Chapter IX

“AND SO OFTEN as the throngs of evil beasts assailed me, I gave them their due recompense with sword thrusts! In no way could they revel in any slaughter, nor devour me as they sat and feasted at the bottom of the sea, but at daybreak, they lay beached at the ocean's edge, sorely wounded by my blade and put to sleep with my sword. And since then they have never molested seafarers on the fathomless sea-paths.

“Light, the bright beacon of God, came from the east. The waves grew calm, and I could see the high sea-cliffs, those windy walls. Destiny often rescues the warrior not doomed to die if he has courage! And so it was that I killed nine water-monsters with my sword. I never heard of a battle more hard-fought by night beneath heaven's roof, nor of a man more desolate while adrift in the deep! Yet I escaped unharmed from the clutches of my foes, although I was weary from swimming. The sea, that swirling flood, cast me up with billowing waters on Finnish lands. I never heard of you dealing in such deadly battles, such sword-clashes. Neither Breca nor you in your playing at war have achieved such valorous deeds with flashing swords—I don't boast of those—although you were the bane of your dear brother, your closest kin, for which the curse of hell awaits you, regardless of your cunning wit! For I say in truth, son of Ecglaf, that Grendel, the fell beast, would never have wrought these grim deeds on your dear lord; Heorot would not have such havoc if your battle were as bold as your boast is loud! But he has found that he need not fear reprisal in sword-clashes with your Danish clan, your people, the mighty Scyldings. He takes blackmail and respects no one from the Danish lands, but murders for sport, fighting and feasting with not a thought of conflict with the Spear-Danes. But now I shall quickly prove to him the prowess and pride of the Geats in the ways of battle. Thereafter, he that can go to the mead-hall will merrily do so when the light of another day dawns on men as the sun, robed in radiance, shines from the south!”

The jewel-giver was then joyous; white-haired and brave in war, he awaited the help of the prince of the glorious Danes. The shepherd of the people perceived a firm resolve in Beowulf. Then the laughter of liegemen resounded loud, and jovial words were spoken.

Wealhtheow, queen of Hrothgar, came forward; mindful of ceremonies, she greeted the hall's guests in her golden garb, and handed the cup first to the sovereign of the Eastern Danes, bidding him be blithe at the banquet, as he was dear to all in the land. He, that king famed in battle, heartily took to the banquet and the cup. The Helming princess then went through the hall, carrying the cup to young and old in every part, until the moment came when the ring-adorned queen with noble heart bore the mead-cup to Beowulf. She greeted the leader of the Geats, thanking God with wise words that her will was granted and that at long last her hope could rest upon a hero for comfort amid terrors. The mighty warrior took the cup from Wealhtheow's hand and spoke about his eagerness for combat. Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, said: “My intention upon coming on board our boat and taking to the ocean with my comrades was to fully accomplish the will of your people—or to fall in battle to my death in the grip of the fiend. I resolved to do heroic deeds or to end the days of my life right here in the mead-hall.” These words, Beowulf's battle-boast, pleased the woman. Bright with gold, the noble lady sat by her lord.

Then the hall held mighty words and the sounds of a throng as it had at first, and the proud band made merry until the son of Healfdene was of a mind to seek rest for the night. He knew that a fight with the fiend in that festal hall awaited the hour when the sun shone no more and the dark shroud of night came over all, when shadowy shapes stalk abroad, warring in obscurity. To a man, the warriors rose up; he spoke man-toman, did Hrothgar to Beowulf, and wished him luck while granting him command in the mead-hall, adding these words: “Since I could lift up hand and shield, I never before trusted the guardianship of this noble Dane-Hall to any man—except to you on this occasion. Have now and hold this peerless house; remember your fame and be valiant; keep watch for the foe! No desire of yours will be unfulfilled if you come through the battle boldly with your life.”

Footnotes

  1. Since Beowulf declared his intention to help and impressed the hall with his stories, he has earned the respect of the hall. Hrothgar's giving command of Heorot to Beowulf, a Geat, demonstrates the extraordinary amount of trust he has in Beowulf.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Jewel-giver is another kenning used for kings at the time, similar to ring-giver. The poet indicates that Hrothgar is pleased with Beowulf's resolve to help his people, and the atmosphere in the mead-hall turns festive.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Beowulf has dropped his respectful yet patronizing tone and accuses Unferth of killing his brother and of cowardice, one of the more serious insults in this society. Since Unferth doesn't immediately challenge Beowulf to a fight serves as proof for Beowulf's claims.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Despite the earlier reference to God by Beowulf (the poet), he now refers to Destiny, not God, as the power that determines the value of a warrior's life. In Beowulf's mind, the virtue of courage justifies redemption, not faith, another point in the poem in which Christianity and paganism clash.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The poet uses another Christian image in this section, which again highlights the distinction between Christianity and paganism. Since Beowulf would have not used such words, the poet is potentially finding ways of connecting the Christian present and the pagan past.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. In this culture, drinking and bonding went hand in hand, and one of Wealtheow's duties is to create a sense of unity between the Danes and Geats, which she does by making sure they all drink from the same drinking horn or bowl.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. In Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon societies, women were viewed as peace makers.  In fact, women were often called "peace-bringer," and the fact that Wealtheow immediately steps forward after an aggressive exchange of words between Beowulf and Unferth indicates that she may have wanted to defuse the situation.

    — Stephen Holliday