The Adventures of Beowulf
an Adaptation from the Old English
by Dr. David Breeden
Illustrated by Randy Grochoske
Like us on Facebook

Young Beowulf

Beowulf Comes to Herot

The paved road guided the men.
Their war-coats shone,
the hard locks ringing
as they came toward the hall.
The sea-weary ones set
their broad, strong shields
against the building's wall,
then sat down on benches,
their armor resounding.
They stood their spears together,
ash wood tipped with gray,
an iron troop.

Then a proud Danish warrior asked them:
"From where have you carried
these gold-inlaid shields,
these shirts of mail,
masked helmets, and battle shafts?
I am Hrothgar's messenger and officer.
Never have I seen braver strangers.
I expect you're here
to find adventure, not asylum."

The brave one answered him,
he of the proud Geats tribe,
hard under his helmet:
"We are Hygelac's table companions.
Beowulf is my name.
I will declare to the great lord,
Healfdene's son, my errand,
if your prince will greet us."

Wulfgar spoke--he was
of the Wendla tribe
and known to many
for fighting and wisdom--
"I will ask the lord of the Danes,
the giver of rings,
if he will reward your journey
and speedily make his wishes known."

Wulfgar went quickly
to where Hrothgar sat,
old and gray, with
his most trusted men.
He went before the face
of the Dane's lord,
knowing the customs of warriors.
Wulfgar spoke to his friendly lord:
"From far over the sea's expanse
has come a man of the Geats,
a chief of warriors named Beowulf.
He and his men have, my lord,
asked to exchange words with you.
Do not refuse the request,
Hrothgar! These men look worthy
of a warrior's esteem. Indeed,
the chief among them,
he who guides them, is strong."

Hrothgar, guard of the Danes, spoke:
"I knew him when he was a boy.
His father is called Edgtheow.
To that man Hrethel of the Geats
gave his only daughter.
Now his offspring has come
in bravery seeking a loyal friend.
Seafarers who took gifts
to the Geats say that he
has the strength of thirty men
in his hand grip.
Holy God, out of kindness,
has sent this man to us
to save us from Grendel's terror.
I shall give treasures
to that brave man
for his impetuous courage.
Be you in haste: go,
call in this band of kinsmen.
Say to them that they are welcome
to the Danish people."

Wulfgar, famous warrior,
went to the door:
"My victorious lord,
prince of the Danes,
bids me say he knows
your noble descent and
that brave men who
come over the sea swells
are welcome to him.
Come with your war dress,
under your helmets,
to see Hrothgar, but
let your war shields
and wooden spears await
the outcome of your talk."

The mighty one arose,
surrounded by warriors,
a mighty band of men.
Some remained with the weapons,
as the brave one ordered.
The rest hastened,
as the man guided,
under Herot's roof.

The great warrior went,
hard under his helmet,
until he stood within
in his shining coat of mail,
his armor-net sewn by smiths.

Beowulf spoke:
"I am Hygelac's kinsman and warrior.
I have undertaken many
glorious deeds. I learned
of Grendel in my native land.
Seafarers say this place,
the best of halls,
stands idle and useless
after sundown. Hrothgar,
the wise men among my people
advised that I seek you
because they know my strength--
they saw me come from battles
stained in the blood of my enemies,
when I destroyed a family of giants,
when I endured pain all night,
killing water monsters,
grinding them to bits,
to avenge for the Geats
those who asked for misery.
And now I shall, alone,
fight Grendel. I ask you,
lord of the Danes,
protector of this people,
for only one favor:
that you refuse me not,
fair friend of the people,
do not refuse those who
have come so far the chance
to cleanse Herot.
I have heard that the monster
in his recklessness uses no weapons.
I, therefore, to amuse Hygelac my lord,
scorn to carry sword or shield,
but I shall seize my enemy
in my hand grip and fight,
enemy against enemy,
and let God decide
who shall be taken by death.
I expect, if he wins, that
he will eat fearlessly of
the Geat people in this hall
as he often has of yours.
Nor will you need,
if death takes me,
worry about a burial--
that solitary one
will carry my corpse,
dripping with blood,
to a ruthless feast.
If battle takes me,
send this best of war garments,
this shirt of mail,
to Hygelac--it is
an inheritance from Hrethel
and the work of Weland.
Fate always goes as it will!"

Hrothgar, protector of the Danes, spoke:
"Because of past kindness
and deeds done, you have come,
my friend Beowulf. By a killing
your father brought about
the greatest of feuds.
He was the killer of Heatholaf
among the Wylfings. The Geats,
for fear of war, would not have him,
so he sought us Danes
over the rolling waves. . .
back when I first ruled,
as a youth, this wide kingdom
of the Danish people,
this treasure city of heroes.
Heorogar was dead then,
my older brother,
the son of Healfdene.
(He was better than I!)
I paid money to settle
your father's feud, sent
treasure over the water's back
to the Wylfings. Your father
swore oaths to me.
It is a sorrow for me
to say to any man
what Grendel has done--
humiliations in Herot--
hostile attacks on my hall warriors
until they are diminished,
swept away in Grendel's horror.
God may easily put an end
to that mad ravager's deeds.
Quite often have men boasted,
over their ale-cups,
drunk on beer,
that they would meet
Grendel's attack in the hall
with grim swords. But
in the morning when the daylight
shone, the mead hall was stained
in gore, the hall wet with
the blood of battle. And I had
a few less loyal men.
Sit now and feast,
glory of warriors,
and speak your thoughts
as your heart tells you."

So a bench was cleared for
the Geats and the brave men
sat down proud in their strength.

A warrior did his duty,
bearing an etched cup
and pouring sweet drink.
The poet sang in a clear voice,
and in Herot there was the joy
of brave men, Danes and Geats.

Unferth, Ecglaf's son,
who sat at the feet
of the king of the Danes,
spoke, unloosing a battle-rune
(The bravery of Beowulf
was a vexation to him
because he envied any man
on this middle-earth who had
more glory than himself):
"Are you that Beowulf
who struggled with Brecca
in the broad sea
in a swimming contest?
The one who, out of pride,
risked his life in the deep water
though both friends and enemies
told you it was too dangerous?
Are you the one who hugged
the sea, gliding through the boiling
waves of the winter's swell?
You and Brecca toiled
seven nights in the sea,
and he, with more strength,
overcame you. And
in the morning the waves
bore him to the Heathrames
from whence he went home
to the Brondings, beloved of them,
to his people and mead hall.
Brecca fulfilled all his boast.
Because of this, though you have
everywhere withstood the battle storm,
I don't expect much from you
if you dare await
Grendel in the night."
Beowulf spoke:
"Well, my friend Unferth, you
have said a good many things
about Brecca and that trip,
drunk on beer as you are.
Truth to tell, I had more strength
but also more hardships in the waves.
He and I were both boys
and boasted out of our youth
that we two would risk
our lives in the sea.
And so we did.
With naked swords in hand,
to ward off whales,
we swam. Brecca could not
out-swim me, nor could I
out-distance him. And thus
we were, for five nights.
It was cold weather and
the waves surged, driving us
apart, and the North wind came
like a battle in the night.
Fierce were the waves
and the anger of the sea fish
stirred. My coat of mail,
adorned in gold
and locked hard by hand,
helped against those foes.
A hostile thing drew me
to the bottom in its grim grip,
but it was granted to me
to reach it with my sword's
point. The battle storm
destroyed that mighty
sea beast through my hand.
And on and on evil
things threatened me.
I served them with my sword
as it was right to do.
Those wicked things
had no joy of the feast,
did not sit at the sea's
bottom eating my bones.
When the morning came
my sword had put
many to sleep, and even today
in that fiord they don't
hinder seafarers. Light
shone from the East,
that bright beacon of God,
and the seas subsided.
I saw cliffs, the windy
walls of the sea.
Fate often saves
an undoomed man if
his courage holds.
Anyway, with my sword
I slew nine sea monsters.
Nor have I heard tell
of a harder fight
or a more distressed man
ever to go in the sea.
I survived the grasp
of hostiles, and the sea
bore me, the surging water,
weary, into the land of the Finns.
I have not heard
anything about you
surviving such battles,
such terrors of the sword.
Neither Brecca nor you have
performed such deeds in
war sport or with shining swords.
Yet I don't boast about it.
But you, your own brother's
murderer, shall be damned
and burn in Hell no matter
how strong your wit is.
I say to you truly,
son of Ecglaf, that wretch
Grendel would never have done
such horrors, such humiliations
on you chief, if you were so
fierce as you suppose.
Grendel has found
he need not fear feud,
any sword storm,
from your people.
He takes his toll,
showing no mercy
to the Danish folk.
He enjoys himself,
killing and feasting,
and expects no fight
from the Danes.
But I shall offer him
the battle of a Geat in
strength and courage.
When I get done with him,
anyone who wishes may
happily go into the mead hall
as morning shines
on the children of men.
On that day the sun
will be clothed in radiance
as it shines from the South!"
The giver of treasure, Hrothgar,
gray-haired and brave in battle,
felt glad--the chief of the Danes
could count on help.
That guardian of the folk
heard in Beowulf firm resolution.
The men laughed, the din
resounding, and the words
turned friendly.
Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's queen,
came forth, mindful of kin,
adorned in gold to greet the men.
First she gave the cup
to the country's guardian,
that one dear to his people,
biding joy in his beer drinking.
That king famous for victories
happily took the feast cup.
Then that woman of the Helmings
went round to each, young and old,
sharing the precious cup.
In proper time that ring-adorned
queen excellent in mind
brought the mead cup to Beowulf.
She greeted him, thanking
God that her wish had
been fulfilled, that finally
a hero had come who
she could count on
to stop Grendel's crimes.

Beowulf, fierce in war,
received the cup from Wealhtheow
and spoke eagerly of battle:
"I resolved when I set to sea
in my boat with my warriors
that I, alone, will fulfill
the wish of your people. . .
or die in the foe's grasp.
I shall perform the deeds
of a hero or I have passed
my last day in this mead hall."

The woman liked these words,
this brave speech of the Geat.
The gold-adorned folk queen
went to sit by her lord.

Now again, as it had been
in the old days, brave words
were spoken and the people were happy.
The gladness of warriors continued
until the son of Healfdene
wished to go to his evening rest.
Hrothgar knew the wretch
planned to attack the hall
after the sun had set,
night over the hall,
when the shadows came
striding dark under the clouds.

All the company arose.
Warrior then saluted warrior,
Hrothgar wishing Beowulf luck
in his fight for the hall.
Hrothgar said these words:
"Never, since I have been able
to lift shield, have I entrusted
this hall, this mighty house
of the Danes, to any man.
But now I entrust it to you.
Have and hold this best of houses.
Keep fame in mind, watch
against the foe, and make
your valor known! You shall
lack nothing if you
survive this deed."

Then Hrothgar, protector
of the Danes, and his band
of warriors left the hall.
Hrothgar sought the queen's bed.

God, as men learned,
had chosen a man
who could fight Grendel.
The chief of the Geats,
indeed, trusted his strength
and God's favor.
Beowulf took off his armor,
off his helmet, handed
his figured sword to the attendant.
Beowulf, that good man, then
spoke some brave words
before he got in bed:
"I don't claim myself
any lower in strength or brave deeds
than Grendel. Therefore, I will
not kill him with a sword,
though I easily might.
Though he is famous for strength,
he knows no weapons to cut a shield.
If he chooses to forego a sword,
if he dares seek me without weapon,
then we two shall fight without,
and wise God, that king, shall
choose who shall win glory."

The battle-brave one lay down then,
a pillow received the warrior's face,
and his brave men sought rest
around him in the hall. Not one
thought he would seek home again,
see his people or birthplace.
Far too many Danes had already
died there. But the Lord would
give victory to the Geat people,
helping and supporting, so that
one man's craft overcame all.
(It is well known that God
always rules the race of men.)

* * * * *

In Episode 4 Grendel meets Beowulf!

[Return to Main Page] [Return to Culture Cafe]