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The passage "Celebration at Heorot" presents a wide variety of subtle themes and ideas. The three main ones are: the foretelling of the doomed future, different Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals, and the enternal battle of men vs. monster (good vs. evil). This section will analyze each one of these themes. To go to a specific page, click on the links above.
Men vs Monster
The theme of eternal battle between men and monster can be perceived through the different stories told by scopsat the celebration. The main idea behind the stories is that even though Beowulf has heroically defeated Grendel , or mortally wounded him, the greater evil may not be defeated for it comes from a different source. The foreshadowing is that this evil will not come from monsters but from within the men. In other words, the real evil within people is still undefeated.
The three stories have different agendas in regards to this theme. The first story, about Sigemund, is a happy one, and in it a hero defeats the dragon: "The hot dragon melted." (Norton, 38) The second story is about a treacherous king, Heremod, who betrays his people, "crime took possession of Heremod" (Norton, 38), and becomes a burden to his tribe.
The last story is about Hildeburh, sister of King Hnaef (Norton, 41), who was married to Finn, king of the Jutes. Hnaef paid a friendly visit to his sister's home. Finn and Hnaef had an argument, and a fight broke out. Hnaef and Finn's son were killed practically before Hildeburh's very eyes. In Anglo-Saxon society, killing a relative was considered to be the worst sin of all. (Britannica, online)
Thus, the evil that caused this horrible deed comes not from an fictional (imaginary) monster, but rather from the very real monster within people themselves. And, these stories show that the battle between good and evil is far from over.
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Christian and Pagan Elements
The passage includes distinct references to religious beliefs of Christian and pagan nature. One of the very clear Christian elements in this passage is the constant reference to God, apparently one God, called the Guardian of Heaven : "God may always work wonder upon wonder, the Guardian of Heaven"(Norton, 39), and the belief that this God is responsible for many things that happened or are happening.
The pagan element is the reference to the "God of Old," which is probably a fertility god. Hrothgar says: "... that the God of Old was kind to [Beowulf's mother] in her child-bearing "(Norton, 39). Another Pagan reference is the detailed description of the burial ritual, told in the sad story of Hildeburh. The corpses are put on funeral pyre, along with the gold and other treasures and the whole thing is set on fire: "Fire swallowed them – greediest of spirits – all of those whom war had taken away from both peoples: their strength had departed" (Norton, 41) The burial is clearly pagan, because Christian tradition at that time did not include burial with gold on a funeral pyre: "The funeral pyre was made ready and gold brought up from the hoard" (Norton, 41)
Foretelling of a Doomed Future
In this part of the text, people are celebrating Beowulf's victory over Grendel. "The king himself..."(Norton, 40) is enjoying this celebration. It seems that evil is gone forever. Nevertheless, throughout this passage, we encounter references to evil actions which are to happen in the future. For example, one such reference is: "the Scylding-people had not yet known treason's web" (Norton, 40). Another reference is the story of Hildeburh. The text warns the reader that something bad is about to happen. The real monster within people is not defeated yet. It is implied that people will die from man's evil actions.
Summary and Analysis
This section, perhaps intended to be full of joy and celebration, turns out to be not completely jubilant. Grendel, after being wounded by Beowulf and "doomed to die"(Norton, 38), hides in a lake.
Warriors, from many kingdoms, gather near the lake to witness the "wonder, the footprints of the foe"(Norton, 38). They see that the water in the lake is "boiling with [Grendel's] blood, the horrid surge of waves swirling, all mixed with hot gore, sword-blood"(Norton, 38). The scop makes an effort to emphasize the happiness of the people and their rejoice at the Beowulf's success in battle.
The warriors, fascinated by this astonishing sight, return to their kingdoms carrying a new tale about Beowulf's victory over Grendel. In the next paragraph, the text gives us a tale, told by one the thanes, about Sigemund who kills a dragon. Then, we hear a story of the unsuccessful king Heremod who betrays his people by being cruel and avaricious (Norton, 38). Perhaps, the purpose of both tales is to show some of the similar tales that were often remembered and told by the thanes. Likewise, these tales might indicate that none of the great stories is ever forgotten.
"Many a stout-hearted warriors"(Norton, 39) go back to the mead-hall to celebrate Beowulf's victory over Grendel. Warriors are drinking mead and listening to the pleasant sound of a harp. In the midst of all this celebration, Hrothgar comes forward and gives speech describing his gratefulness to Beowulf. The King praises the "God of Old"(Norton, 39) for being kind to a woman who gave birth to Beowulf. He says that the God works through Beowulf to help him accomplish "the deed [s] that all of [them] with [their] skill could not perform"(Norton, 39). Hrothgar's speech underlines "Christian vs. Pagan" theme of this poem. The "ring-giver" (Norton, 39) also says that, in his heart, he will love Beowulf as a son (39). Beowulf replies to Hrothgar's speech saying that, indeed, the Lord has played a role in his success. Also, he describes the battle between himself and Grendel.
As we read along, we are given a detailed description of Grendel's hand ripped off by Beowulf. Grendel 's nails are described as being "monstrous" with nails "like steel"(Norton , 39). People are astonished and can't believe that Beowulf has beaten the monster: "…many a wondrous sight for each man who looks on such things"(Norton, 39).
In the next paragraph, the text gives us the description of the Hrothgar's gifts to Beowulf and his warriors. Beowulf gets golden standard, "a decorated battle-banner -- a helmet and mail-shirt," and eight horses with "golden bridles" (Norton, 40). This ceremony shows the reader how generous the lord is when it comes to rewarding warriors for their heroic actions. There is music and songs, and scops tell more stories. Surprisingly, the next story is not so happy. We are given a description of an unfortunate woman whose "son and brother, wounded by spears fell to their fate"(Norton , 41). As the story unfolds, we see more bloodshed and violence. Warriors are killed after quarrels and revenge is sworn, as if foretelling something bad might happen in the future. Consequently, this story contributes to both themes of this poem: "Men vs. Evil" and the " Foretelling of Doomed Future." Also, the story of Hildeburthprovides us with a very detailed description of a Pagan burial ceremony with funeral fires: "Heads melted as blood spang out..."(Norton, 41).