07 July 2011

Hrothgar Tells of Grendel

Hrothgar relates how he had helped Beowulf's father, who had been exiled because he had killed a man and the ensuing feud was accounted a danger to the Geats. This story establishes the relationship between Hrothgar and Beowulf, which may be a reason for Beowulf's offer of help. Once this is over, the Geats and Danes settle in for an evening of drinking, entertainment, and conviviality.



Then Hrothgar spoke, the Helmet of Scyldings:
“To fight in defence, my friend Beowulf,
“and seek honour, you sought us here.
“A strike from your father once started a feud.
“He slew with his hand Heatholaf 460
“of the Wylfing folk. His Weder friends
“from fear of the feud forced him away,
“so he sought out the Southern Danes,
“the honourable Scyldings, over ocean waves.
“I had only begun to govern the Danes;
“while young I ruled this rich kingdom,
“a treasury of heroes. Heorogar was then dead,
“my elder brother, breathing no more,
“Healfdene’s first born, and better than I am.
“I settled the feud by sending fees 470
“across ridged water to the Wylfing realm,
“ancient treasures. I took oaths then.1
“I am sore at heart. It hurts to say
“to any man the dishonour caused
“by Grendel’s hatred in Heorot.
“In lightning moves my men-at-arms,
“my guard, is wasted. Wyrd swept them off
“with Grendel’s rage. God readily
“can end the reavings of the reckless thief.
“They boasted often, with beer inside them 480
“over frothing tankards, fully armed men,
“they would wait here in the wine-hall
“to give sharp greetings to Grendel’s onslaught.
“Then this mead-hall as morning came
“was dyed with gore. As the day brightened
“the sturdy bench-boards were blood-speckled,
“the palace, blood-painted, and I was poorer in friends;
“my dear comrades were claimed by death.
“Now sit to the banquet, unsealing thoughts
“of your hero’s deeds as your heart directs.” 490

The Geats were gathered together then.
In the beer-hall a bench was cleared.
There the strong-souled sat themselves down
proud in their strength. A servant did his part
who carried a cup carved and embossed
and poured shining mead. A poet, at times,
sang clearly in Heort. Heroes felt joy,
that not-little war-group of Weders and Danes.

1After settling the feud, Hrothgar took an oath of loyalty from Beowulf’s father. Hrothgar implies that Beowulf may be helping out of gratitude or family obligation.

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