Chapter XXII

BEOWULF, SON OF Ecgtheow, spoke: “Keep in mind, honorable son of Healfdene, gold-friend to men, and wise sovereign, what you once said: that if I should lose my life for your cause, you would be loyal to me for the sake of my father, though I fall! Be then the guardian of my group of thanes, my warrior friends, if I am taken by War; beloved Hrothgar, send to Hygelac the gifts you have given me! So will Geatland's king understand, and Hrethel's son will see, when he gazes upon the treasure, that I had won a friend famed for generosity, and took joy while I could in my bestower of jewels. And allow Unferth, thane of far-flung fame, to wield the ancient heirloom, the wondrous hard-edged sword; with Hrunting I now seek glory for myself, or death shall take me.”

After these words, the lord of the Weder-Geats hastened off, not waiting for any answer. The eddying floods engulfed the hero. It took most of the day before he could reach the land at the bottom.

That grim and greedy goblin who had held the watery domain for a hundred winters soon found that one from among mankind had come from above and was exploring her realm of monsters. She reached out for him with grisly talons and seized the warrior, but she did not wound his healthy body—the breastplate prevented this, and she tried to shatter that war-cuirass of well-knit links with her loathsome fingers. Then this wolf of the waves, upon reaching the bottom, bore the ring-covered prince to her lair. Though his valor held, he struggled in vain to wield weapons against the terrifying monsters that set upon him while he swam. Many sea-beasts tried to tear his mail with fierce tusks when they swarmed upon this stranger.

He soon noticed that he was now in some strange cavern where no water could harm him and the fangs of the depths could never reach him through the roof. He saw firelight flung in beams from a bright blaze. The warrior saw that wolf of the deep, the monstrous lake-hag. He swung his blade with a mighty stroke, and did not hold back. Then the fair blade sang its wild warsong upon her head. But the warrior found that Hrunting would not bite and take life: its edge failed its noble master in time of need, even though it had known strife in many hands of old, had split helmets and war-gear of the doomed. This was the first time that the glory of the gleaming blade fell. Hygelac's kinsman stood firm and his courage did not quail, as he had exploits in mind. The wrathful warrior flung away that decorated, jewel-studded blade; steel-edged and stark, it lay upon the earth. He trusted in his strength and the grip of his mighty hand.

So should a man do whenever he thinks of earning lasting fame in battle—he will not fear for his life!

Then the lord of the war-like Geats who did not shrink from combat seized Grendel's mother by the shoulder; that fierce one filled with rage then flung his deadly foe, and she fell to the ground. She swiftly paid him back with her grisly grasp, and grappled with him. Spent with struggle, the warrior stumbled—that fiercest of fighters fell. She hurled herself on the hall's visitor, and drew her broad, brown-edged knife to avenge her only son. The braided mail about his breast prevented death, and barred point and blade from entering.

The life of the son of Ecgtheow, prince of the Geats, would have ended there underneath the wide earth if his armor of war, hard net of battle, had not aided him; and the Holy God, wisest Maker, wielded the victory. The heavenly Ruler championed his cause, and he soon stood on his feet again.

Footnotes

  1. In telling the story of Beowulf, the poet gives credit to God for Beowulf's ability to be honorable. Beowulf's honor becomes a combination of divine gifts and his will to act. He becomes an example of how all warriors should behave and underscores the importance of honor and grace within the poem and his society.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The cave in which Beowulf battles Grendel's mother is referred to as a "hall," implying that this underwater cave is meant to mirror Heorot in the world above. The contrasting yet similar features between these two places further shows how Grendel and his mother possess some human characteristics.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The poet makes a very important cultural statement to his audience: Brave deeds are more valuable and lasting than one's life. *Beowulf*, like many poems about life and its struggles, is meant both to entertain and to instruct.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This line demonstrates another good example of *alliteration*, an expected poetic technique in Old English poetry. Repeating the initial consonant sounds can help the audience to remember lines and important images, particularly if the story is shared out loud.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Prior to plunging into the lake, Beowulf declares that Unferth should be compensated should Beowulf perish and lose Hrunting by giving Unferth Beowulf's own sword. This act and Beowulf's willingness to fight with Hrunting show how Beowulf doesn't resent Unferth for his earlier insults.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Beowulf does two important things in this passage. First, he demonstrates proper respect and loyalty for his king, Hygelac, by ensuring that his gifts will be sent to the king should he fall. Second, even though he is stalwart and brave, Beowulf's indication that he might not survive the battle represents a very real human reaction to the extraordinary and supernatural situation before him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Beowulf further demonstrates his bravery and his qualities as an ideal leader. Facing death, he concerns himself with the well-being of his men and asks Hrothgar to be their guardian should he fall, thereby ensuring the safety of his men.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. This line indicates that despite Hrunting failing to damage Grendel's mother, Beowulf doesn't lose heart and fights back with his bare hands, keeping in mind his name and reputation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This has been a controversial line in the poem for decades of scholars because it states that Beowulf swam underwater for "most of the day."  Some *Beowulf* critics argue that the line should be translated to say that Beowulf dived into the mere in full daylight, not that he swam underwater for a full day.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. Beowulf's plate armor is covered by chain mail, a way of wearing armor that extended through the Middle Ages. The chain mail is supposed to catch the tips of arrows, swords, and spears before they can pierce the underlying armor. Chain mail had the advantage of being less expensive to produce than plate armor.

    — Stephen Holliday