Chapter XXIX-XXXI


“SO DID THIS king hold to the old customs such that I lacked nothing in the rewards I gained, those requitals for my achievement. Healfdene's heir gave me gifts to use as I thought suitable. Now to you, my king, I offer them all and gladly give them. I find favor in your grace alone. I have few good kinsmen besides you, Hygelac!”

Then he commanded them to carry in the standard with the boar's head, the high battle-helmet, the gray coat of mail, and the splendid sword. He then spoke in this way: “To me did the wise old king, Hrothgar, give this battle gear, and with these gifts he added that the story of them be promptly told to you. For a while, Heorogar the king held it; he was lord of the Scyldings' lands for a long time. Yet this sovereign did not leave it, this battle-jacket, to his son, the bold Heoroweard—dear as he was to him. Treasure it well!”

I also heard that close upon the footsteps of this treasure followed four steeds, each like the other; he presented the treasures and horses to the king. In this way should kinsmen act—not weaving a net of wiles for one another or secretly contriving treacherous death for one's neighbor and comrade. The nephew of Hygelac, bold in battle, was always true to him, and each kept watch over the other's welfare.

I heard as well that he presented to Hygd the necklace, the wonderfully wrought treasure given to him by Wealhtheow, the king's daughter, along with three elegant and saddled steeds. From then on the queen's breast was decorated with this bright treasure.

So did Ecgtheow's son gain renown in acts of valor and mighty deeds. He never killed comrades or kin at the ale-cup, and his mood was never cruel, although among the sons of earth his strength was greatest—a gift sent by God to that excellent leader, who used it in prudence. He was long spurned and thought worthless by the Geatish warriors, and at mead the clan's chieftain often failed to favor him at all. The strong men deemed him weak and an unpromising prince—but a reversal of all these insults came when the warrior was honored.

Then the bastion of the warriors, the king famed in battle, commanded Hrethel's gold-decorated heirloom to be brought within. No Geat ever knew a more noble prize in the shape of a sword. He laid this blade in Beowulf's lap, and assigned him seven thousand hides of land, with a large house and a seat of authority. They both held lands and a homestead there by right of their inheritance, but the kingship went to the one because he was the elder.

Now with the passage of years, it happened that Hygelac perished in dread raids; Heardred, despite a wall of shields, was also hewn by swords at the forefront of his fighting men when the Scylfings, stalwart heroes, sought him and overwhelmed Hereric's nephew with arms.

And so it was that the kingship of that broad land came into Beowulf's hands, and he ruled it well for fifty winters. He was a venerable old king who protected his land, until on dark nights, one dragon began to rage. It guarded a hoard high upon a hill in a steep barrow of stone. A straight path led beneath the hill; it was seldom traveled by men. One man, however, chanced upon that cave and saw the heathen's hoard. While the watcher slept, he took in his hand a golden goblet and did not give it back. The guardian's wrath would soon make the prince and people pay for those thievish wiles!


Footnotes

  1. The dragon's den is located within a barrow: a tomb or vault usually buried beneath a small hill or mound. The placement of the dragon suggests that these tombs contained riches, and perhaps the dragon serves as a warning to potential tomb-robbers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The poet frames Beowulf's life with the battles against Grendel and his mother at the beginning and with the dragon at the end. Note how the poet compresses fifty years between the fight with Grendel and the emergence of the dragon. By doing this, the poet implies that nothing of significance happened and that Beowulf's reign as king has been very successful.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Land in medieval England was measured in “hides.” One hide was the amount required to support a family, or approximately 60-120 acres, depending on the quality of the land. The ownership of land was considered necessary to advancement in this society--the greater the land, the greater authority for the owner.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This line implies that there is too much betrayal and treachery in this society. In addition to providing entertainment, the poet is also trying to instruct his listeners in proper behavior, one of the main goals of tales like *Beowulf*.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. As a scholar who did extensive work on this poem, J.R.R. Tolkein may have modeled the dragon Smaug in *The Hobbit* from this episode in *Beowulf.*

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. Hrethel is Beowulf's grandfather, and Hygelac is passing along an important family heirloom to Beowulf. This may be Hygelac's way of indicating the Beowulf is his second-in-command.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Beowulf did not kill friends or family while drunk. The poet continues his instruction for proper behavior with this comment because such things were common in this warrior society.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. Beowulf demonstrates his fealty and loyalty to Hygelac. In this feudal society, Beowulf is obligated to give to Hygelac, his king, the gifts he was given by Hrothgar. Then Hygelac, as a good king, will re-distribute the wealth to his retainers, giving the most precious gifts to Beowulf and retaining some for himself.

    — Stephen Holliday