Probably the singer was always himself an original poet; he might often be content to reproduce the songs that he had learned, but he was doubtless free to improve or expand them as he chose, provided that his inventions did not conflict with what was supposed to be historical truth. For all we know, the intercourse of the Angles with Scandinavia, which enabled their poets to obtain new knowledge of the legends of Danes, Gautar, and Swedes, may not have ceased until their conversion to Christianity in the 7th century.
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And even after this event, whatever may have been the attitude of churchmen towards the old heathen poetry, the kings and warriors would be slow to lose their interest in the heroic tales that had delighted their ancestors. It is probable that down to the end of the 7th century, if not still later, the court poets of Northumbria and Mercia continued to celebrate the deeds of Beowulf and of many another hero of ancient days.
This article is an excerpt of an entry in the edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which is out of copyright in the U. See the encyclopedia main page for disclaimer and copyright information.
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Share Flipboard Email. Melissa Snell is a historical researcher and freelance writer with over two decades of experience. Updated September 01, The following is a brief outline of the story, which naturally divides itself into five parts. Beowulf, with fourteen companions, sails to Denmark, to offer his help to Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose hall called " Heorot " has for twelve years been rendered uninhabitable by the ravages of a devouring monster apparently in gigantic human shape called Grendel, a dweller in the waste, who used nightly to force an entrance and slaughter some of the inmates.
Beowulf and his friends are feasted in the long-deserted Heorot. At night the Danes withdraw, leaving the strangers alone. When all but Beowulf are asleep, Grendel enters, the iron-barred doors having yielded in a moment to his hand.
One of Beowulf's friends is killed; but Beowulf, unarmed, wrestles with the monster, and tears his arm from the shoulder. Grendel, though mortally wounded, breaks from the conqueror's grasp, and escapes from the hall. On the morrow, his bloodstained track is followed until it ends in a distant mere. All fear being now removed, the Danish king and his followers pass the night in Heorot, Beowulf and his comrades being lodged elsewhere.
The hall is invaded by Grendel's mother, who kills and carries off one of the Danish nobles.
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Beowulf proceeds to the mere, and, armed with sword and corslet, plunges into the water. In a vaulted chamber under the waves, he fights with Grendel's mother and kills her. In the vault he finds the corpse of Grendel; he cuts off the head and brings it back in triumph. Richly rewarded by Hrothgar, Beowulf returns to his native land. He is welcomed by Hygelac, and relates to him the story of his adventures, with some details not contained in the former narrative.
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The king bestows on him lands and honors, and during the reigns of Hygelac and his son Heardred he is the greatest man in the kingdom. When Heardred is killed in battle with the Swedes, Beowulf becomes king in his stead. After Beowulf has reigned prosperously for fifty years, his country is ravaged by a fiery dragon, which inhabits an ancient burial-mound, full of costly treasure. The royal hall itself is burned to the ground. The aged king resolves to fight, unaided, with the dragon.
Accompanied by eleven chosen warriors, he journeys to the barrow. Bidding his companions retire to a distance, he takes up his position near the entrance to the mound - an arched opening whence issues a boiling stream. The dragon hears Beowulf's shout of defiance, and rushes forth, breathing flames.
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The fight begins; Beowulf is all but overpowered, and the sight is so terrible that his men, all but one, seek safety in flight. The young Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, though yet untried in battle, cannot, even in obedience to his lord's prohibition, refrain from going to his help. Provided by Harvard University. This document is subject to copyright.
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Beowulf (Old English version)
Forgot Password Registration. What do you think about this particular story? The Danish scholar Thorkelin had copies made of it in and published the whole of it for the first time in Originally untitled, it is named after its hero, Beowulf, and is divided into two parts: In the first part the young Beowulf battles the monster Gredel and Grendels vengeful mother; in the second, an aged Beowulf kills a fire-breathing dragon but is himself mortally wounded. No historic Beowulf is known to have existed, but some events described in the poem did take place in the sixth century.
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