Beowulf is the epic story of a young hero who battles the monster Grendel and
his mother. Beowulf, a prince of the Geats,
the son of Ecgtheow who voyages to Heorot,
the hall of Hrothgar, king of the Danes
and the great grandson of the hero Scyld Scefing. There at
Heorot, Beowulf destroys the monster Grendel, who for twelve
years has haunted the hall by night and slain all he found therein. When Grendel's mother, in revenge, makes an attack on the hall,
Beowulf seeks her out and kills her in her home beneath the waters.
There are many different events in this story. First, there is the pagan warrior
system. In this system, the relationship between the lord and his men, known as the thanes, is very important. It is the responsibility of the thanes
to defend their king and their lands and also to fight his wars whenever possible.
The relationship between the lord and the thanes is one of mutual trust and respect.
The warrior vows his loyalty to his lord and eventually becomes his companion. In return,
the king/lord is responsible for repaying these men for their favors and eventually
provide for their households. He offers them shelter, helmets, gold rings, bracelets,
swords, beer, mead, and a home. (Norton, 23.)
In the warrior society, there are two forms of retribution, quiet vengeance and the wergild or the "man price" (Norton, 23.). A killer is
responsible for paying for the death of a warrior, by paying a member of his family:
"Each rank of society is evaluated at a definite price, which has to be paid to the
dead man's kinsmen by the killer who wishes to avoid their vengeance - even if the killing
has been accidental." (Norton, 23.)
There are also the ideas of fate and courage portrayed throughout the story of
Beowulf. The warriors believe that fate controls their lives and their beings. Beowulf,
the ultimate hero, shows this trait throughout Grendel's attack and also in his battle
with Grendel's mother after her vengeful attack on the hall of Heorot. He even tells Unferth, the boastful warrior, of his fate before defeating
Grendel, when Beowulf says, "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is
good." (Norton, 34.)
After, Beowulf's successful victory over Grendel, the warriors enjoy their feast and
then settle down for their night's rest in the great hall Heorot. They do not know that
Grendel has a kin who will come that night to avenge his death. Grendel's mother then
arrives and snatches the first person she sees and hurries back to the mere. When it is
discovered that the man, who happens to be Hrothgar's dearest advisor, Aeschere is dead, everyone is sorrowful.
Once again, all of Danes are now in sorrow for the death of Aeschere. Hrothgar mourns
his friend's death, but Beowulf encourages him when he says to Hrothgar, "Sorrow not,
wise warrior. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn." (Norton,
45.) Beowulf now attacks Grendel's mother and gives victory and freedom to the Danes over
the monsters that have been plaguing them for over twelve years. Hrothgar is described as
a "hoary warrior". (Norton, 45.) He is old, tired and cannot control his
kingdom. His thanes can boast, but cannot face the monsters that try to overthrow his
Not only does Beowulf shows his courage and his fighting ability as a young warrior,
but in the end of the poem, at an old age, he again shows his courage by attacking the
dragon who eventually takes his life. At the time he is about to attack the dragon,
Beowulf says, "In my youth I engaged in many wars. Old guardian of the people, I
shall still seek battle, perform a deed of fame, if the evil-doer will come to me out of
the earth-hall." (Norton, 59.)
Beowulf's successor is Wiglaf. Wiglaf is the young warrior
who sticks by Beowulf's side while he fights with the dragon. Wiglaf is very similar to
Beowulf in that he is also courageous and is humble. He is very courageous and shows his
courage when he tries to help Beowulf attack the dragon.
Similarities between Grendel and Cain.
The Christian and Pagan Similarities in Beowulf.
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