XXI

HROTHGAR'S ACCOUNT OF THE MONSTERS

          Hrothgar rejoined, helm of the Scyldings:
          "Ask not of joyance! Grief is renewed to
          The folk of the Danemen. Dead is Æschere,
          Yrmenlaf's brother, older than he,
5       My true-hearted counsellor, trusty adviser,
          Shoulder-companion, when fighting in battle
          Our heads we protected, when troopers were clashing,
          And heroes were dashing; such an earl should be ever,
          An erst-worthy atheling, as Æschere proved him.
10      The flickering death-spirit became in Heorot
          His hand-to-hand murderer; I can not tell whither
          The cruel one turned in the carcass exulting,
          By cramming discovered. The quarrel she wreaked then,
          That last night igone Grendel thou killedst
15      In grewsomest manner, with grim-holding clutches,
          Since too long he had lessened my liege-troop and wasted
          My folk-men so foully. He fell in the battle
          With forfeit of life, and another has followed,
          A mighty crime-worker, her kinsman avenging,
20      And henceforth hath 'stablished her hatred unyielding,
          As it well may appear to many a liegeman,
          Who mourneth in spirit the treasure-bestower,
          Her heavy heart-sorrow; the hand is now lifeless
          Which availed you in every wish that you cherished.
25      Land-people heard I, liegemen, this saying,
          Dwellers in halls, they had seen very often
          A pair of such mighty march-striding creatures,
          Far-dwelling spirits, holding the moorlands:
          One of them wore, as well they might notice,
30      The image of woman, the other one wretched
          In guise of a man wandered in exile,
          Except he was huger than any of earthmen;
          Earth-dwelling people entitled him Grendel
          In days of yore: they know not their father,
35      Whe'r ill-going spirits any were borne him
          Ever before. They guard the wolf-coverts,
          Lands inaccessible, wind-beaten nesses,
          Fearfullest fen-deeps, where a flood from the mountains
          'Neath mists of the nesses netherward rattles,
40      The stream under earth: not far is it henceward
          Measured by mile-lengths that the mere-water standeth,
          Which forests hang over, with frost-whiting covered,
          A firm-rooted forest, the floods overshadow.
          There ever at night one an ill-meaning portent
45      A fire-flood may see; 'mong children of men
          None liveth so wise that wot of the bottom;
          Though harassed by hounds the heath-stepper seek for,
          Fly to the forest, firm-antlered he-deer,
          Spurred from afar, his spirit he yieldeth,
50      His life on the shore, ere in he will venture
          To cover his head. Uncanny the place is:
          Thence upward ascendeth the surging of waters,
          Wan to the welkin, when the wind is stirring
          The weathers unpleasing, till the air groweth gloomy,
55      And the heavens lower. Now is help to be gotten
          From thee and thee only! The abode thou know'st not,
          The dangerous place where thou'rt able to meet with
          The sin-laden hero: seek if thou darest!
          For the feud I will fully fee thee with money,
60      With old-time treasure, as erstwhile I did thee,
          With well-twisted jewels, if away thou shalt get thee."

Footnotes

  1. Even though Hrothgar doesn't directly command Beowulf to find and destroy Grendel's mother, his challenge is impossible for Beowulf to ignore. Beowulf's honor and reputation are at stake. Since he has inadvertently started this blood-feud, he must resolve it, and the only resolution is either the death of Beowulf or that of Grendel's mother.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The description of the moor, or bog, details the surroundings as exactly the opposite of the homes of humans—cold, dark, and mysterious. The lake in particular adds to this unknown and treacherous environment, particularly its indiscernible depth of the lake and that a strong deer would rather be killed than enter the mere. The poet's description sets the mood for Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's mother by establishing that he will have to enter her realm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This statement represents an example of the literary device understatement (or litotes). The place Hrothgar has described is clearly one of the worst places imaginable, yet the phrasing used does not say this outright.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Hrothgar's speech illustrates two fundamental issues that result from the killing of Aeschere. First, because of Beowulf’s killing Grendel, a blood-feud now exists between Hrothgar's people and Grendel's mother, and the only appropriate end for this blood-feud is her death. Second, even though Aeschere's men genuinely lament their leader's death, they have also lost a principal source of their wealth with the death of their “treasure-bestower.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. In the Old English version, Aeschere is described by Hrothgar as min run-wita, which means "my rune-reader." This implies that Aeschere is not just Hrothgar's counselor but also his spiritual advisor who uses runes—a pagan technique—to determine which actions Hrothgar should take.

    — Owl Eyes Reader