Beowulf is a heroic poem that marks the epitome of old English literature. It discusses events of early 6th century believed to have been written between 700 and 750 A.D. originally, the poem was unnamed but later named after a Scandinavian hero by the name Beowulf. This is because his character and exploits are closely connected to the theme.
This poem is considered the longest of old English epic poems containing approximately three thousand lines. Old English is quite different from modern English currently spoken. There are some words found both in old and modern English. However, there are significant differences in how these words are spoken and spelled. If you attempted to read Beowulf in the original old English, you would find it extremely difficult to understand.
Summary of Beowulf
The hero within this poem is a prince by the name Beowulf. He dwells in the Geats close to Denmark. For approximately 12 years, Grendel the evil monster has constantly been attacking people within Denmark and eating the King’s soldiers thus reducing their numbers.
Beowulf thereby makes a decision to travel to Denmark accompanied by a group of his soldiers. He makes a vow to assist in getting rid of Grendel. Once again, when Grendel returns to Denmark to wreak havoc on the people, Beowulf gallantly fights him off and ends up ripping off his arm. This act kills Grendel shortly after.
The people in Denmark immediately revel in excitement and jubilation. However, during the night as the soldiers are asleep, Grendel’s mother comes looking for retribution. The next day, Beowulf seeks out Grendel’s mother in her cave. A battle then ensues in which Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother too. The citizens of Denmark hail Beowulf and send him back to the Geats with numerous gifts.
Close to fifty years pass by while Beowulf is still the king of the Geats. He is now ailing. Suddenly, another fire-breathing dragon attacks Beowulf’s kingdom. The king goes into battle once again. This time, however, the battle is more vicious in comparison to the previous fights with Grendel and his mother. To make it worse, he is deserted by his retainers save for Wiglaf, his young kinsman. In the end, Beowulf manages to slay the dragon. However, he also gets a serious injury and succumbs to the same.
This poem culminates with Beowulf’s funeral. It also gives a detailed description of his heroic attributes.