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SUMMARIES AND NOTES OF THE POEM
BEOWULF TO THE RESCUE
The terrible news of Grendel's cruel treatment of Hrothgar and the Danes reaches Geatland. Hygelac, the King of the Geats, tells his nephew, Beowulf, about Hrothgar's troubles. Beowulf, supposedly the strongest man alive, announces that he will go and help Hrothgar. After choosing fourteen brave thanes to accompany him on the journey, Beowulf sets sail. After many days, they successfully reach the land of the Danes and thank God for their safe passage.
From a cliff top, a Danish watchman spies the Geats as they arrive. When Beowulf and his men troop down the gangway, he sees that they are armed and grows frightened. Galloping on his horse and brandishing his sword, he challenges the Geats by asking, "Warriors, who are you? Why are you armed and why has your ship come here? I have been a coastguard for many years and . . . never have I seen warriors carrying their shields so openly. I have never set eyes on a more noble man than your leader. But before you set one foot further on Danish Land, I would like to know why you are here and who you are."
Beowulf tells the watchman, "We are Geats, companions of Hygelac. My father Ecgtheow was famed far and wide. We would like to meet your lord, Hrothgar, Healfdene's son, with most honorable intentions. We have come on an errand to him to end his ordeals by Grendel." The coastguard responds, "I can see your intentions are good. I will command my companions to guard your ship from foes and we will proceed".
Once the ship is securely anchored and closely guarded, the Thanes, led by Beowulf, proceed to the heavily adorned hall, known as Heorot. When they approach the hall, the coast guard takes his leave; he does not dare to enter the hall, but he wishes Beowulf good luck and asks the gods to guard him in his enterprise against Grendel. Beowulf's warriors, dressed in gleaming chain mail and corselets, proceed to the hall. Once inside, they turn their shield to the wall and sit on a bench.
Wufgar, a Danish warrior, asks the Geats of their ancestry. Beowulf introduces himself and explains that they come from Hygelac and wish to speak to Hrothgar. The wise Wufgar responds, "I will ask the lord of the Danes about your request and bring back an answer." Wufgar then departs to rush to Hrothgar with the news.
Hrothgar, now old and grizzled, is surrounded by Thanes. When Wufgar tells him about Beowulf, he begs his leader to see the Geats. Hrothgar explains that he has known Beowulf as a boy, as well as his illustrious father, Ecgtheow. He accepts the Geats as loyal friends. Hrothgar explains that he has heard that Beowulf is extremely strong, having the strength of thirty men in his grip. As a result, the Danish leader is hopeful that Beowulf will be able to overcome Grendel. Hrothgar promises to reward the Geat with great treasure if he succeeds. He ends by saying, "Tell them they are most welcome". Wufgar rushes back to the Geats. He tells Beowulf that Hrothgar welcomes them.
Beowulf, the nephew of King Hygelac of Geatland, takes on an almost superhuman hue from the moment of his introduction in the poem. When he hears about Hrothgar's troubles, he immediately responds by wanting to go to his aid. From this point forward, the poem will evolve around this noble hero.
Beowulf's reputation is already well established. He is believed to be the strongest man alive, having the strength of thirty men in his grip; in his battles, he seldom uses weapons, preferring to fight his enemies with his own strength. To satisfy a bet, Beowulf, with his companion Breca, swam for seven days on an open sea and used a sword to ward off whales and sharks. Such extraordinary feats, however, are backed by Beowulf's powerful sense of social responsibility and morality. He comes to the land of the Danes out of a sense of adventure; but he also wants to fight Grendel in order to avenge Hrothgar and save the Danes.
Beowulf, like Scyld Sceafing, has had a very uncertain beginning. When he was a boy, his father kills Heatholaf of the Wylfings, starting a great feud. Ecgtheow is forced into exile, leaving his son Beowulf behind. Ecgtheow flees to Hrothgar's court. The Danish King has mercy on him and grants Ecgtheow wergild, which is considered blood money paid to settle feuds. By the time his father returns, Beowulf has become his own person. That is why he can so quickly make up his mind to go to the land of the Danes and offer his assistance against Grendel.
Taking fourteen loyal Thanes with him, Beowulf sets sail. The journey takes many days. When they arrive, they arm themselves and depart the ship. An attentive watchmen spies them. Concerned about their armor and weapons, he stops them and questions them. Beowulf explains that they are Geats who have come to help the Danes fight Grendel. Trusting Beowulf's explanation, the coast guard leads the Geats towards Hrothgar. When they are close to Heorot, he points the way and departs.
At Heorot, the Geats are greeted by Wufgar, who takes Beowulf's request to Hrothgar. The King tells Wufgar that the Geats are welcome and should be brought into the great hall of Heorot. Hrothgar is now an old and grizzled man, who acknowledges that he needs help in overcoming Grendel. If Beowulf is successful, he will reward the Geat with treasure.