Lines 1–193

Summary

The poem’s narrator calls for the attention of his audience and introduces his topic with a brief genealogy of the Scyldings (Danes). The tribe has taken its name from Scyld Scefing, a mythological hero who, many years earlier, reached their shores as a castaway babe on a ship mysteriously laden with treasure. Through industry, courage, and character, Scyld Scefing became a great leader and honored king. His son, Beow (sometimes called Beowulf but not to be confused with the epic’s central hero), continued the successful reign after Scyld’s death and sea burial. Beow ruled long and well, “beloved by his people” (54). Beow’s son, Healfdene, sired four offspring, the most notable of whom is Hrothgar, king of the Scyldings as the story unfolds. Hrothgar has been a great king and won many victories for his people. As a symbol of his success, he has built a great mead-hall, called Heorot, the finest of its kind. In Heorot, Hrothgar’s men celebrate with joyful laughter and songs from the king’s bard. The Scyldings prosper.

An ogre named Grendel lives in the nearby moors and takes exception to his neighbors’ excessive happiness. A descendant of Cain, he envies and resents mankind. One night he attacks without warning and slaughters 30 of Hrothgar’s men. He returns the next night and soon drives the Scyldings from the great hall. His ruthless dominance lasts 12 years.


Commentary

It is often said that Beowuf begins and ends with a funeral, and that is very nearly the case. The narrator sets the heroic tone and introduces the setting through the founding character of Scyld Scefing; his most detailed early description is saved for Scyld’s parting after death. The king’s body is placed on a ship, surrounded by treasure and “war-dress” (39) to accompany him into the unknown. Gold, silver, jewels, and the finest swords and armor are placed aboard with the corpse and then set afloat in the sea. The idea is to honor the king but also to provide him with objects that might prove useful in the afterlife.

-18-

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CliffsNotes, Beowulf
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • How to Use This Book vi
  • Life and Background of the Poet 1
  • Introduction to Beowulf 5
  • Critical Commentaries 17
  • Lines 1 - 193 18
  • Lines 194 - 606 22
  • Lines 607 - 836 26
  • Lines 837 - 1062 30
  • Lines 1063 - 1250 33
  • Lines 1251 - 1491 36
  • Lines 1492 - 1650 39
  • Lines 1651 - 1887 42
  • Lines 1888 - 2199 45
  • Lines 2200 - 2400 49
  • Lines 2401 - 2630 53
  • Lines 2631 - 2820 56
  • Lines 2821 - 3182 59
  • Character Analyses 62
  • Critical Essays 71
  • CliffsNotes Review 79
  • CliffsNotes Resource Center 82
  • Index 86
  • Notes 90
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