In Beowulf, what does Hrothgar do when Beowulf gives him the sword hilt?
In chapter twenty-four of Beowulf, the hero returns from his battle with Grendel's mother with the hilt of a giant's sword and Grendel's head. The text states that the hilt passed "into the possession of the Danish king after the devils' downfall." Hrothgar, upon receiving the hilt from Beowulf, began to scrutinize the etchings upon it.
On the hilt appeared images which depicted a great flood and the flood's destruction of a race of giants. The flood was the result of the giants' decision to exile themselves from their god. For Hrothgar, the hilt proved to be magnificent.
After examining the hilt, Hrothgar speaks directly to Beowulf. Hrothgar states that although Beowulf has proven himself great, he must be sure to live a modest life. Hrothgar then provides, as an example, the story of Heremod for Beowulf.
According to Hrothgar, Heremod was a successful leader. The more success he found, the more bloodthirsty he grew. In the end, Heremod's downfall was the result of his lack of virtues. As Beowulf offered Hrothgar the hilt as a gift of honor, Hrothgar offered the tale as a lesson in the importance of virtues to Beowulf.