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The section in which Beowulf gets ready for another monster begins with Hrothgar informing him of Aeschere's death. The murder has been committed by Grendel's mother who comes to avenge her son's death. This is the proper thing for her to do in this society. Revenge was of great importance in Pagan society. It was the norm to avenge a murder, especially if no wergild was paid. Hrothgar offers Beowulf additional wealth if he can find and kill the female monster. This arrangement Hrothgar makes with Beowulf, for a second time, is referred to as comitatus. Beowulf tells Hrothgar not to worry, that Aeschere's killer will be found. He reminds Hrothgar that time must not be wasted on sorrow when revenge must be taken immediately. He promises Hrothgar that the woman will "not be lost." Beowulf will seek her out at the bottom of the lake, where her home is located, and kill her. This promise that Beowulf makes is called a boast. Hrothgar thanks God that Beowulf has said this because his friend's murder must be avenged and the murderer stopped before she kills again.
Hrothgar and his thanes gather and go with Beowulf to search for the woman's home. They know it is in a pool not far from the hall. By following the monster's tracks through a narrow, difficult path, they soon find the lake. The Danes are then horrified to see Aeschere's head on the "sea-cliff" above the water. Through all this action, the horn that continually plays the war song is mentioned. The pool is described as hot and bloody in the passage. This may be a reference to the Christian element of hell. The lake may allude to hell, not only because of the bloody appearance of the water, but also because of the grotesque serpents swimming in it. Serpents have been associated with evil in Christianity. In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, Eve was tempted by an evil serpent. The snakes in the lake are probably there to enhance the atmosphere of evil in the region. A third reason why the home of the monsters may be likened to hell has to do with who Grendel is. Hell, in Christianity, is a place where people who have sinned must go to suffer. Grendel is a descendant of Cain, who committed fratricide, (killing of one's own brother or a brother-slayer), probably the most horrible act one could be guilty of, especially in this warrior society.
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Beowulf now begins to arm himself for battle, an important ritual in Pagan society. His armor is described as being well-made. He puts on chain mail to protect his body, and a helmet to protect his head. On his helmet is an image of a boar. The replica of the boar helps to give him the spirit of the animal. He will gain the animal's strength, as well as its fearlessness of death. After dressing, Beowulf is given a sword from Unferth. This special sword, called Hrunting, has helped Unferth gain his favorable position as a warrior. Weapons, at this time, were treated like human beings. This is demonstrated by the naming of the sword. Unferth, who doubts Beowulf's abilities earlier in the story when he mentions the swimming match with Breca, now realizes Beowulf's courage and strength. Beowulf tells everyone of his ability to fight sea monsters, but Unferth doubts him at first. Unferth, who sits in a place of honor, at the king's feet, now loses his reputation as a warrior. He has given the job of doing battle to a man who is better than himself.
Beowulf then speaks again to Hrothgar, and he instructs him to do various things in case he should not succeed in battle. He first tells Hrothgar that he is like a father to him, asks him to take care of all his companions, and to send his treasure to Hygelac, lord of the Geats. He gives something of a last will and testament here, then plunges into the water before Hrothgar can respond. At this point, Beowulf's heroic qualities are exemplified once again. Beowulf shows consideration, generosity for others, humility, and awareness of his mortality. He knows that even though he may possess great strength, it is still possible for someone to conquer him in battle. Part of a day goes by before Beowulf sees the bottom of the water, where the monster woman lives. Another one of his amazing strengths is shown here when he is able to hold his breath under water for such a long period of time. Beowulf is attacked by all sorts of monsters, but none really harms him because his armor protects him so well. He finally encounters Grendel's mother who grabs and carries him to her home. The female monster's home, which is away from the water and in a hall, beneath the lake, contains fire, and this bright light enables the hero to see her completely. This fire, which burns in her home, may once again represent the Christian element of hell.
Beowulf is a true hero in this passage when he decides to take on the task of finding and killing Grendel's mother. He does not know what dangers await him as he goes down into the water to find the female monster. He goes off to fight in unknown territory, fearlessly. In this scene, we also see the importance of revenge in the warrior society, especially since no wergild has been paid. Other important Pagan elements found here include the arming of the warrior, belief in the boar's strength, and the significance of weapons. The home of the monsters may be likened to hell, particularly because of its physical appearance. Beowulf's preparation for this battle is very important because key elements of this poem are located here.
Aeschere-king's loyal counsel. Fought beside Hrothgar in battle. Killed by Grendel's mother.
Beowulfbattle - the Geat hero of the epic. Conqueror of evil. Model of perfection.
Grendel- unhappy monster who attacks the Danes for twelve years and is finally killed by Beowulf.
Grendel's Mother- mother of the monster Grendel.
Hrothgar-prince of the Danes. Rewards Beowulf for all his good deeds and treats him like a son.
Hygelac-lord of the Geats. Beowulf wishes for Hygelac to receive his wealth in case he should die in battle with Grendel's mother.
Unferth- sits at feet of king which is a position of honor. Doubts Beowulf's abilities as a warrior because he does not want anyone to be better than him, and is jealous. He eventually realizes, however, that Beowulf is a better warrior than him and gives him Hrunting, the sword.
The following lists our sources.
Medieval Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon Britain: 2/15/97
The Electronic Beowulf 2/15/97
Abrams, M. H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.
Special thanks to:
Scott Lui for scanning the pictures from the comic book by
Bingham, Jerry. Beowulf. First Publishing, 1987.