Sections 1-6 (lines 1-455) Notes from Beowulf

Gareth Hinds
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Beowulf Sections 1-6 (lines 1-455)

Beowulf begins with the poet recounting the ancient Danish lineage. Shild, who was an abandoned child, traveled to Denmark, and now reigns as a glorious Danish king and a great warrior. He has a son, Beo, who becomes prince of Denmark, through God's grace. Shild's warriors are bound and loyal to Beo, the new prince, through the generational passing of Shild's treasure and swords:

"His father's warrior were wound round his heart/ With golden rings, bound to their prince/ By his father's treasure. So young men build/ The future, wisely open-handed in peace,/ Protected in war; so warriors earn/ Their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword." pg. 24, lines 20-25

Topic Tracking: Treasure 1

Shild dies and is given a glorious burial, sent adrift onto the sea in a ring-prowed fighting ship heaped with gold. Beo is king of the Danes, who rules as long and honorably as his father. He begets a son, Healfdane, who in turn rules until the end of his life. Healfdane has three sons and princes, Hergar, Hrothgar, Halga the Good, and one daughter, Yrs, who marries Onela, king of the Swedes. Hrothgar takes the throne and rules as king, first building a great mead-hall, Herot, which reached high toward heaven.

Topic Tracking: Christian/Pagan 1

Herot is a famous hall, filled with song and treasure. The poet (or scop) sings of first creation:

"[R]ecalling/ The Almighty making of the earth, shaping/ These beautiful plains marked off by oceans,/ Then proudly setting the sun and moon/ To glow across the land and light it;/...made quick with life, with each/ Of the nations who now move on its face." pg. 26, lines 91-98

But an evil monster, Grendel, lives in the hellish darkness near Herot. Grendel is the descendant of Cain, murderous brother and killer of Abel, cursed to hell and from the light of God for all time. The evil that was spawned from Cain became spirits, monsters, fiends, goblins and giants, forging the blood feud between mankind and monster.

Topic Tracking: Men and Monsters 1

The first night after Grendel has been lurking near Herot, he makes his first raid, creeping luridly into the mead-hall, slaughtering thirty men, and carrying their bodies off to his lair. Hrothgar and the Danes mourn sorrowfully for the deaths of their kinsmen. The next night Grendel comes again, killing and eating all the Danes in Herot who do not flee from the hall. Herot is left empty for twelve years. King Hrothgar and his people are left to grieve over the triumph of evil:

"Twelve winters of grief for Hrothgar, king/ Of the Danes, sorrow heaped at his door/ By hell-forged hands, His misery leaped/ The seas, was told and sung in all/ Men's ears" pg. 28, lines 147-151

Topic Tracking: Good and Evil 1

Grendel does not dare to touch King Hrothgar's throne though; it is protected by God. The warriors among the Danes debate possible solutions, and make pagan vows, hoping for anything to help stop Grendel's massacres. The poet tells us that those cast into danger must have faith in God, without doubt, to receive peace.

The great Beowulf, nephew and feudal warrior to Higlac, King of the Geats, hears of Grendel's massacres. Beowulf, who is the strongest and most powerful of the Geats, prepares a boat to sail to Denmark with fourteen of his best warriors. He lands on the shores of Denmark, and is greeted by one of Hrothgar's lieutenants, to whom he expresses his desire to destroy Grendel, and to ask Hrothgar for his permission. Beowulf and his men travel to Herot, shining and glittering in their armor, gold helmets, and swords.

Topic Tracking: Treasure 2

Beowulf and his men enter Hrothgar's court and speak to Wulfgar, prince born to the Swedes, and follower of Hrothgar. Wulfgar informs Hrothgar of Beowulf, his name, people and history. King Hrothgar knows of Beowulf's origins and noble birth; Beowulf is strong, gold-laden and brave and Hrothgar welcomes him into the hall. Hrothgar is old and needs the strength of a hero (Beowulf) to end Grendel's bloody raids. Hrothgar offers Beowulf and his men much gold and sanctuary in Herot. Beowulf tells the Lord of his desire to kill Grendel, of his great strength, and his super-human power.

Topic Tracking: Men and Monsters 2
Topic Tracking: Good and Evil 2

Beowulf tells Hrothgar that he and Grendel have been called together to battle, because of their equal strength and thirst for vengeance. He says he will fight Grendel without a sword, just as Grendel's massacres in Herot involved no weapons.

Topic Tracking: Treasure 3

Beowulf says God must decide who lives and who dies, placing his faith in his actions with God. He refers both to Christian ideas and paganism in his final words to Hrothgar,

"'And if death does take me, send the hammered/ Mail of my armor to Higlac, return/ The inheritance I had from Hrethel, and he/ From Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!'" pg. 37, lines 452-455

Topic Tracking: Christian/Pagan 2

 

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