VII

HROTHGAR AND BEOWULF

          Hrothgar answered, helm of the Scyldings:
          "I remember this man as the merest of striplings.
          His father long dead now was Ecgtheow titled,
          Him Hrethel the Geatman granted at home his
5       One only daughter; his battle-brave son
          Is come but now, sought a trustworthy friend.
          Seafaring sailors asserted it then,
          Who valuable gift-gems of the Geatmen carried
          As peace-offering thither, that he thirty men's grapple
10      Has in his hand, the hero-in-battle.
          The holy Creator usward sent him,
          To West-Dane warriors, I ween, for to render
          'Gainst Grendel's grimness gracious assistance:
          I shall give to the good one gift-gems for courage.
15      Hasten to bid them hither to speed them,
          To see assembled this circle of kinsmen;
          Tell them expressly they're welcome in sooth to
          The men of the Danes." To the door of the building
          Wulfgar went then, this word-message shouted:
20      "My victorious liegelord bade me to tell you,
          The East-Danes' atheling, that your origin knows he,
          And o'er wave-billows wafted ye welcome are hither,
          Valiant of spirit. Ye straightway may enter
          Clad in corslets, cased in your helmets,
25      To see King Hrothgar. Here let your battle-boards,
          Wood-spears and war-shafts, await your conferring."
          The mighty one rose then, with many a liegeman,
          An excellent thane-group; some there did await them,
          And as bid of the brave one the battle-gear guarded.
30      Together they hied them, while the hero did guide them,
          'Neath Heorot's roof; the high-minded went then
          Sturdy 'neath helmet till he stood in the building.
          Beowulf spake (his burnie did glisten,
          His armor seamed over by the art of the craftsman):
35      "Hail thou, Hrothgar! I am Higelac's kinsman
          And vassal forsooth; many a wonder
          I dared as a stripling. The doings of Grendel,
          In far-off fatherland I fully did know of:
          Sea-farers tell us, this hall-building standeth,
40      Excellent edifice, empty and useless
          To all the earlmen after evenlight's glimmer
          'Neath heaven's bright hues hath hidden its glory.
          This my earls then urged me, the most excellent of them,
          Carles very clever, to come and assist thee,
45      Folk-leader Hrothgar; fully they knew of
          The strength of my body. Themselves they beheld me
          When I came from the contest, when covered with gore
          Foes I escaped from, where five I had bound,
          The giant-race wasted, in the waters destroying
50      The nickers by night, bore numberless sorrows,
          The Weders avenged (woes had they suffered)
          Enemies ravaged; alone now with Grendel
          I shall manage the matter, with the monster of evil,
          The giant, decide it. Thee I would therefore
55      Beg of thy bounty, Bright-Danish chieftain,
          Lord of the Scyldings, this single petition:
          Not to refuse me, defender of warriors,
          Friend-lord of folks, so far have I sought thee,
          That I may unaided, my earlmen assisting me,
60      This brave-mooded war-band, purify Heorot.
          I have heard on inquiry, the horrible creature
          From veriest rashness recks not for weapons;
          I this do scorn then, so be Higelac gracious,
          My liegelord belovèd, lenient of spirit,
65      To bear a blade or a broad-fashioned target,
          A shield to the onset; only with hand-grip
          The foe I must grapple, fight for my life then,
          Foeman with foeman; he fain must rely on
          The doom of the Lord whom death layeth hold of.
70      I ween he will wish, if he win in the struggle,
          To eat in the war-hall earls of the Geat-folk,
          Boldly to swallow them, as of yore he did often
          The best of the Hrethmen! Thou needest not trouble
          A head-watch to give me; he will have me dripping
75      And dreary with gore, if death overtake me,
          Will bear me off bleeding, biting and mouthing me,
          The hermit will eat me, heedless of pity,
          Marking the moor-fens; no more wilt thou need then
          Find me my food. If I fall in the battle,
80      Send to Higelac the armor that serveth
          To shield my bosom, the best of equipments,
          Richest of ring-mails; 'tis the relic of Hrethla,
          The work of Wayland. Goes Weird as she must go!"

Footnotes

  1. The term “Weird,” often written as “Wyrd,” expresses the Norse conception of personal destiny. Having declared his intentions, Beowulf concludes his speech by stating that whatever happens will proceed according to his predetermined destiny, reinforcing his stoic and brave image in the face of danger.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The fact that Beowulf has a piece of chainmail armor made by Wayland, the legendary smith of Norse mythology whose armor was highly valued for its protective abilities, increases his status in this warrior culture. The figure of Wayland in Anglo-Saxon mythology is analogous to the Greek god Hephaestus (Vulcan, in the Roman) 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 becomes even more important, given what we learn about Grendel later in the story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The noun “petition” refers to an entreaty or formal request. So, when Beowulf asks Hrothgar for a petition, he is asking for permission to kill Grendel himself, an act which 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. Displaying the characteristic values of his time, Beowulf boasts about his youthful exploits when he introduces himself to Hrothgar. This is expected of him because he needs to declare his intentions and explain why he has taken it upon himself to aid Hrothgar against Grendel.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Despite the Geats’s 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Hrothgar suggests that a “stripling”—meaning youthful and, literally, slim—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. Nonetheless Hrothgar remembers the hero and thus more readily welcomes Beowulf and his fellow Geatmen.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Beowulf’s warning may allude to a still-controversial theory concerning the practices of a head-taking cult in Scandinavia that took warrior's heads as trophies. It was important to guard a fallen warrior's head to prevent it from being removed, stolen, and/or desecrated. In this case, the kenning head-watch can be read as helmet.

    — Owl Eyes Reader