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Beowulf for beginners
22.09.2011, 13:04

This story comes from an Anglo-Saxon poem, which was probably written sometime between the years 700 and 800 A.D. The Anglo-Saxon people began to settle in Britain around 450 A.D. They came from Europe, mainly from the countries we now call Germany and Denmark.Beowulf is written in an Anglo-Saxon Language (sometimes called Old English), but the the story does not take place in England at all. It is about some of the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons, tribes who lived in countries that are now called Denmark and Sweden.

Scyld Scefings Funeral


A tall ship stands in the harbour, a boat with a ringed neck, rocking on the icy waves, eager to sail. Along the shore people stand. They look at the ship with sad faces, their hearts heavy because of their King. His days are over. He must cross into the keeping of the Lord.

Many years ago he came to them, the Danish people. They found him on the beach in a boat no bigger than a shield, a child without clothing, surrounded by presents. No one knew who had sent him across the sea, but he lived and grew and gained respect until they made him their King, and all the tribes living nearby had to obey him. No enemy dared to attack , and he gave gifts gladly to his followers. His name was Scyld Scefing. He was a good King.

Now the hour has come. The men who have been his sword-companions carry him to the water's edge - as he told them to do while he could still speak. In the ship's middle, by the mast, they lay down their lord and master, and round him they make a mound of treasure, shining shields, weapons and warrior's armour.

The men leave the ship full of sorrow, leave the old king to his far journey. They let the seas take him as the ship sails. However wise they may be, no-one can say for sure who received that ship's load in the end.
Did you know that the Anglo-Saxons sometimes buried their dead in ships?

Hrothgar’s Hall

Scyld Scefing's sons and grandsons ruled after him, until Hrothgar, his grandson's child, grew to be a man and gained glory in battle. He became leader of the Danish people. Friends and family gathered around him and the band of his followers grew bigger than ever.

Then it came into his mind to build a great mead-hall, mightier than any ever heard of on earth. There he could share with his people, the young and the old, the gifts God had given him.

Craftsmen came from far and wide from many tribes to work on the hall, and before long it was finished. Hrothgar named the hall Heorot, and there, as he had promised, he held feasts for his people, gave out gold rings and other gifts. Poets sang to the sound of the harp. The hall-roof was high over the heads of the feasters. Heorot's pointed roof rose far into the sky.

Grendel’s attack.

So Hrothgar's people lived well, feasting and laughing in the warm firelight of the hall, never thinking of trouble. Each evening the sounds of their happy talk, the poet's singing and people's laughter floated out from the hall. But Someone heard those sounds, the monster Grendel deep down in his dark den out on the moors, and his heart was filled with wickedness and rage.

So when night came to Heorot, Grendel came also. The great shaggy beast burst into the hall and grabbed the warriors where they lay sleeping. Thirty men he clawed and killed, carried their bleeding bodies to his own dark home.

Night after night it was the same. No one was surprised when warriors wanted to sleep in the farthest buildings, but still they were not safe. Grendel's hatred did not grow less. He killed Hrothgar's people wherever he found them, and for twelve long years Heorot stood empty. The monster ruled there now. At night he camped among the broken tables and benches and slashed with his claws and howled his hatred of Hrothgar's people.

The Danes in Trouble

Grendel had begun his killing and he could not stop. The people were afraid, each one wanted to survive. Hrothgar's face was stiff with sorrow. He sat silent, missing his men. A council of the wisest among the Danes met every day to decide what to do.

Beowulf’s Journey

Far away among the tribe of the Geats, a good man heard of Hrothgar's trouble and Grendel's killings. That man was Beowulf, the strongest soldier in the world and nephew of Hygelac, lord of the Geats.

When Beowulf was a child, everyone thought he was lazy and good for nothing, but since he grew up he had done so many brave and daring deeds that no one talked like that anymore.

Beowulf took fourteen of the fiercest fighters he could find, and ordered a ship to ride the waves.

I will cross the Whale Road,' he said, 'to help lord Hrothgar who has the need of men.'

Away the ship went over the waves, cutting the seas as the wind pushed her forward. On the second day the soldiers saw the shining cliffs. The sea-journey was over.

The Watchman

The Geats thanked God that they had crossed the seas safely. Their battle-armour clanged as they marched onto the beach. The Watchman on the cliffs had seen the ship, and the men in war-dress with their polished shields. He went down and shouted to them:

'Strangers, you have steered your ship across the seas to our shore. Where are you from and why have you come here?'

Beowulf answered:

'We come from the land of the Geats. We are lord Hygelac's soldiers. I am Beowulf, son of Edgetheow, the famous fighter. We have heard that Heorot and Lord Hrothgar have an enemy, a beast who comes in darkness to kill and destroy. I will tell Lord Hrothgar a plan which will save him from his sadness and all the Danes from the misery of this monster.'

Marching to Heorot

‘A wise man should know when words are true', the Watchman said: 'I will show you the way, for I believe you are loyal to Lord Hrothgar. My men will guard your ship while you are gone'.

The Watchman rode his horse ahead of them away from the shore. Beowulf and his men marched behind. When they could all see the hall before them, the Watchman said

'Now I must go back to guarding the cliffs. May God give you good luck against Grendel'.

The road to Heorot was paved with stone and their stamping feet made it sing out as the men marched along. The linked rings of their mailcoats jingled and their shields and helmets shone as bright as Heorot's golden roof in the sun.

The Geats were glad when they got to the hall. They were tired after their sea-journey. They took off their heavy shields , which had been hardened by a rainstorm of spears in many battles before. They stacked up their grey spears made of ash-wood outside the hall, as a sign they did not mean to attack anyone there. 

Category: Literature | Added by: Ann
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