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The Literature Collection

Ringler, Dick / Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery (May 2005)

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LIST OF SECTIONS INTO WHICH THE TEXT IS DIVIDED, WITH CONTENT SUMMARIES AND ACCESS LINKS

Note: Clicking on any of the section numbers below will take you to the beginning of the section in question. From there you can access the relevant part of the sound file.

[Prologue] Scyld Scefing    The life, death and funeral of Scyld Scefing, founder of the Scylding dynasty of Danish kings.
I. Hrothgar and the Danes. Grendel    Scyld Scefing's descendants are named as far as his great-grandson Hrothgar, a famous war leader who expanded Danish power and prestige and built the great meadhall Heorot. In this hall he and his followers live joyously until attacked by Grendel, a giant man-eating demon descended from Cain.
II. Grendel's Persecution of the Danes    The monster's nightly raids go on for twelve years, bringing confusion and despair to Hrothgar and his people.
III. Beowulf Sails to Denmark    Beowulf, a youthful nephew and companion of Hygelac, king of the Geats (a people living north of the Danes in what is now southwestern Sweden), sets out with fourteen followers to aid Hrothgar. When the Geats arrive in Denmark, Hrothgar's coastguard challenges them and demands to know who they are.
IV. Beowulf and the Coastguard    After Beowulf explains why he has come, the coastguard lets him enter Denmark and points out the way to Heorot.
V. Beowulf and Hrothgar's Sentry    At the door of Heorot, Beowulf and his followers are challenged by a sentry and again asked to identify themselves. Beowulf reveals his name and the sentry obtains Hrothgar's permission for the visitors to enter the hall.
VI. Beowulf and Hrothgar    Beowulf greets Hrothgar and pleads to be allowed to defend the hall against Grendel.
VII. Beowulf and Hrothgar (continued)    Hrothgar reminds Beowulf that he once helped Beowulf's father Ecgtheow when the latter was in desperate trouble. He invites the newcomers to join the Danes' feast and seats Beowulf (we later discover) in a place of honor between his own two sons, Hrethric and Hrothmund.
VIII. Unferth's Version of Beowulf's Swimming Feat    Unferth the court spokesperson, motivated by personal envy (and perhaps embodying the Danes' resentment about their need to be rescued by a foreigner), makes a public attack on Beowulf, claiming that he has misrepresented his credentials. As Unferth tells it, Beowulf once lost a famous swimming race to a warrior named Breca. Beowulf replies that it was not a race at all but a joint heroic exploit—and even so he emerged from it with more glory than Breca did.
IX. Beowulf's Version of the Feat and Hrothgar's Reaction    After concluding his own account of the swim, during which he slew numerous sea monsters, Beowulf delivers a counterattack, charging Unferth with the murder of his own brothers and the Danes—as a people—with cowardice. Beowulf's boldness and resolve awaken hope in Hrothgar and his queen Wealhtheow, and Hrothgar puts Beowulf in charge of the meadhall for the coming night.
X. Beowulf and His Men Wait for Grendel in the Hall    The Geatish warriors get ready for bed as Grendel approaches the hall.
XI. Beowulf and Grendel Fight    Grendel seizes and eats one of the Geats, then attacks Beowulf. As soon as he is grabbed by Beowulf, the monster realizes he has met his match and tries to flee.
XII. Beowulf's Victory    Beowulf wrenches off Grendel's arm. The monster escapes, mortally wounded, to the fens, and Beowulf nails his arm to the gable of Heorot as a trophy.
XIII. The Danes Celebrate Grendel's Defeat    Next morning the Danes follow Grendel's bloody spoor to his lair. While they are riding back to Heorot, a poet composes a song in praise of Beowulf, first comparing him with the great hero Sigemund the dragon slayer, then contrasting Sigemund with the wicked Danish king Heremod, and finally contrasting Heremod (whom the Danes had good reason to hate) with Beowulf (whom they have good reason to love).
XIV. Hrothgar Thanks Beowulf    Hrothgar expresses his gratitude to Beowulf and adopts him as his son. Modestly, Beowulf apologizes for his failure to hold onto Grendel.
XV. Hrothgar Rewards Beowulf    Heorot is readied for a victory banquet, which is presided over by Hrothgar and his nephew Hrothulf (who sits next to Hrothgar as if he were co-ruler or heir-apparent). Hrothgar gives Beowulf a number of gifts, among them his own richly decorated war saddle.
XVI. Entertainment at the Banquet: The Tale of Finn and Hnæf (Beginning)    The court poet recounts the story of a tragic Danish triumph of the past: how king Hnæf, on a visit to his sister Hildeburh and her husband Finn, king of the Frisians, is treacherously attacked and slain by Finn. Hildeburh's and Finn's son is killed in the fighting and cremated alongside his uncle Hnæf.
XVII. The Tale of Finn and Hnæf (Conclusion)    The next spring, after a bitter winter which he is forced to spend at Finn's court, protected by a treaty, Hnæf's lieutenant Hengest avenges Hnæf's death and takes Hildeburh back to her people. When the poet concludes his tale of Hildeburh's sorrows, Hrothgar's queen Wealhtheow is shown to be worried about the future prospects of her own young sons in the light of Hrothulf's ominous preeminence at court and her husband's recent adoption of Beowulf.
XVIII. Wealhtheow's Gifts to Beowulf    Wealhtheow thanks Beowulf and gives him a robe and a marvelous neck-ring, then pleads with him to look after her sons and their interests. (We are told that Beowulf's king and uncle Hygelac subsequently lost possession of the neck-ring when he was slain during a reckless attack on the Frisians.) When darkness falls the Danes once again take possession of their meadhall.
XIX. The Attack by Grendel's Mother    Grendel's mother raids the hall, killing Æschere, Hrothgar's closest friend and confidant, and recovering her son's arm.
XX. Hrothgar's Despair    The stricken Hrothgar mourns the death of his old friend and describes the eerie and sinister place where the monsters have their home.
XXI. The Journey to the Monsters' Den    After rallying the demoralized king, Beowulf travels to the monsters' pool, where he dons his armor and prepares to swim down to their underwater hall, taking along a sword lent to him by Unferth.
XXII. Beowulf Fights Grendel's Mother    Beowulf says goodbye to Hrothgar and swims down to the monsters' den. Grendel's mother seizes him and carries him inside, where a battle ensues which Beowulf would have lost had he not been helped by God.
XXIII. The Return to Heorot    Beowulf kills Grendel's mother with a giant sword he finds in the underwater hall, then searches for Grendel's body and cuts off its head. Taking the head and the hilt of the sword with him, he swims up to rejoin his followers and they all return to Heorot.
XXIV. Hrothgar and Beowulf Talk    After studying the images and inscription on the hilt of the giant sword, Hrothgar praises Beowulf, pointing out that he is very unlike the miserly tyrant Heremod, an earlier king of the Danes (already mentioned in section XIII). Hrothgar cautions Beowulf against pride.
XXV. Hrothgar Counsels Beowulf    Pride, he says, along with greed for temporal riches, leads to disaster; and since death is the inevitable lot of all of us, we should pursue eternal values. He cites his own career and his long humiliation by Grendel as an example of the fate in store for pride. The next morning, their mission accomplished, Beowulf and his men are eager to go home.
XXVI. Beowulf and Hrothgar Part    Beowulf thanks Hrothgar for his hospitality, promising to return to Denmark if his help is ever needed again. Hrothgar prophesies that Beowulf will one day be an outstanding king and thanks him for establishing a relationhip of peace and friendship between Danes and Geats, who were once enemies.
XXVII. Beowulf Goes Home    Beowulf and his men return to the land of the Geats and set out immediately to report to their king Hygelac. (Hygelac's queen Hygd is compared favorably to Modthrytho, a princess who was infamous for wicked behavior until tamed by her husband Offa.)
XXVIII. Beowulf Reports to His King    Beowulf greets Hygelac and tells him what happened in Denmark, describing his reception by Hrothgar and Wealhtheow and outlining Hrothgar's plan to patch up relations with his enemies the Heathobards by marrying his daughter Freawaru to their king Ingeld.
[XXIX-XXX]. Beowulf's Report Concluded    Beowulf foresees the failure of Hrothgar's plan. He describes his fights with Grendel and Grendel's mother.
XXXI. Beowulf's Reward. The Coming of the Dragon    Beowulf is lavishly rewarded by Hygelac and confirmed in the possession of his ancestral estates. Much later, after Hygelac has died and his son Heardred has been killed by the Swedes, Beowulf succeeds to the throne of the Geats and rules prosperously for fifty years until a flying, fire-breathing dragon is roused to wrath by an intruder who sneaks into its burial mound and rifles its treasure.
XXXII. The Dragon's Revenge    After an account of the earlier history of the treasure, the poem describes how the angry dragon sets out to ravage the land of the Geats.
XXXIII. Beowulf Prepares to Fight the Dragon    When he learns of the dragon's attacks, Beowulf decides to fight it single-handed and has an iron shield made for himself. (Background information is provided about past hostilities between the Geats and their neighbors and traditional enemies the Swedes.)
XXXIV. Beowulf Arrives at the Dragon's Mound    The hero, accompanied by eleven picked companions, arrives at the dragon's mound. Uneasy about the coming encounter, he says goodbye to his followers and reviews his life, emphasizing his relations with the Geatish royal house.
XXXV. Beowulf Fights the Dragon    After reviewing the bitter history of warfare between Swedes and Geats, and also Hygelac's rash and fatal raid against the Franks and Frisians, Beowulf challenges the dragon and the two foes engage. During the dragon's first onslaught, Beowulf is deserted by all but one of his followers, his faithful young kinsman Wiglaf.
XXXVI. Beowulf is Mortally Wounded    Wiglaf reproaches Beowulf's cowardly companions and vows to stand by him. When the dragon attacks for the second time, Beowulf's sword Nægling fails him. In the third attack he receives a fatal wound.
XXXVII. Beowulf and Wiglaf Kill the Dragon    Between them, Wiglaf and the injured Beowulf kill the dragon. Beowulf, dying, says that he is convinced of the righteousness of his life and reign, but regrets that he has no son and heir. He sends Wiglaf into the mound to fetch a sample of the treasure so he can find consolation in the sight of it.
XXXVIII. Beowulf's Death    After beholding the treasure and expressing his gratitude to God, Beowulf designates Wiglaf his successor. (Earlier, in section XXXVI, attention had been called to the ominous fact that Wiglaf's father Weohstan once killed the brother of Eadgils, the present king of Sweden.) Beowulf asks to be buried in a mound near the sea. His soul departs from his body.
[XXXIX]. Wiglaf Rebukes Beowulf's Cowardly Retainers    Beowulf's ten cowardly companions, skulking back from the woods in shame, are rebuked by Wiglaf and threatened with disgrace and the loss of all their privileges.
XL. Prophecy of Future Warfare between the Geats and Their Enemies    A messenger, sent to tell the rest of Beowulf's army about his death, foresees assaults on the Geats from the Franks and the Frisians (who are still concerned to avenge Hygelac's raid on the Rhineland) and the Swedes.
XLI. The Background of Swedish Hostility    The Swedes want revenge for the death of their great king Ongentheow, slain by Hygelac's forces during an earlier clash between the two peoples.
XLII. The Dragon's Hoard is Plundered    (An account of the curse on the treasure.) Wiglaf and his followers plunder the treasure, then transport it, along with Beowulf's body, to Whale Headland.
XLIII. Beowulf's Funeral    Amid gloomy hints about a national disaster in store for the Geats, Beowulf's followers burn his body and inter its ashes, along with the treasure plundered from the dragon's hoard, in a great burial mound.

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