Beowulf is both the title and the main
character of an ancient heroic epic, the oldest known epic
story composed in the English language. Beowulf is a powerful
warrior who lived in the 700’s
AD and comes to the aid of King Hrothgar of Denmark
, whose hall (palace) is raided each night by the hideous man-eating
ogre Grendel. The epic is probably a mixture of ancient Scandinavian
(Viking) folk tales, put together by an unknown author sometime
around the 900’s AD.
A Brief Summary
Hrothgar, king of the Danes (from Denmark
), and his army are very powerful and successful in war. One
day Hrothgar builds a large mead-hall, or palace, named "Heorot" for
his army to stay in. Mead is a beer-like drink that he and his
army really enjoy drinking, and Hrothgar is very pleased to have
a place to party with his most loyal subjects. After they finish
it, the guys in the army party like crazy.
Meanwhile Grendel, a huge and hideous ogre
hears all these guys partying and becomes hatefully jealous.
So one night he goes to the Heorot Hall and kills 30 of Hrothgar’s
people. Then for the next 12 years, Hrothgar is scared of the
ogre Grendel. Hrothgar has no idea how to beat Grendel and no
one is able to party anymore in his Heorot mead-hall.
Then Beowulf, a powerful warrior from Geatland
(in what is now southern Sweden ), hears about the ogre. Long
ago, Hrothgar helped protect Beowulf’s father during a
deadly feud, so Beowulf hopes to return the favor to Hrothgar,
and perhaps build up his own reputation as well. Beowulf gets
14 of his buddies (from Geats in Sweden ) to come with him to
Beowulf goes to Hrothgar’s castle and is pretty arrogant
about how easily he can kill the big ogre. One of Hrothgar’s
men, a drunken soldier named Unferth, insults Beowulf by saying
that he isn’t the great fighter he thinks he is. Beowulf
gets mad and the two nearly start to rumble. To cool off the two
arguing soldiers, King Hrothgar tells Beowulf that he will give
him some money if he can kill Grendel. Beowulf, partly to repay
Hrothgar for helping his father and partly to earn some money,
accepts the job.
Beowulf and his men shack up for the night
in the Heorot mead-hall, knowing that Grendel will eventually
show up. He does, and kills one of Beowulf’s men. Beowulf,
with the strength of 30 men, starts fighting the ogre with his
the great room boomed. Clang and clatter shattered the night-silence
Beowulf and Grendel lurched to and fro in their deathly tug-of-war.
Tables and mead-benches were overturned, Grendel roared and
snarled, and in the outbuildings Danes woke and listened
in the darkness.
the Geats saw that Grendel could not escape Beowulf's grip,
they surrounded him and slashed at him with their swords.
flashed with battle-lights. Those warriors did not know that
no kind of weapon, not even the finest iron on earth, could
wound their enemy. His skin was like old rind, tough and
almost hard; he had woven a secret spell against every kind
Beowulf twisted Grendel's right arm behind his neck. He locked
it and turned it, slowly he turned it, putting terrible pressure
on Grendel's shoulder.
bellowed and dropped to one knee. He jerked and his whole body
shuddered and trembled. With superhuman strength he jerked
again he tried to escape Beowulf's grip, he jerked and all
at once, his right shoulder ripped. A ghastly tearing of muscle
and sinew and flesh; a spurting of hot blood: the monster's
arm came apart from his body. Grendel howled. He staggered
away from Beowulf, and reeled out of the hall.
The fatally wounded ogre, Grendel, rushes
to his mother’s
underwater cave in a swamp and eventually dies of his wounds. Everyone
in Hrothgar’s kingdom is happy and they hold a ceremony to
honor Beowulf. Grendel’s arm is hung like a trophy in Hrothgar’s
mead-hall. King Hrothgar thanks Beowulf and pays him for a job
well done. They get drunk, pass out, and enjoy what they think
will be the first peaceful night in 12 years.
Meanwhile Grendel’s mother is extremely irritated about
the death of her son and wants revenge. The disgruntled mother
goes to Hrothgar’s Heorot mead-hall one night, sees her son’s
arm mounted on the wall, gets crazily angry, and kidnaps one of
King Hrothgar’s men. Beowulf, now really, really angry, gathers
together his army buddies and goes with King Hrothgar to the swamp
where Grendel’s mother lives to rescue the king’s advisor
and kill the ogre. When Beowulf, Hrothgar, and the soldiers reach
the swamp, they see King Hrothgar’s advisor’s head
floating in the water.
Beowulf decides to dive into the swamp
to hunt down Grendel’s
mother. Before he does, however, Unferth, the drunken soldier that
nearly got into a fight with Beowulf earlier, gave Beowulf a magic
sword, named Hrunting. Beowulf dives into the swamp. Near the bottom,
Grendel’s mother grabs the warrior and hauls him down into
her underwater cave. Mighty though the magic sword Hrunting is,
it cannot pierce the ogre’s tough skin.
threw the monster to the ground. But then she tripped him,
held him in a fearsome clinch, and drew a dagger. Beowulf
could not throw her off. Then Grendel's mother stabbed at
Beowulf's heart. She stabbed again. But the cunning links
of chain-mail held firm and guarded Beowulf; his corslet
the Geat warrior sprang to his feet. He saw a sword, massive
and double-edged, made by giants, lying in one corner of
the chamber. It was so huge that only he of all men could
have handled it.
ran across the floor, gripped the ringed hilt, and swung
the ornamented sword -- he struck Grendel's mother as she
lumbered towards him. The blade slashed through her neck,
smashed the vertebrae. The monster moaned and fell dead at
A blessed light unexplainably illuminates
the cavern, showing Grendel’s dead body and a huge amount of treasure. Beowulf
cuts Grendel’s head off to take back to the Heorot mead-hall.
This causes the magic sword to melt to its hilt. Beowulf returns
to the surface of the swamp carrying Grendel’s head and the
hilt of the sword, but leaving the treasure behind.
Back at Hrothgar’s mead-hall, everyone
is happy and they have another feast. Beowulf boasts about his
successes, and Hrothgar warns him about becoming too cocky. Again,
for a job well done, King Hrothgar gives Beowulf some more reward
money. Then Beowulf goes home to Geats (in Sweden ) with his
buddies and says goodbye to all the people in Denmark . Back
at home Beowulf meets with his king, King Hygelac (King of Geats).
Beowulf tells the king about the ogres (Grendel and his mother).
… Many years later …
Beowulf becomes King of Geats and has now
ruled for 50 years. Then one night, some guy steals a chalice
(a decorated cup) from a fierce dragon. The dragon gets mad because
it had been guarding the treasure for over 300 years and goes
on a fire-breathing rampage, burning houses throughout the countryside.
One of the houses the angry dragon burns is King Beowulf’s castle! Beowulf grabs
Naegling, his favorite sword, and goes to the dragon’s cave
to get revenge and kill the dragon. However, remember Beowulf is
old and wrinkly now, so he is a weakling. The dragon bites Beowulf,
sending poison throughout his body. Then Wiglaf, Beowulf’s
protégé (student or assistant) , comes to the rescue
to try to save Beowulf.
dragon welcomed Wiglaf with a blast of flame that set fire
to his shield. The young warrior sweltered and crouched behind
Beowulf's huge iron shield.
the dragon wheeled, dragging its monstrous body, Beowulf
stood up and crashed Naegling against its head. The sword
point stuck in its skull! Then the serpent writhed and bucked
and Naegling was not strong enough; it bent and it snapped.
stared in dismay at his old grey-hued sword and at once the
dragon lunged forward. It gripped Beowulf's neck between
its sharp teeth. The old king was bathed in blood; it poured
out of his arteries and veins.
Wiglaf took three strides and sank his sword into the dragon's
belly. He buried it up to the hilt. The dragon gasped, and
let go of Beowulf's neck, and at once the flames began to
Beowulf fumbled for the deadly knife fastened to his corslet.
He closed his eyes and swayed, then he launched himself forward,
fell against the dragon, and slit its throat.
serpent gurgled on its own blood. It jerked and shuddered;
it lay still.
Beowulf is hurt badly from the poisonous
bite. On his deathbed, Beowulf gives his entire kingdom to Wiglaf
and asks Wiglaf to bring the dragon’s treasure to him. Then he asks Wiglaf to build
a huge tower in his honor, where Beowulf’s tomb will be.
Wiglaf yells at the army because they were
wimps and ran away when they saw the dragon. Wiglaf then tells
everyone that Beowulf is dead, and the people are scared that
they will get attacked now that the king can no longer protect
them. With Beowulf dead as a doorknob, Wiglaf builds the tower
Beowulf requested and buries Beowulf with the dragon’s