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SUMMARIES AND NOTES OF THE POEM
The poem is written as a single, complete narrative, without any sub-divisions. The ones imposed below are given by the writer of the guide to help with the understanding of the whole of Beowulf.
INTRODUCTION: DANISH HISTORY
The poem begins with an explanation of the fame of Danish kings long gone and the daring feats of heroes past. Scyld Sceafing, found as an abandoned baby, grew up to be a great leader of men who terrified his foes. By the grace of heaven, he was victorious over all his enemies. Winning praise and honor from all the tribes, they appointed him their leader and agreed to obey him. Scyld had a son who was named Beow. Like his father he was liked and admired, soon becoming famous throughout Norse lands.
When Scyld died, his followers grieved and mourned for him. His close companions carried him down to the sea. According to Norse custom, he was put in a ship, along with lavish weapons and ornaments which would supposedly be useful for his journey into the unknown. After his father's death, Beow of Denmark became the king, ruling for many years. His fame spread far and wide. His son, Healfdene, came to the throne after Beow's death. Healfdene had four children; his sons were named Herogar, Hrothgar, and Halga. His daughter became the queen of Onela, the Swedish king.
The poet of Beowulf is obviously interested in history and has fitted his fairy tale figure of Beowulf into a precise historical context. The poem begins by identifying the actual lineage of the Danish royal house. The Danes, a Norse tribe, rescued a baby abandoned on a ship that was filled with immense treasure. He was named Scyld Sceafing and became an excellent and glorious king and the founder of the Danish royal house. In his old age, he finally had a son, whom he named Beow. Beow, in turn, had a son named Healfdene. He had a daughter and four sons, including Hrothgar. Although Hrothgar was not the eldest child of Healfdene, he became the King of the Danes due to his brave feats as a warrior. Hrothgar becomes one of the main characters of Beowulf.
In a like manner, Beowulf is supposedly descended from Geat royalty. His father, Ecgtheow, is married to King Hrethel's only daughter; therefore, Beowulf's mother is a royal Geat princess, and Beowulf is the King Hrethel's grandson. At the time of the poem, Hrethel's son, Hygelac, has ascended to the Geat throne; Beowulf is his nephew. Familiar to royal settings, Beowulf is perfectly at ease when he visits Hrothgar's court.
The poem begins in Geatland, Beowulf's home. It is a part of present-day Sweden and is located south of Lake Vattern. At the end of the poem, Beowulf will return to Geatland; but most of the action takes place in Denmark, on the principal island of Zealand where Hrothgar lives.