Chapter VI

HROTHGAR, THE CROWN of the Scyldings, spoke: “I knew him from his young days; his aged father was named Ecgtheow, to whom Hrethel the Geat gave his only daughter. It is surely their offspring that comes hither to visit a steadfast friend. And surely did the seamen say—those who carried my gifts thither to the Geatish court—that he has the strength of thirty men in his grip and is bold in battle. The blesséd God in His mercy has sent this man to the Western Danes as a hope against Grendel's terror. I must grant the brave youth treasures for his greatheartedness. Be quick, and bid the band of kinsmen come before me. Say to them that they are welcome guests of the Danish folk.”

Wulfgar declared the word at the hall's door: “To you has my lord, the king of the Eastern Danes, sent this message: He knows your noble kin, and he bids you welcome from over the ocean's waves! Now may you go in your warlike attire, with helm on head, to greet Hrothgar; let your war-shields abide here with the wooden spears until your parley is at its end.” Then the mighty one rose up with his men about him, a brave band of thanes; some remained there to guard the battle-gear, as their leader commanded. Then did that band go where the herald led them beneath Heorot's roof. Standing near the hearth, the hero spoke from beneath his helm—his coat of mail gleamed, a war-net woven by the smith's skill—“Hail, Hrothgar! My followers and I are Hygelac's kinsmen. I have gained much fame in my youth! These deeds of Grendel have been heralded clearly in my homeland. Seafaring men say that this hall, best among halls, lies empty of your thanes and useless when the evening sun is hidden away in heaven's harbor. So did the best of my people, sagacious among men, advise me to seek you here, noble Hrothgar, because they know full well the strength of my might. They themselves were witnesses when I came from battle, flecked with my foes' blood; there I bound five beasts and bested the brood of giants. I slew beasts by night on the waves, avenging at my own peril the Geats, whose woe they sought—I crushed these grim ones. Grendel, this cruel monster, will now be mine to best in single battle! And so I seek from you, sovereign of the glorious Danes, bulwark of the Scyldings, a boon—and, friend of the peoples, shield of the warriors, do not refuse it now that I've come from afar—that I alone, with my liegemen here, this stalwart band, may purge Heorot! I also hear that this fell beast in his swaggering despises weapons, and, therefore, I shall forgo the same—and in this as well, may Hygelac also be beneficent to me—and will bear neither sword nor buckler nor gold-colored shield, but with my hand's grip, I will face the fiend and fight for life, foe against foe. There shall the one taken by death resign himself to the Lord's doom.”

“I suppose that, if he wins the fight, he will in this golden hall fearlessly devour my Geatish band, as he often did before to those most noble thanes. Nor then will you need to shroud my head, as I will then be his, if death takes me, gory and bloody—he'll take my bloodstained body away as prey, and that lone vagrant will ruthlessly devour it while my life's blood reddens his lair in the fen; you'll have no need to care for my corpse! If battle takes me, send to Hygelac the peerless armor that protects my breast, most stalwart of vests, heirloom of Hrethel and work of Wéland. Destiny will go as she must.”

Footnotes

  1. Having declared his intentions, Beowulf concludes his speech by stating that whatever happens will proceed according to whatever fate or destiny has already been determined, reinforcing his stoic and brave image in the face of danger.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The fact that Beowulf has something made by Wéland, the legendary smith whose armor was highly valued for its protective abilities, increases his status in this warrior culture. The figure of Wéland in Anglo-Saxon mythology is analogous to the god Hephaestus (Vulcan) in Homeric literature, who makes armor for gods and selected demigods like Hercules and Achilles.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Beowulf concludes his list of accomplishments by declaring his intention to dispose of Grendel. However, in order for Beowulf to reap as much glory as possible from his encounter with Grendel, he also decides to face Grendel on equal terms without the use of a weapon. This intention is important considering what we learn about Grendel later in the story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This term typically has connotations of something as pleasant or advantageous. When Beowulf asks Hrothgar for a boon, he implies that his killing of Grendel will greatly benefit himself and Hrothgar, because Hrothgar's people will be saved and Beowulf's reputation as a fighter will be greatly enhanced.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Characteristic of the values at the time, Beowulf boasts about his earlier exploits when he introduces himself to Hrothgar. This is expected of him because he needs to declare his intentions and why he has taken it upon himself to aid Hrothgar against Grendel.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Despite the Geats appearing to be among friends, Wulfgar has them leave their shields and weapons behind. Likewise, Beowulf commands several Geats to stay behind with their gear just in case something goes wrong. Both of these actions represent an aspect of the warrior culture at the time; namely, that until loyalty is demonstrated and trust earned, both sides will keep their guards up around the other.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Hrothgar suggests that a young Beowulf visited his court. While possible that Ecgtheow brought a young Beowulf to visit, it is interesting to note that Beowulf himself never indicates that he has previously been to Hrothgar's Hall. However, it does indicate that Hrothgar is familiar with the hero and likely allows Beowulf and his group quicker access to the king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. This may be a subtle allusion to a still-controversial theory concerning the practices of a head-taking cult in Scandinavia that took warrior's heads as trophies, and it therefore became important to guard a fallen warrior's head to keep it from being taken and desecrated.  In this case, the word *shroud* should be read as *hide.*

    — Stephen Holliday