Origin: Beowulf is the oldest known piece of literature in English. The original work was written around the 8th century AC and describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. 

Etymology: It is a kenning for Bear, from the old Norse, Beo (of bees) , wulf (wolf); a wolf of the bees is a bear as bears eat honey which was produced by bees.

It is an epic, poem, meant to be spoken aloud. Beowulf exists in only one manuscript which survived both the wholesale destruction of religious artifacts during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and a disastrous fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton

The poem still bears the scars of the fire, visible at the upper left corner of the photograph. The Beowulf manuscript is now housed in the British Library, London.

Type : Firedrake

Mission: free his land from the dragon 

Myth: The epic poem is a story of heroes and monsters, good and evil. The poem tells about the accomplishments and deeds of a legendary Geatish hero who first rids the Danish kingdom of Hrothgar of two demonic monsters: Grendel whom he ripped an arm off during a struggle and Grendel’s mother a watertroll who lived beneath the waters of a lake. Later in the story, Beowulf meets a fire-dragon dragon, kills it with the help of Wiglaf, but dies of wounds  



Beowulf begins with a history of the great Danish King Scyld (whose funeral is described in the Prologue). King Hrothgar, Scyld’s great-grandson, is well loved by his people and successful in war. He builds a lavish hall, called Heorot, to house his vast army, and when the hall is finished, the Danish warriors gather under its roof to celebrate. 

Grendel, a monster who lives at the bottom of a nearby mere, is provoked by the singing and celebrating of Hrothgar’s followers. He appears at the hall late one night and kills thirty of the warriors in their sleep. For the next twelve years, the fear of Grendel’s fury casts a shadow over the lives of the Danes. Hrothgar and his advisors can think of nothing to calm the monster’s anger.
Beowulf, prince of the Geats, hears about Hrothgar’s troubles, gathers fourteen of the bravest Geat warriors, and sets sail from his home in southern Sweden. The Geats are greeted by the members of Hrothgar’s court, and Beowulf boasts to the king of his previous successes as a warrior, particularly his success in fighting sea monsters. Hrothgar welcomes the arrival of the Geats, hoping that Beowulf will live up to his reputation. During the banquet that follows Beowulf’s arrival, Unferth, a Danish thane, voices doubt about Beowulf’s past accomplishments, and Beowulf, in return, accuses Unferth of killing his brothers. Before the night ends, Hrothgar promises Beowulf great treasures if he meets with success against the monster.

Grendel appears on the night of the Geats’ arrival at Heorot. Beowulf, true to his word, wrestles the monster barehanded.Click here to see the fight! He tears off the monster’s arm at the shoulder, but Grendel escapes, only to die soon afterward at the bottom of his snake-infested mere. The Danish warriors, who have fled the hall in fear, return singing songs in praise of Beowulf’s triumph. Hrothgar rewards Beowulf with a great store of treasures. After another banquet, the warriors of both the Geats and the Danes retire for the night.

Unknown to the warriors, however, Grendel’s mother is plotting revenge (see "Grendel’s Mother’s Attack"). She arrives at the hall when all the warriors are sleeping and carries off Aeschere, Hrothgar’s chief advisor along with her son’s claw. (Click here to see the infamous claw!) Beowulf offers to dive to the bottom of the lake, find the monster and destroy her. He and his men follow the monster’s tracks to the cliff overlooking the lake where Grendel’s mother lives. They see Aeschere’s bloody head sitting on the cliff. While preparing for battle, Beowulf asks Hrothgar to protect his warriors, and to send his treasures to his uncle, King Hygelac, if he doesn’t return safely.
Before Beowulf goes into the sea, Unferth offers him his sword,  Hrunting. During the ensuing battle Grendel’s mother carries Beowulf to her underwater home. After a terrible fight, Beowulf kills the monster with a magical sword, probably put there by the Al-Weilder, that he finds on the wall of her home. He also finds Grendel’s dead body, cuts off the head, and returns to land, where the Geat and Danish warriors are waiting expectantly. Beowulf has now abolished the race of evil monsters.

The warriors return to Hrothgar’s court, where the Danes and Geats prepare a feast in celebration of the death of the monsters. Beowulf bids farewell to Hrothgar and tells the old king that if the Danes ever again need help he will gladly come to their assistance. Hrothgar presents Beowulf with more treasures, and they embrace, emotionally, like father and son.

The Geats sail home. After recounting the story of his battles with Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf tells King Hygelac about the feud between Denmark and their enemies, the Heatho-bards. He describes the proposed peace settlement, in which Hrothgar will give his daughter Freawaru to Ingeld, king of the Heatho-bards, but predicts that the peace will not last long. Hygelac rewards Beowulf for his bravery with land, swords, and houses.

The meeting between Hygelac and Beowulf marks the end of the first part of the poem. In the next part, Hygelac is dead, and Beowulf has been king of the Geats for fifty years. A thief steals a jeweled cup from a sleeping dragon who avenges his loss by flying through the night burning down houses, including Beowulf’s own hall and throne. Beowulf goes to the cave where the dragon  lives, vowing to destroy it single-handedly. He’s an old man now, and he is not as strong as he was when he fought Grendel. During the battle Beowulf breaks his sword against the dragon’s side; the dragon, enraged, engulfs Beowulf in flames and wounds him in the neck. All of Beowulf’s followers flee except Wiglaf, who rushes through the flames to assist the aging warrior. Wiglaf stabs the dragon with his sword, and Beowulf, in a final act of courage, cuts the dragon in half with his knife.

Yet the damage is done. Beowulf realizes that he’s dying, that he has fought his last battle. He asks Wiglaf to bring him the dragon’s storehouse of treasures; seeing the jewels and gold will make him feel that the effort has been worthwhile. He instructs Wiglaf to build a tomb to be known as "Beowulf’s tower" on the edge of the sea. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf admonishes the troops who deserted their leader when he was fighting against the dragon. He tells them that they have been untrue to the standards of bravery, courage, and loyalty that Beowulf has taught.

Wiglaf sends a messenger to a nearby camp of Geat soldiers with instructions to report the outcome of the battle. Wiglaf supervises the building of the funeral pyre. In keeping with Beowulf’s instructions, the dragon’s treasure is buried alongside Beowulf’s ashes in the tomb. The poem ends as it began — with the funeral of a great warrior.


Quote :

    • He saw by the cave,
      he who had many virtues,
      he who had survived many times
      the battle flashes
      when troops rush together,
      a stream running
      from the stone arch–
      a stream of fire.
    • He could not enter
      for the dragon’s flame.
      Beowulf was angry,
      the lord of the Geats,
      he who stormed in battle.
      He yelled into the cave.
    • The hoard-keeper perceived
      a man’s voice and
      didn’t plan to ask
      for friendship.
      Flames shot out
      from among the stones,
      hot battle-sweat.
      The ground dinned.
    • The hero raised his shield
      against the dreadful stranger.
      Then the coiled thing
      sought battle.
      The war king drew his sword,
      an ancient heirloom
      with edges unblunt.
      Each of them intended
      horror to the other.
    • Stouthearted stood that war-prince
      with his shield upraised,
      waited in his war-gear.
      The dragon coiled together,
      went forth burning,
      gliding toward his fate.
    • His shield protected
      life and body
      for a shorter time
      than the prince had hoped.
      That was the first day
      he was not granted
      glory in battle.
      The lord of the Geats
      raised his arm,
      struck the horrible thing
      with his ancestral sword,
      but the edge gave way:
      that bright sword
      bit less on the bone
      than the war-king needed.
    • After that stroke
      the cave-guardian
      was in a savage mood.
      He threw death-fire–
      widely sprayed
      battle flashes.
      The gold-friend of the Geats
      wasn’t boasting of victory.
      His war-sword had failed,
      not bitten home
      as it should have,
      that iron which had
      always been trustworthy.
      This wasn’t a pleasant trip:
      that famous king, Beowulf,
      would have to leave this earth,
      would have, against his will,
      to move elsewhere.
      (So must every man
      give up
      these transitory days.)
    • It wasn’t long before
      the terrible ones
      met again–
      The hoard-keeper took heart,
      heaved his fire anew.
      He who once ruled a nation
      was encircled by fire;
      no troop of friends,
      strong princes,
      stood around him:
      they ran to the woods
      to save their lives.
    • Yet in one of them
      welled a sorrowful heart.
      That true-minded one
      didn’t forget kinship.
      Wiglaf he was called,
      the son of Woehstan,
      a beloved shield-warrior,
      a lord of the Scylfings,
      a kinsman of Aelthere.
      He saw his lord
      suffering from heat
      under his helmet.
      He remembered the gifts,
      a rich home among
      the Waegmundings,
      the rich inheritance,
      that his father had had.
    • Wiglaf could not refrain,
      but grabbed his shield,
      drew his ancient sword
      that among men was known
      as the heirloom of Eanmund,
      the son of Othere.
      (Eanmund, after a quarrel,
      was killed by Weohstan
      with the sword’s edge.
      Weohstan became
      a friendless exile.
      To Eanmund’s own kinsmen
      he bore the burnished helmet,
      the ring-locked mail,
      the old sword made by giants.
      Onela had given Eanmund that,
      the war-equipment,
      and did not mention
      the feud, though his
      brother’s child was killed.
      Weohstan held the treasure
      many years,
      the sword and mail,
      until his son could
      do heroic deeds
      as his father had done.
      He gave the war-dress to Wiglaf
      and a great many treasures,
      then departed this earth
      old on his journey.
      But this was the first time
      the young champion
      had gone into the war-storm.)
    • His spirit did not fail,
      nor his heirloom: that
      the dragon discovered
      when they met in battle.
    • Wiglaf spoke words about duty,
      said in sorrow to his companions:
      "I remember the times
      we drank mead and how
      we promised our lord
      there in the beer-hall,
      he who gave us gifts,
      that we would repay
      all his largess,
      the helmets and hard swords,
      if the need
      should ever befall.
      He chose his best men
      for this expedition,
      gave us honor and
      these treasures because
      he considered us best
      among spear fighters,
      though he proposed to
      do the job alone because
      he had performed the most
      famous deeds among men.
      Now has the day come
      that our lord
      is in need of fighters,
      of good warriors.
      Let us go to him,
      help the war-chief
      in this fire-horror.
      God knows, to me,
      my lord means more
      than my skin.
      With him I will
      embrace the fire.
      It isn’t proper
      that we bare shields
      back to our homes
      before we can
      defend our lord
      and kill the enemy.
      He doesn’t deserve
      to suffer alone.
      We two shall share
      the sword and helmet,
      the mail and war-garment."
      Then Wiglaf advanced
      through the death-fumes,
      wore his helmet
      to help his lord.
      He spoke these words:
      "Dear Beowulf, may you
      accomplish all well,
      as you did in youth,
      as I have heard tell.
      Don’t surrender the glory
      of your life. Defend now,
      with all your strength,
      your brave deeds.
      I will help."
      After these words
      the dragon angrily came;
      the terrible spirit
      another time attacked
      with surging fire.
      Fire waves burned
      Wiglaf’s shield
      down to the handle,
      his mail could not
      protect the young
      He ducked behind
      his kinsman’s shield.
      Then the war-king
      remembered past deeds,
      struck mightily with his sword
      so that it stuck
      in the dragon’s head;
      Naegling, the great sword of Beowulf,
      ancient and shining,
      broke, failed in battle.
      Fate had not granted that
      the iron sword would help.

      Then the terrible dragon
      a third time rushed,
      hot and battle-grim.
      He bit Beowulf’s neck
      with sharp tusks–Beowulf
      was wet with life’s blood;
      blood gushed in waves.

    • Then, I’ve heard,
      Wiglaf showed courage,
      craft and bravery,
      as was his nature–he went
      not for the thought-seat,
      but struck a little lower,
      helped his kinsman
      though his hand was burned.
      The sword, shining
      and ornamented,
      drove in so that
      the fire abated.
    • Then the king controlled
      his senses, drew his
      battle knife, bitter
      and battle sharp, which
      he carried on his mail,
      and cut the dragon
      through the middle.
      The enemy fell–strength
      had driven out life;
      the two kinsmen, together,
      had cut down the enemy.
      So should a warrior do.
    • That was Beowulf’s last victory;
      his last work in this world.