Study Guide

Beowulf

by Anonymous, Unknown

Beowulf eText - Chapter I

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Chapter I

THEN THE TASK of keeping the strongholds fell to Beow, well-loved by the Scyldings. Long he ruled in fame after his father left the world, 'till in time an heir was born to him: the noble Healfdene, sage and warlike, who ruled the gracious Scyldings while he lived. Four children in succession awoke into the world from him, the chieftain of armies: Heorogar, Hrothgar, Halga the good, and Elan; I heard she was queen and dear helpmate of Ongentheow, the warlike Scylfing.

To Hrothgar was given the glories of war and such honor in combat that all his kin took him as leader, and his band of young comrades grew great. It came to his mind to order his men to build a hall, a master mead-house far mightier than any seen by the sons of earth, and therein would he bestow to young and old all that the Lord should give him, save people's land and the lives of men.

I heard that orders to craft the gathering place were widely sent to many tribes throughout the earth. His plan achieved with swiftness, that hall, the greatest of buildings, stood there ready. He, whose words held dominion in many lands, gave it the name Heorot. Nor did he go back on his promise, but distributed rings and treasure at the banquet. The hall towered high, with pinnacles spanning the sky, as it awaited the scathing blasts of deadly flame. The day had not yet come when father and son-inlaw stood by with blade-baring hatred, stirred by a blood feud.

Then an evil creature who dwelt in darkness, full of envy and anger, was tormented by the hall's jubilant revel day by day, as the harps resounded loud, and the song of the singer called out clearly. The singer sang with the knowledge of tales from man's primeval time: how the Almighty fashioned the earth—a radiant plain rimmed by water—and delighted in its splendor; how He set the sun and moon as lights for the inhabitants of the land, adorned the earth's expanses with tree limbs and leaves, and made the life of all mortal beings that breathe and move.

Thus the clan's life was one of good cheer and revel until that fiend of hell began to work evils. Grendel was this grim beast called, who haunted the moors and secluded fens; this accursed one had long dwelled with monsters since the Creator had decreed his exile. On the kin of Cain did the sovereign God avenge the slaughter of Abel; Cain gained nothing from this feud and was driven far from the sight of men for that slaughter. From him awoke all those dire breeds: ogres, elves, and phantoms that warred with God a lengthy while; He paid their wage to them!