The First Monster at Heorot in Beowulf
Length: 1062 words (3 double-spaced pages)
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When Grendel monstrously bursts into Heorot, tears down the heavy door with his beastly hands and instantly devours a Geatish warrior, it immediately tells us that the first climax of the epic Beowulf has arrived. As Beowulf carefully watches Grendel take action, Grendel reaches out to snatch Beowulf as his next meal. Surprised, Grendel becomes extremely frightened to discover that there is another being stronger than himself when Beowulf, using his vice-like grip, pulls Grendel’s arm from his socket. The monster, Grendel, howls with pain and runs out of Heorot leaving his blood-spattered arm still in Beowulf’s hands.
An enormous celebration is thrown to record Beowulf’s victory by reciting and singing stories about the past kings. A Danish scop recites the story of Sigemund, a great hero who slays a horrible dragon. The dragon is a keeper of a treasure chest that Sigemund wins by slaying the dragon. The treasure won by Sigemund resembles the gold rewards earned by Beowulf from the ring-giver, King Hrothgar. This Norse myth is obviously recited at Beowulf’s celebration to compare both Sigemund’s and Beowulf's heroic acts. The Danish warriors want to show their appreciation to Beowulf with such mythology: “This man undertook with his art to recite in turn Beowulf’s exploit, and skillfully to tell an apt tale, to lend words to it” (Tuso 16).
What is so remarkable about the epic Beowulf is that the narrator contrasts Beowulf's super-heroic accomplishments with Heremod. Heremod is known as an evil Danish king who turns against his own people. This is clearly a symbol of the reverse of Beowulf’s characteristics. By comparing and contrasting Beowulf to two different kings, the narrator is indicating that Beowulf will be king later in the epic. Yet we readers shouldn’t immediately think that Beowulf will be an evil or a good king. This leaves us to carefully observe more of Beowulf's character throughout Beowulf.
During the celebration, King Hrothgar delivers an appreciation and dedication speech to Beowulf and his victory. From Hrothgar’s speech, we understand that he feels himself to be bound in a new relationship with Beowulf by his great service. He states, “Beowulf, best of men, in my heart I will love you as a son” (Tuso 17). Beowulf readers should start taking careful notice as King Hrothgar gradually becomes a mentor and a father-like figure to Beowulf. To some extent, Hrothgar even gives advice to Beowulf about how to act as an intelligent ruler through his own experience.
Another song sung by the king’s scop is dedicated to Beowulf’s triumph. It is about Finn (King of Frisians married to Hildeburh) who kills Hnaef (Danish king) in a battle. After the battle because it is winter and travel is difficult, the Danish depressingly agree to live with the Frisians separately but with equal treatment. However, the Danish later seek revenge and defeat Finn, and Hildeburh returns to Denmark. This song is not merely about comparing or contrasting Beowulf to another king. It can possibly give us an idea that the idea of revenge is likely in any case (possibly some being will seek revenge for Grendel).
Again, this particular scene is the first climax of one of Beowulf’s conflicts. Since we already know that Beowulf will encounter two more battles later in the epic, we should notice his defeat of Grendel when Beowulf is young. The second battle with Grendel's mother occurs right after the battle with Grendel while Beowulf's defeat of the dragon takes place later, when Beowulf is about 80 years old. For this reason, Beowulf's first conflict is extremely important in the epic, where it shows how Beowulf gradually matures through his three battles.
This passage, Celebration at Heorot, begins with the Danish warriors on horseback following the tracks of Grendel’s retreat to the marshes. They are amazed at Beowulf’s accomplishment, which is the slaying of the monster Grendel. They begin to praise Beowulf’s courage and name and say how great of a leader he will be, but they never once go against their own king Hrothgar for he is a good king. In the process of proclaiming Beowulf’s fame, the scop begins to tell a story, quite similar to that of Beowulf, the story of Sigemund. Sigemund is a great hero who slays a vicious dragon who was the guardian of a treasure hoard. Sigemund won the treasure hoard when the dragon was killed. The scop also tells a story in contrast to Beowulf’s story, which is the story of Heremod, an evil Danish king who turns against his people. Afterwards, the warriors go to Heorot for the celebration.
At Heorot many gather around to see the trophy, which is Grendel’s hand. Hrothgar begins praising Beowulf, promising him gifts, and says that he considers Beowulf as a son. Beowulf accepts Hrothgar's gifts and praise, but at the same time, he starts expressing his disappointment for not killing Grendel in the hall so that all could have a chance to see his corpse.
Heorot is at peace once again so the Danes begin to rebuild the great hall for it has been partially destroyed in the battle with Grendel. After the gifts have been given out, the scop begins to sing a song about the story of Finn. The story begins with the Danes losing a terrible battle to Finn-the King of Frisians. As reconciliation for their defeat, the Danes agree to live with the Frisians separately, but under common rule and with equal treatment. Hildeburh, a Danish princess who is married to Finn, orders that the corpse of her brother, the Danish leader Hnaef, and her son be burned on the same bier during the funeral. The Danes spend one long winter with the Frisians but when spring arrives, they rise against their enemies. Finn is defeated and kill and his widow, Hildeburh, is returned to Denmark, brought to her people.
This passage fits into the story of Beowulf because this is the climax of the poem. Grendel is the first monster that Beowulf fights. His name is beginning to take shape because he is being recognized for his strength and courage by the slaying of Grendel. He will soon have to prove himself again in battle with Grendel’s mother and the dragon. This passage makes Beowulf’s name heroic and show us his future as a warrior.