The "Abridged" Version

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Historical Notes are at the bottom of the page.

"Danish heroes - aren't they cool?" One example being Shild - an orphan and mighty warrior who conquered a lot of places. When Shild died, they put him in a boat with a lot of his treasure and sent it out to sea.

Verse I
Shild's son, Beo, was a great king, too, and had this idea to build a gigantic mead hall. Then his son, Hrothgar, became king, and built the gigantic mead hall. He was so rich, it had a roof of gold! They called it Herot, and would party through the night. All this noise woke up Grendel.

Verse II
Grendel is a horrible, disgusting monster or demon. He's gross. He's slimy. He sneaks into Hall Herot when everyone's asleep and kills everyone on the main floor. When the survivors wake up, everything below is covered in blood. This keeps happening whenever they leave people in the Hall at night, so most people flee the area and the Hall is abandoned for 12 years. The story spreads.

Verse III
Our Hero, Beowulf the Dane, son of Edgetho, hears the story. His people have always been friendly with Hrothgar's crowd, so he gets 14 volunteers together (and some slaves, but they don't count) and sets sail for England. At the beach, a watchman shouts out: "You're a pretty tough-looking guy. Who are you?"

Verse IV
Beowulf explains: "We're Geats. I'm Beowulf, son of Edgetho; our king is Higlac. We're here to kill the monster."
"Okay." The watchman lets them pass.

Verse V
They go to the Hall. The guard stops them: "Who are you?"
Beowulf explains: "We're Geats. I'm Beowulf, son of Edgetho; our king is Higlac. We're here to kill the monster."
The guard goes inside and tells the king: "There's a bunch of Geats to see you, led by some guy Beowulf. You know him, sir?"
The king reminisces: "I knew him as a boy - his father is Edgetho! Send him in."
The guard goes back to Beowulf: "The King says you can go in."
They do so.

Verse VI
The king greets them: "Ah, Beowulf, I knew you as a boy. How's your father - Ed, isn't it? Glad you're here!"
Beowulf tells us about himself: "I've kicked ass in war, I've knocked out and captured five giants, and I've spent a night killing sea monsters. Now I'm here to kill Grendel...with my bare hands!"

Verse VII
The king explains that, because of the friendship between their two countries, Beowulf can stay. He wishes Beowulf well. Beowulf thanks him. Then they have a feast.

Verse VIII
During the party, Unferth, the Jerk, tries to pick a fight: "Beowulf...I've heard of you! You're the idiot who, when you had a swimming contest with your friend Brecca, lost the race to a whole week! Ha!"

Verse IX
Beowulf replies: "Yeah, that's true, Brecca and me were evenly matched. Only reason I lost is 'cause a sea monster grabbed me. I had to spend a week killing him and his friends - nine in all. Just making the ocean a better I'll do it here."
And there was much rejoicing.

Verse X
Bed time - but no one gets much sleep, because they're all scared (except for Beowulf, who's just excited.)

Verse XI
Grendel sneaks up to the door, knocks it in, and laughs evilly in anticipation of dinner. He rips one poor sod to bits, then grabs Beowulf. Beowulf grabs back. Scared stiff, Grendel tries to flee, but Beowulf hangs on. They tumble back and forth across the floor, knocking themselves against the walls. (The other warriors try to help, but Grendel is immune to their swords and spears.) Finally, Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off.

Verse XII
Grendel leaps through the roof and runs the hell away, bleeding copiously.

Verse XIII
People come from all over the land to see the truth. Beowulf shows off his trophy, the arm. Grendel's bloody trail is traced to a deep pool, so they figure that he must be dead. Beowulf is praised and gets treasure, stories are made about him, feasts, gifts, etc.
Story Time: Scops (Anglo-Saxon bards) tell a story about Siegmund, who killed a dragon, but let his pride and vanity destroy him.

Verse XIV
The King gives a speech: "Thanks, Beowulf, for killing Grendel. Take whatever you like."
Beowulf retells Verse XI, and Unferth shuts up.
And there was much rejoicing.

Verse XV
A great banquet is prepared. All the mess is cleaned up, except the hole in the roof. Lots of treasure is handed out: Beowulf gets a nifty helmet, a tough coat of mail, an ancient sword, and eight horses (with gear).

Verse XVI
Each of Beowulf's pals gets treasure.

Verse XVII
Story Time: Scops tell a story about the Finns, who had attacked and slaughtered the Hnafs, but after there were too few of either left to make a final peace, the Finns offered a deal: they each share the kingdom equally. The Hnaf agree, but are treacherous, and it all ends tragically.
King Hrothgar toasts Beowulf.

More treasure: The queen gives a spiffy necklace to Beowulf.
Everyone goes to bed. Fortunately for them, Anglo-Saxons and Danes sleep with their weapons ready.

Verse XIX
Grendel's Mom shows up for revenge. She rips apart an old friend of the king's, but the rest of the guys wake up and barely succeed in driving her away.

Verse XX
King Hrothgar: "Oh, woe. Oh, woe. Beowulf...HELP!"

Verse XXI
Beowulf: "No problem."
They all go to the pool where Grendel went - it is bloody, bubbling, and utterly disgusting, with strange creatures lurking within it. The head of the guy who got grabbed is hanging from a nearby tree. Beowulf wisely pulls on his new armor. Unferth, realizing what a jerk he's been, lends Beowulf his sword, Hrunting.

Verse XXII
Beowulf: "If I die, give all my stuff to King Higlac, huh? Oh, Unferth - thanks for the cool sword. I'll make a legend with it or die trying."
He dives in and sinks for hours. Near the bottom, Grendel's Mom grabs him - she's a nasty tentacular thing - and pulls him into a kind of underwater grotto. It turns out that she's immune to the sword, and she smashes Beowulf's nifty helmet in one blow - but the armor protects him. She tries to squish Beowulf.

Suddenly, Beowulf spots a great sword - obviously made by some ancient giant - hanging on the wall. He grabs it, swings it, and smashes Grendel's Mom with it. The blade starts to melt. He wanders around in the cave and finds Grendel's corpse, so he chops the head off as a souvenir.
Up top, everyone's worried, fearing Beowulf to be dead...when, suddenly, Grendel's head sticks up out of the water! Followed by Beowulf (who's covered in grime and grue). (Phew!)

Verse XXIV
They ride home. Beowulf retells Verses XXII and XXIII.

Verse XXV
Hrothgar makes another long speech, basically amounting to: "Beowulf is a good man - but don't give in to pride, son."
Beowulf: "Yes, sir. I'll try."
There's another feast, and afterwards Beowulf finally gets some sleep.
Later, Beowulf tells Unferth, "Oh, almost forgot, here's your sword back."
Unferth says, "Keep it! It's yours! No, really! I'm sorry I was such a jerk."

Verse XXVI
Beowulf: "Well-p, time to go, I guess."
King: "No better man could become king at your home," and gives him more treasure.

They all troop home, give gifts to all their friends, etc.
Story Time: Higlac was a great king, and Higd a great queen, not like Thrith, who was a bitch and "man-eater" until she settled down and got married.

Beowulf comes home, triumphant...and retells his story. But, it looks like he's only going to summarize the events in the king's court...

...not. He retells Verses I through XXVII. The whole thing. From the top.

Verse XXXI (the rest of it)
Beowulf eventually becomes king, and rules benevolently for fifty years...until it all falls apart.

An escaped slave tries to hide in a cave, and discovers that it's a dragon's lair! He swipes a cup and runs, hoping to sell the cup to buy his freedom. The dragon wakes up, notices the loss, and boy is he P.O.'d.

The dragon goes on a rampage, burning up the countryside. Beowulf goes out to kill it. He's not a dummy, though - he wears full armor and brings a custom-made metal shield (instead of a stock-issue wooden one) and a troop of soldiers.

The slave shows the war party where the lair is. During the trip, Beowulf gives a speech about what a great guy the old king was.

Verse XXXV
Beowulf's life flashes before his eyes. The dragon attacks, and all Beowulf's "friends" flee, save one. Beowulf's shield starts to slowly melt under the flames, and his sword splinters on the dragon's head, doing only minor damage.

Wiglaf, the idealistic youth, stands indecisive for a moment, then runs up to help Beowulf. His wooden shield incinerates just as he ducks behind the metal shield. Beowulf's sword shatters completely. (His bad luck with swords must be Fate.)

Wiglaf, instead of aiming for the dragon's armored head, dives under it to hit the belly. That hurts it, giving Beowulf time to draw his dagger and slice the beast in half. They've won - but Beowulf lies dying. He asks Wiglaf to show him some of the dragon's treasure, this last prize, before he dies.

Wiglaf does this. Beowulf's last request: "Since I have no children, I name you my heir - you be king - take the treasure and build me a tomb, a tower on the coast, looking out over the sea..."

The other soldiers wander back, and Wiglaf yells at them for running.

Verse XXXX
Wiglaf retells Verses XXXV to XXXVIII.

Wiglaf then says: "Damn, we're screwed. Now that Beowulf is dead, all our old enemes will remember their feuds and try to attack us to get the dragon's treasure. We'll be locked in war forever."

They return to the castle, where Wiglaf retells Verses XXXV to XXXXI.
He then gives new orders: they dump most of the treasure into the sea, and put the rest on a great funeral pyre for Beowulf and the dragon.

The fire takes the last traces of Beowulf, the dragon, and the treasure away, across the sea and to the heavens.


Historical Notes

This originally appeared as, I modestly admit, the highlight of a group oral report for my "Chronology of British Literature" class, during my senior year in high school. (This actually isn't my first desecration of the old tale - for a sixth-grade book report on a children's version of the tale I did a radio play.)

Nothing has been left out - this is the entire saga, paraphrased. I used Burton Raffel's translation of the story (copyright 1963, New American Library) for reference.

If you were reading the original, you would notice that it doesn't rhyme. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (the people who migrated to England after the Romans left) didn't believe in rhyming. They used alliteration instead. So, instead of...

Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul would say...

Old Cole was king,
He was merry and mirthful.

Also, everything important must be repeated three times: before it happens, while it happens, and after it happens. This is actually a reflection of how things worked in Anglo-Saxon times: story-telling was an integral part of the culture - especially during those long winter nights - and the professional story-teller, the scop (pronounced, "shope", to rhyme with "hope") was inviolate.

The written version of the tale isn't necessarily how it was performed, however. The scop had to keep his audience interested (it doesn't matter if you're inviolate, you don't want to make a bunch of drunken Viking-relatives angry!) and would alter the story on the fly, expanding upon a verse here, skipping a few there...

Beowulf was an ideal Anglo-Saxon king, actually: wise and strong in peace or in war, and generous. You demonstrated your wealth by giving it away in those days, passing the treasures on to others, who then promptly give them away to someone else. There was no stigma to receiving wealth, either; rewards were given to show thanks, so if you were getting treasure you deserved it!

The saga itself was probably written down by Christian monks, who fortunately did only minor rewriting to suit their own ideology, but the Anglo-Saxons who thought up the original were definitely not Christian. To them, the Wyrd (or Fate) was a generally harsh and unchangeable fact of the universe - you had to face your Wyrd bravely and take what came to you. You only had one shot at life - once you were dead, you were gone. This probably explains why Christianity caught on so well, with its offer of eternal salvation. Not that it changed much for their actual way of life, but it did make them more optimistic.

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