Beowulf Summary

Once upon a time there was a king named Hrodgar from the Skilding dynasty who ruled over Denmark. He was undefeatable in wars with neighbors and also a wise and fortunate ruler who accumulated great wealth. One day Hrodgar decided to build a magnificent hall for him and his warriors to feast there. He ordered the most skillful builders to get the finest materials and start working and soon the hall was finished.

Hrodgar gathered his people and the great feast started. The warriors shouted and sang all night long, and the more mead they drank the louder they became. This noise woke up a horrible and huge beast named Grendel who dwelled in the den nearby. Grendel hated people in general, but those ones annoyed him too much. One night the monster crept silently into the hall of Hrodgar where, after another long feast, the warriors slept. Grendel grabbed thirty men at once and dragged them to his den.

In the morning Hrodgar’s people were frightened by their comrades’ disappearance. They tried to investigate what happened, argued and guessed, but in the end the carelessness and desire to enjoy more prevailed and the warriors set another feast. But Grendel appeared again and again carrying away a few people every night. Soon some of Hrodgar’s warriors deduced that it was Grendel who abducted sleeping men, but the monster was so strong and terrifying that no one dared to engage into combat with him.

Hrodgar prayed the gods to release him of that huge misfortune. There was no more feasts and no more joy. Despite all the efforts, Grendel continued to terrorize warriors and steal people from the hall.

The rumor about this terrible disaster reached the land of Gauts (in Southern Sweden), where the famous King Higelak ruled. The king’s most famous warrior, the hero Beowulf, declared to his master that he would help king Hrodgar and fight monstrous Grendel. Despite all attempts to discourage him from this suicide mission, Beowulf equipped the ship, chose fourteen of the bravest warriors from his people and sailed to the shores of Denmark. 

Encouraged by happy omens, Beowulf reached the land of Denmark. The watchman of Hrodgar approached him and his people immediately and asked them about the purpose of their arrival. Hearing the answer, he immediately rushed with a report to king Hrodgar. Beowulf and his people followed him.

Wulfgar, one of Hrodgar’s trusted men, met and welcomed them. Beowulf asked the king to grant him the permission to fight Grendel. Hrodgar was glad to grant that permission but his warriors were ashamed of a stranger who wanted to protect them as if they were unable to fight on their own. One of that warriors, Unfert, taunted Beowulf reminding him of the reckless competition Beowulf once have started and lost and said that Beowulf was unable to defeat Grendel. Beowulf wisely answered to the offend and offered Unfert to join his people and wait for Grendel together, but Unfert refused that offer in fear. Hrodgar told Beowulf that he would fulfill every wish of the hero if Grendel was defeated. But Beowulf asked only to send his armor back to his king if he died in the battle.

The feast held in honor of the newcomers finally ended and Hrodgar’s warriors said their farewell to them. When Hrodgar’s men left Beowulf and ordered to lock the doors and windows. Getting to sleep he took off all his armor knowing that it wouldn’t help against Grendel and it was sheer strength he had to rely on.

At midnight, Grendel appeared as before, instantly knocked out the door, grabbed one of the sleeping men and tore him apart. But after that Beowulf grabbed him by the paw, so strongly that Grendel’s bones crunched. In fear, Grendel tried to run, but Beowulf didn’t let him go, fighting the monster without releasing his paw. Everything in the hall was cracking and crumbled and even Beowulf’s warriors had to hide in horror. But finally Beowulf took the upper hand and torn the Grendel’s paw off. Howling from pain, the monster escaped the hall and ran back to his den where he bled to death.

When Hrodgar and his people came in the morning, ready to bury the remains of Beowulf, they saw him healthy and safe, all the hall turned upside down and the monstrous paw lying on the floor. Grateful, the king composed a song praising Beowulf, he and the queen presented him gold and horses and the celebration seemed to have no end. Finally, the tired warriors fell asleep in the hall, which was now safe.

But at the midnight someone crept to the hall again. The monstrous mother of Grendel came seeking vengeance for her son. She bursted into the hall but the men woke up swiftly. She was frightened by so many people and could only grab one warrior. While everyone woke up in the morning they understood that Hrodgar’s most trusted counsellor and friend, Esher, has vanished. Devastated with grief, the king promised to reward Beowulf even more generously if he traced the kidnapper in the swamps where no one had dared to go before. Beowulf agreed and the squad, leading by him and the king himself, went to the swamps.

Following the bloody trail they found the head of Esher. The water around it was full of monsters. Turning to Hrodgar, Beowulf asked, if destined to die, to send all the gifts to King Higelak. Beowulf stepped into the water and dove to the very bottom. The monsters tried to attack him but the armor of the warrior was too good for them to bite through. At last, Beowulf reached the bottom and Grendel’s mother attacked him. No one could defeat another because her scales were as hard as the warrior’s armor. Nevertheless, Beowulf had not only an ordinary sword, but also another sword, an ancient one made by giants. That weapon was able to penetrate Grendel’s mother’s scales and slit her throat.

Beowulf took her head as a trophy, but he couldn’t take anything else. The ancient sword melted to the hilt because of the monster’s poisonous blood and her treasures were too heavy to swim with them upwards.

When the rest of the warriors had already despaired of seeing him alive, Beowulf emerged from the bloody waves showing everyone the head of the monster. They returned to the hall and feasted all night again, without slightest fear this time. The next day the guests departed, gifted generously by the king. After Beowulf’s return, he was honored and respected even more, songs written in his name and lands and a castle given to him in a lifetime possession.

Many years have passed since that time. King Higelak and his son fell in battle and Beowulf had to become the king himself. He ruled his country wisely but soon he encountered a similar disaster he helped Hrodgar with. A winged serpent settled at the edge of his lands killing people and burning houses. The dragon found a cave with treasures and protected them for three hundred years. One day an unfortunate exile accidentally entered the cave, but from all the treasures he took only a small goblet to appease his lord. The snake noticed the loss, but did not find the kidnapper and began to take revenge on all people, devastating the possessions of Beowulf. At that time the heroic warrior was already aging and felt that his death was close, but nevertheless he went to defeat the dragon. Beowulf ordered to make a large shield for defense from the dragon flame.

Near the dragon’s lair Beowulf and his warriors saw a huge fire stream, which was impossible to cross. Then Beowulf started calling the dragon and teasing it, so that he got out. Hearing human voices, the dragon crawled out, spewing streams of terrible fire. The sight of him was so terrifying that the soldiers fled, leaving their lord to his fate, and only the faithful Wiglaf remained with the king. Wiglaf took his sword and joined the battle.

Beowulf broke his sword hitting the dragon, but while he tried to take a spare one, the dragon mortally wounded him. The kind gathered all his strength and will and rushed to the dragon again to strike him with the help of Wiglaf. When the dragon died, Beowulf leaned against the rock knowing that he was dying too. He asked Wiglaf to take out the treasures taken from the snake, so that he could admire them before death. When Wiglaf returned with the gold, Beowulf has already lost his consciousness. Barely opening his eyes, he looked at the treasure.

The last command of Beowulf was to bury him on the seashore and make a huge mound above his grave so that the sailors could see it. Beowulf gave his armor to Wiglaf and died. Wiglaf called the warriors who ran away and chastised them. They laid the body of Beowulf on a funerary fire, and then erected a great mound on the beach. And the sailors, from afar, directing their ships to this hill, said to each other: "High above the surf is the grave of Beowulf. Honor and glory to him! "