So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
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The narrator opens the poem with a discussion of ShieldSheafson, a great king of the ancient Danes and the founder of theirroyal line. He began life as a foundling (an infant abandoned byhis parents) but quickly rose to be strong and powerful. All ofthe clans had to pay him tribute, and, when he died, he was honoredwith an elaborate funeral ceremony. His body was put into a boat,covered with treasures and armor, and cast off to sea. Shield Sheafson’slife ended as it began, with him cast adrift on the water.
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Sheafson’s son, the renowned Beow, inherited the kingdomafter his father’s death. In time, Beow too passed away and Halfdane,his son, became king. After Halfdane, Hrothgar stepped forward to rulethe Danes. Under Hrothgar, the kingdom prospered and enjoyed greatmilitary success, and Hrothgar decided to construct a monument tohis success—a mead-hall where he would distribute booty to his retainers.The hall was called Heorot, and there the men gathered with theirlord to drink mead, a beerlike beverage, and listen to the songsof the bards.
For a time, the kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity.But, one night, Grendel, a demon descended from Cain (who, accordingto the Bible, slew his brother Abel), emerged from the swampy lowlands,to listen to the nightly entertainment at Heorot. The bards’ songsabout God’s creation of the earth angered the monster. Beginners guide to sports betting. Once themen in the mead-hall fell asleep, Grendel lumbered inside and slaughteredthirty men. Hrothgar’s warriors were powerless against him.
The following night, Grendel struck again, and he hascontinued to wreak havoc on the Danes for twelve years. He has takenover Heorot, and Hrothgar and his men remain unable to challengehim. They make offerings at pagan shrines in hopes of harming Grendel, buttheir efforts are fruitless. The Danes endure constant terror, and theirsuffering is so extreme that the news of it travels far and wide.
At this time, Beowulf, nephew of the Geatish king Hygelac,is the greatest hero in the world. He lives in Geatland, a realmnot far from Denmark, in what is now southern Sweden. When Beowulfhears tales of the destruction wrought by Grendel, he decides totravel to the land of the Danes and help Hrothgar defeat the demon.He voyages across the sea with fourteen of his bravest warriorsuntil he reaches Hrothgar’s kingdom.
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Seeing that the newcomers are dressed in armor and carrying shieldsand other equipment for combat, the watchman who guards the Danishcoast stops Beowulf and his crew and demands to know their business.He admits that he has never seen outsiders come ashore so fearlesslyand guesses that Beowulf is a noble hero. Beowulf explains thathe is the son of Ecgtheow and owes his loyalty to Hygelac. He saysthat he has heard about the monster wreaking havoc on the Danesand has come to help Hrothgar. The watchman gives his consent andtells Beowulf that he believes his story. He tells the Geats tofollow him, mentioning that he will order one of the Danes to watchBeowulf’s ship for him.