A Simon & Schuster author.
include BEOWULF’S History and criticism. And John Lesslie Hall’s biography and
Hrothgar, king of
the Danes, or Scyldings, builds a great mead-hall, or palace, in which he hopes
to feast his liegemen and to give them presents. The joy of king and retainers
is, however, of short duration. Grendel, the monster, is seized with hateful
jealousy. He cannot brook the sounds of joyance that reach him down in his
fen-dwelling near the hall. Oft and anon he goes to the joyous building, bent
on direful mischief. Thane after thane is ruthlessly carried off and devoured,
while no one is found strong enough and bold enough to cope with the monster.
For twelve years he persecutes Hrothgar and his vassals.
Over sea, a day’s
voyage off, Beowulf, of the Geats, nephew of Higelac, king of the Geats, hears
of Grendel’s doings and of Hrothgar’s misery. He resolves to crush the fell
monster and relieve the aged king. With fourteen chosen companions, he sets
sail for Dane-land. Reaching that country, he soon persuades Hrothgar of his
ability to help him. The hours that elapse before night are spent in
beer-drinking and conversation. When Hrothgar’s bedtime comes he leaves the
hall in charge of Beowulf, telling him that never before has he given to
another the absolute wardship of his palace. All retire to rest, Beowulf, as it
were, sleeping upon his arms.
Grendel comes, the
great march-stepper, bearing God’s anger. He seizes and kills one of the
sleeping warriors. Then he advances towards Beowulf. A fierce and desperate
hand-to-hand struggle ensues. No arms are used, both combatants trusting to
strength and hand-grip. Beowulf tears Grendel’s shoulder from its socket, and
the monster retreats to his den, howling and yelling with agony and fury. The
wound is fatal.
The next morning,
at early dawn, warriors in numbers flock to the hall Heorot, to hear the news.
Joy is boundless. Glee runs high. Hrothgar and his retainers are lavish of
gratitude and of gifts.
however, comes the next night to avenge his death. She is furious and raging.
While Beowulf is sleeping in a room somewhat apart from the quarters of the
other warriors, she seizes one of Hrothgar’s favorite counsellors, and carries
him off and devours him. Beowulf is called. Determined to leave Heorot entirely
purified, he arms himself, and goes down to look for the female monster. After
traveling through the waters many hours, he meets her near the sea-bottom. She
drags him to her den. There he sees Grendel lying dead. After a desperate and
almost fatal struggle with the woman, he slays her, and swims upward in
triumph, taking with him Grendel’s head.
Joy is renewed at
Heorot. Congratulations crowd upon the victor. Hrothgar literally pours treasures
into the lap of Beowulf; and it is agreed among the vassals of the king that
Beowulf will be their next liegelord.
Dane-land. Hrothgar weeps and laments at his departure.
When the hero
arrives in his own land, Higelac treats him as a distinguished guest. He is the
hero of the hour.
subsequently becomes king of his own people, the Geats. After he has been
ruling for fifty years, his own neighborhood is wofully harried by a
fire-spewing dragon. Beowulf determines to kill him. In the ensuing struggle
both Beowulf and the dragon are slain. The grief of the Geats is inexpressible.
They determine, however, to leave nothing undone to honor the memory of their
lord. A great funeral-pyre is built, and his body is burnt. Then a memorial-barrow
is made, visible from a great distance, that sailors afar may be constantly
reminded of the prowess of the national hero of Geatland.
The poem closes
with a glowing tribute to his bravery, his gentleness, his goodness of heart,
and his generosity.