Lines 2,039–2,601 Summary

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Last Updated February 9, 2023.

Beowulf predicts that the marriage of Freawaru to Ingeld may stir up previous conflicts between the Danes and the Heathobards. At the feast, a Heathobard may be reminded of their defeat at the hands of the Danes. The hero imagines that the feud will be reignited first through verbal attacks and then through violence. He doesn’t believe that the Heathobards will forget the past and remain true to this new alliance with the Danes. Beowulf then returns to the story of his fight with Grendel. He recalls in detail the falling of night and the entrance of the monster into Heorot. Beowulf describes Grendel’s bloody teeth, which mark that he has already claimed his first victim of the night. The beast carried a dragon-skin bag in which to place bodies of those he killed to bring back to his lair. Even though Beowulf has done the east no wrong, he senses that Grendel wants to kill him and stuff him in the bag. He tells Hygelac that he struck a fatal blow, though the monster went back to his cave to die, and hung Grendel’s severed arm in the hall. Beowulf describes how handsomely he was rewarded by the Danes and details the elaborate feast that followed the victory. 

Although the Danes and Beowulf’s men had a day to celebrate, their feast was short lived because Grendel’s mother showed up the next night to avenge her son’s death. He relates how they went to find Aeschere’s corpse and the monster’s lake before Beowulf narrates his defeat of Grendel’s mother with the magical sword of giants. As a result, Beowulf was rewarded even more treasure, some of which he now passes on to Hygelac. Following Hrothgar’s orders, Beowulf tells his king that the armor and sword he is now presenting was once that of Hrothgar’s brother Heorogar. Hygelac is honored with gifts of horses and more treasure and appreciates his kinsman Beowulf’s and the Danish king’s generosity. The queen is even given a special necklace once worn by Hrothgar’s wife. The poet then praises Beowulf’s heroic qualities, such as his ethical battle practices, and asserts that despite some early doubts about the hero’s strength, he has now truly built his reputation and changed the minds of his critics. Hygelac gives Beowulf a sword and land, “a hall and a throne” to reward his latest achievements. 

Years later, Hygelac dies in battle, and Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and rules well for fifty years. 

His long and peaceful rule is interrupted when a dragon is awakened by a thief trying to steal its treasure. The dragon is enraged that the man was able to steal from his well-guarded trove and begins to wreak havoc on Geatland. The man was a desperate slave, looking for something of value he could trade with after escaping a cruel master. Little did the man know that the dragon’s hoard had been buried there by an ancient people who died out due to war, and had been guarded by the dragon ever since. The beast found the barrow where the treasure was hidden and settled there, striking dread in the people of surrounding communities.

The dragon awakens, full of rage to see that a human has been in his treasure trove and has taken something. The fearsome creature breathes fire as he attempts to hunt down the intruder in the barrow. He has to wait until nightfall to venture outside the cave, but once he does, he brings destruction to the people nearby, though not the thief just yet. The dragon proceeds to shoot fire at homes and indiscriminately ruin the lives and properties of the Geats. Eventually, Beowulf’s home is burnt down by the dragon, and the hero worries that he has offended God in some way. The king begins to plan his revenge on the beast, ordering a new iron shield, one that could withstand fire, be made in the smithy. However, the poet reveals that Beowulf is “destined” to die in his combat with the dragon and that the dragon will die, as well. 

Beowulf’s pride leads him to fight the dragon alone and not assemble a group of men to assist him. He has been through so many trials and battles that he is not afraid of the beast. The poet recalls a time when Beowulf fought in Friesland, in the conflict that killed Hygelac. Despite the difficulty of the war, Beowulf eliminated many opponents and was able to swim home to Geatlant. Queen Hygd welcomes him back and asks him to take the throne since the king has died in battle. Beowulf’s honor leads him to insist that the rightful heir, next in line for the throne, be crowned instead, though he does agree to support Heardred as his sovereign. It is not long before Heardred is killed in battle like his father, though, and Beowulf becomes king. Beowulf begins his reign by resolving feuds and goes on to have a successful tenure as leader of the Geats.

In the present of the poem, Beowulf and some of his men investigate the origin of the dragon’s rage and find the servant who awakened the beast’s anger. They force the servant to guide them to the dragon’s lair. Before entering the barrow, Beowulf says farewell to the Geats, “sensing his death.” He recalls his history: he was sent to King Hrethel by his own father to raise his status in the world and train to become a warrior. Beowulf tells of some of the conflicts and feuds he witnessed as he was growing up, including the loss of the king’s son Herebeald., and the wars between the Swedes and Geats. Once Hygelac gained power, he rewarded Beowulf handsomely for all of his battle efforts, giving him special swords and other treasures. Beowulf held up his end of the relationship by fighting at the vanguard of any conflict that faced the Geats. The hero king delivers his final “formal boast” by saying he risked his life many times as a young man and now will fight this dragon “for the glory of winning.” He wishes he did not need a weapon, like when he fought Grendel with his hands, but the threat of dragon fire means he must try to protect himself. Finally, Beowulf instructs his men to remain outside the barrow because the “fight is not yours,” and it is only for Beowulf to test his strength or else fall to the dragon.

Fully believing in himself and his power, Beowulf goes into the barrow and lets out a ferocious cry. The dragon hears him, and both parties know their battle is imminent and both are full of rage. Beowulf’s shield only saves him for a short time, so he strikes out at the beast with his sword. Unfortunately, the sword fails him in this fight, and he cannot hit the monster with a deadly blow before the dragon encircles him in flames. Beowulf’s men flee in fear; only one remains, inspired by bonds of “kinship” to his king.

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