The beginning traces the background down to the time of the story, when Grendel attacks Hrothgar. Hrothgar was successful as a young king.  However, his success caused him to build a huge hall (Heorot) (largest ever seen) to symbolize his greatness.  It is a representation of his success and power (called Heorot).

Line 80 burned down in a raid; foreshadows what was to come of this hall, something always out there waiting to destroy it.

Theme - You can't place your value on human things.
Why? - something is out there waiting.

Line 85 Grendel's arrival; upsets him to hear men enjoying themselves, he attacks hall because he can't stand this joy any longer.

*Grendel descended from Cain ( 1st murderer)

Pagan Elements

Germanic context- These are monsters doing what monsters do.  The society has the values of a tribal, warlike culture.

Christian Elements

(Line 61- Hrothgar was given his success by God. Hrothgar is guilty of sin of pride. Grendel is sent by God to punish him for his sin).

Grendel= scourge to punish Hrothgar's pride)

Note: He doesn't attribute to God his success; he a attributes it to himself- this is the sin; misidentification of the source of good fortune.

Line 30 shows that the monster & hero are equal in strength .

Grendel kills 30 men; Beowulf has strength of 30 men; Beowulf's raid with his uncle is eventually unsuccessful but Beowulf kills 30 Franks.

Main Theme

-Belief in God or not; fate and faith determine who will be the best; the survivor even when the hero and villain are equal in strength and skill; favor of God wins fight.

Note: Beowulf always attributes his success to God.

-Beowulf is aware of where his success comes from unlike Hrothgar (God)

Characteristics of a hero

  1. Courage
  2. Wisdom
Beowulf's religious faith is also one of his characteristics
Beow Son of Scyld. Had 4 sons & daughters.
Beowulf Hygelac's thane. (A Geat or Weder). Son of Ecgtheow, great warrior whom Hrothgar knew.
Breca A young warrior friend of Beowulf. Competed with him in a swimming match.
Eschere Hrothgar's comrade, closest counsellor & friend. Murdered by Grendel's mother.
Freawaru Daughter of Hrothgar who was to marry the son of Froda to settle a feud.
Grendel Monster terrorizing the Danes.
Hrethric & Hrothmund  sons of Hrothgar & Wealhtheow.
Hrothgar Great warrior. King in story. Had a great mead-hall--Herot or the Hall of the Hart, where he feasted & rewarded his warriors.
Hygd Hygelac's young wife.
Hygelac Prince of the Geats to whom Beowulf declares allegiance. Son of Hrethel.
Scyld Dead king who led the Danes. Was found as a baby on a ship. Established dynasty.
Unferth Herald @ Hrothgar's court.  The "jeering Thersites" of Beowulf. He's envious, backbiting, cowardly. Eventually comes to respect & befriend Beowulf.
Wealhtheow Queen. Hrothgar's wife.
Wiglaf Helps old King Beowulf slay dragon. Wechstan's son, relation of Beowulf.


Main Theme in Poems

-Christian View

Faith determines who is the true hero; faith in God "Courage is a function of one's faith" states all the above in one line.

-The monsters in the story are metaphors for what we have to deal with in our life everyday. (all ties in)

Grendel. Envy and anger.
Grendel's Mother. Feuding.
The dragon. Greed and hoarding.


-At first, the warriors try to battle Grendel; this is unsuccessful

-Then, Hrothgar tries to buy Grendel off with gold, but Grendel has no use of gold.

*God doesn't permit Grendel to go certain places; that is why they are safe in certain places. So, warriors move to other places.

-Then, Beowulf finds out of this by a scop who is singing a poem about Hrothgar's misfortune.

-Beowulf is a Geat and lives in Southern Sweden.

-Beowulf goes to help Hrothgar because Hrothgar helped Beowulf's father when Beowulf was a baby.

-After Beowulf was born his father got into a war with another tribe's warrior. The other warrior was killed by Ecgtheow (Beowulf's father). The deceased family wanted revenge, so families were killing people; war results. Ecgtheow's own people declare him an outlaw to keep war from resulting; no one in tribe could give you food, shelter, or protection if you were an outlaw. They could confiscate your property, and you were not protected by law; a man could kill an outlaw and taken his money etc. legally.

Two types of people are outlawed in Germanic

  1. Cowards. They run away on battle field
  2. Overly aggressive people
*- Ecgtheow and his family were taken in by Hrothgar. They were protected and Ecgtheow became one of Hrothgar's best warriors. It was an act of kindness and hospitality to take him & his family in. The relationship of hospitality was sacred & between the host and the guest and extended even to their descendants.

-Ecgtheow is rewarded with a lot of gold after many years. He could return to his own tribe now and live there. He now can offer a huge amount of gold for a financial settlement to the family of the deceased warrior.

-Beowulf goes to Hrothgar's court to pay a debt to him for what Hrothgar did for them.

Line 360 Hrothgar reminds Beowulf of this.

 Unferth taunts Beowulf about a swimming competition he won but Unferth thought he lost. Beowulf corrects him and this whole passage is just a chance for Beowulf to give his credentials of a monster killer. What Unferth sees as foolhardy Beowulf (and we) see as heroic.

-Then Grendel attacks; Beowulf watches as a warrior is killed. Beowulf is then attacked. They fight and eventually at a crucial point Grendel's courage fails him (no faith in God comes in here). They continue to fight, and Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off. Grendel runs away, indicating that he isn't dead. A human would bleed to death almost immediately, but Grendel didn't. He did die though.

Beowulf's name: bee- wolf

Beowulf = bear

Viking term for Viking warrior

(bear shirt wearer) bear shirt-wearer/ ber/serker

Vikings didn't wear armor; just bear skin; they thought they would not feel away pain when they put the animal skin. They psychologically took their identity of the animal skin they were wearing.

-Beowulf is praised the next day; Grendel is dead and they believe that there troubles are over.

Line 886 - Beowulf is describing fight, * Attributes success to God

-Things became normal; Hrothgar's men sleep in the hall; Grendel's mom comes for revenge. Beowulf's best friend and closest advisor is killed.

-Beowulf volunteers to go and get her. Her lair is in an underwater cave.

-Beowulf puts on a coat of chain mail (attributes this idea to put it on to God).

(Chain mail protects you against a sword & dagger; you can swim in it).

Unferth tries to make amends and gives him a good sword which is eventually destroyed; Beowulf swims to her cave killing several monsters on the way, he fights the mother with all his might and begins to lose until he looks up and sees a sword on the wall. He grabs this & kills Grendel's mother. He sees Grendel stretched out. (He's still alive) Beowulf takes the sword and cuts Grendel's head off. (This keeps Grendel from coming back in spirit). Grendel is still alive and this is said by the sword melting in the blood.

Lines 1492-1495 These lines tell about the sword melting from Grendel's blood. His blood was hot. This is the author's way of telling us that Grendel was still alive, this blood was so hot with life that it melted one sword.


Hrothgar makes long speech as usual. Hrothgar sees that things came from God and sees if one here doesn't keep attributing his success to God.(Line 1610).

-Fighting for defense is okay, but initiating hostilities and out of your way to make trouble where it didn't exist is bad. Heroes fall into this trap. They do good things and then eventually pride ( line 28) takes over if they aren't careful.

Line 1649 - Grief after gladness

-Be a hero but recognize resource of your success and don't place too much stock on what you have achieved.

-Beowulf thanks him and leaves and arrives home in Geatland.

-Time passes

Beowulf didn't return and steal the throne or overpower the present king. He chooses not to steal the throne and could if he wanted to. He becomes a loyal supporter of Hygelac. Hygelac goes on a raiding expedition. The Franks counterattack and kill everyone but Beowulf. He kills 30 men of his own and swims up through the river back to his home.

The raid takes place

While Beowulf is alive the Geats are safe because of Beowulf's strength. When Beowulf dies the word will get to the Franks and the Geats are in by trouble. Hygelac died in the raid and really doomed the future of his people. (Hero- Hygelac was a good leader; gets bored- falls into the trap.)

Beowulf was offered the throne and turned it down. He wanted, Heardred , Hygelac's son to serve. Beowulf serves as a protector for he young boy and then Heardred had inherited his father's stupidity. He does a raid and gets killed. Beowulf makes what peace he can with the Sweden ( who Heardred attacked). So, his land (Beowulf's people and land) are doomed so far by 3 people. Hrothgar's country, the Swedes, and the Franks!!!

(This is the consequence of overly aggressive behavior).

The dragon fight someone kills a man and runs to escape the consequences then hides out in an underground chamber in a cave.

He sees a huge treasure and decided to take a piece of the treasure to pay the wergeld (financial payment to family of deceased to make peace). The dragon owns this treasure and discovers that his favorite cup as stolen. He smells the scent of a man and decides to attack the man in revenge. (Beowulf was in his 70'). Beowulf is still responsible for his people and has to deal with the dragon the arms himself with an iron shield ( very heavy, metal and this symbolizes his strength still). He wants an iron shield because of the dragon's fire breath. Notice that Beowulf first fought bare-handed, then with a coat of mail & 2 swords. Now he has a sword, a shield, and a helper. He is passionate and says ahead of time that he want fight it. He goes to fight the dragon for his people. He sets out with his retainers surrounding him. These men are standing behind him and wants to take on the dragon himself. The soldiers run away when the dragon appears! The dragon attacks Beowulf. Sword failed him after he hit the dragon. It then chews on his soldier. Wiglaf-only solider who didn't run away helps Beowulf. Wiglaf sticks dragon in the throat with sword, allowing Beowulf to be released. Beowulf takes the short sword and jabs the dragon in the stomach, killing him. Beowulf is dying and wants Wiglaf to bring treasure to him so he can see what he won for is people. He dies, messenger tells people that Beowulf is dying an is dead. He has a funeral and a singe sings aloud. What will happen to Beowulf's people?


                Structure of Beowulf again:

-Beowulf exists in only one manuscripts

-all Anglo-Saxon poetry comes from only 4 manuscripts (most was destroyed/lost.

-Why was Beowulf written down?

-Christian modification- writings was being brought about by the priests, the Christian leaders the only ones who could write.

*Parallels Christ's fights with the Devil.

-3 combats with the devil parallels the 3 combats Beowulf ) a Christian warrior to one0 had with three evil spirits (symbolize devil).

Devil appears as a dragon in the 3rd fight. Beowulf represents Christ while his opponents symbolize the devil. (Beowulf's 3rd fight was with a dragon as was Christ's 3rd fight).

St. Augustine- On Christian Doctrine (book used to teach future priest)

            Beowulf- main character, hero, attributed successes to God only; helps Hrothgar to repay debt (his kindness).

King Hrothgar- guilty of sin of pride; reminds Beowulf of what he did for Beowulf's father.

Ecgtheow- Beowulf's father, became outlawed by his people ( because of killing & war).

Unferth Dane- taunts Beowulf as competition gives Beowulf good sword before fight with Grendel's mom.

Eschere- Hrothgar's closest advisor and friend killed by Grendel's mother in her fight of revenge.

King Hygelac- (son of Hrethel) good king; but becomes offensive; he attacks Frisians and they counterattack kills all, but Beowulf. He kills 30 Franks and swims up Rhine river to home.

*killed in battle, guilty of sin of pride

King Heardred: son of Hygelac; falls into some trap as his father did; attacks Sweden but is killed during the raid.

Wiglaf: only soldier who stayed to help Beowulf slay the dragon.

              -Beowulf doesn't boast as before when he goes to confront the dragon. He's learned humility or else he realizes he can't live up to it.

-He faces the dragon alone. His thanes went to woods for safety.

-Line 2487, Wiglaf feels it's his duty to help the king.

-Not good ending. Swedes will"swarm" the land. Will be greedy like monsters. Beowulf isn't there to protect them.

-He's gentle- he pays respect others.