her desires had been granted, that at last her hope may rest on a true hero, who could bring comfort to their terror-stricken souls.
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, took the cup from Wealhtheow’s hand and spoke: “When my thanes and I left for this place, my intention was and still is to do your bidding in killing this monster--or to fall in battle. I am firm in saying that either this brave deed shall be done or my life will be given up in this mead hall.” These words of boasting seemed well to the woman, bright with gold, who then sat beside her husband. Beowulf’s words were followed by others’ words of comfort during the warriors’ revel until at last Hrothgar, the son of Healfdene, sought rest for the night. He knew that Grendel would come to fight in that hall, once the sun went down and the dusk of night brought the shapes of shadows, dark under the heavens. The warriors rose as Hrothgar placed the wine hall in Beowulf’s worthy hands, adding, “Never have I trusted this noble Dane-Hall to any man since I was able to first wield a sword and shield. Protect this peerless house. Remember who you are and watch for the foe! Your desires of conquest will be granted if you take your life boldly into battle.”
Then Hrothgar and his retinue of warriors left the hall, and the kingly-protector sought the couch of his queen. God had set a guard against this Grendel, a hall-defender, loyal to the monarch, watchful for the monster. Truthfully, the Geats’ prince trusted his own strength and skill, all gifts of a merciful God!
Beowulf took off his upper armor and his helmet, giving these and his trusted sword to a loyal follower, bidding him guard his battle-gear. And before he sought rest, Beowulf spoke valiant and boastful words: “I am no weaker in a fight than Grendel deems himself, so I will not use a sword to take his life, although I could. He cannot defeat me, though he is indeed a bold warrior. If he comes choosing not to use weapons, then neither will I. Let God favor the side that he deems right.”
The chieftain then reclined to his pillow while all around him his men did the same in the hall-beds. None of them thought that they would survive the night, to return to the land they loved. They knew full well that death had already seized many warriors in that Danish banquet hall. But their master’s presence gave them comfort that, by the might of one, they may prevail--just as God alone, in his single might, wields power over all men. Warriors slept, whose job it was to guard the gabled hall―all except one. It was God’s will that the ghostly ravager could not hurl this warrior into the haunts of darkness. Wakeful, ready, with a warrior’s wrath, he boldly awaited the ensuing battle.
Then Grendel came, from the slime of the moors, by the misty crags, bearing God’s wrath. The monster was single-minded in his desire to kill men, randomly, in the stately house. Under the sky he walked, until he came to the wine-palace, the golden, fret-worked hall of men, which he gladly discerned. This was not the first time that he had sought the home of Hrothgar, but not until this day had he found such heroes, such hall-thanes as these. To the gabled house the warrior walked, damned by God. He struck with his fists, raging against the mouth of the house and forced his way through the bolted doors. Quickly, he strode across the paved floor, his eyes flashing with anger, like an open flame. He spied the hero band, the hardy liege men sleeping in the hall. Then he laughed in his heart, for the monster was bent upon severing the soul of each from a body that Grendel would quickly devour. But Fate forbade his seizing any more of men of earth after that evening.
Beowulf watched him eagerly, considering how he would do in battle against such an enemy, not that he had to watch for long. The monster quickly seized a sleeping warrior and tore him in two, bit into his frame, and drank his blood in streams, swallowing at once the lifeless corpse―even his hands and feet. He moved deeper into the hall, grasping the hand of Beowulf with fiendish claw, as the hero reclined in his bed. Clutching Grendel’s arm in return, the hero promptly answered the attack with such force that this shepherd-of-evil knew he had never met such strength in this world of men. Grendel’s soul was stricken with fear, and he sought to flee back to his den of devils, for he knew he could not now do what he had so often done in that hall.
Then Beowulf thought back to his boasts that evening and grasped his foe firmly, cracking his fingers. The fiend made off, but the earl closely followed. The monster meant to free himself of that hall, if he could, and fly away to his marshy swamp, for he knew that he had come to Heorot in error this night. Din filled the room and much of the Danes’ ale was spilled. Amazing it was that the iron-bound wine-hall withstood the struggle and did not fall, as the savage foes wrestled in angry combat, though many benches were destroyed in the fight. That house was built too well for anything, save fire, to destroy it. The din redoubled as Danes outside the hall heard the loud wailing of God’s foe sounding his grisly song of pain, like a captive of hell. That mightiest of men held him too closely to enable any escape.
In no way would the earls’ defender suffer that slaughtering outsider to live, his days and years being of no use to mankind. Many of Beowulf’s earls brandished their ancestral blades to shield the life of their praised prince, if it be in their power to do so. But they never knew, as these brave-hearted heroes neared the foe, that no blade, even the finest, could harm or hurt that hideous fiend! He was safe, by his spells, from sword of battle, from edge of iron. Yet he would meet his end this day and his wandering soul would fly far off to the fiends’ domain. Hated of God, he who in former days wrought such murder on many a man soon found that the frame of his body failed him now. The keen-souled kinsman of Hygelac held Grendel in hand, each hating the other. The outlaw took mortal hurt and a mighty wound showed on his shoulder. His sinews cracked and the bone-frame burst. To Beowulf now the glory was given, and Grendel from thence sought his dark moor, noisome abode, death-sick. He knew too well that near at hand was the last of his life, an end to his days on earth. The boon of peace had come from that bloody battle. The roving stranger had rescued Hrothgar’s hall from the ravage of Grendel; this hardy and wise warrior had purged it anew. The valiant Geat was pleased with his work and the honor of it, making good his boast to the Eastern Danes, assuaging all their sorrow, pain, and ills after they had borne them for so long. Proof of this came when Beowulf lay down the hand, arm, and shoulder of Grendel beneath that gabled roof.
I have been told that many warriors that morning gathered round the gift-hall, leaders of men from distant lands, to view the wonder, that arm left by the traitor. No man was troubled by the enemy’s end, none who saw the graceless foe, weary-hearted, conquered in battle, dragging himself with bloody steps to the devils’ mere. Grendel died, lonely and miserable, in a den near a moor where rolling waves boiled and seethed, dyed with the blood of the one who had been doomed, and hell received Grendel's heathen soul.
. . .
Directions: Read along with (or without) the audio and then answer the questions in the quiz. Feel free to use the FIND function (ctrl + f) in the browser to help you get to the answers faster. Enjoy!
Elements and Paradigms Found in the Anglo-Saxon Folk Epic
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.
Vivid Imagery: Descriptions are often gory, with sounds, sights and tactile images as a means of bringing the work to life in the minds of the listeners.